Mourinho’s Loss is Moyes’s Gain

May 16, 2013 3:20 pm

Whichever way you look at it, Manchester United have gone for sensible instead of brilliant. Slow and steady instead of guaranteed trophies. But, exactly, why wouldn’t any club snap up an available Jose Mourinho? The self-styled ‘Special One’ has never made his admiration for United’s outgoing manager, or the club, a secret – it’s inconceivable that he would have rejected the job, had it been offered to him. But he has lost out on a special opportunity for the second time, and there is still a gaping hole in his otherwise stellar CV.

The corridors of power at United made their criteria for choosing a new manager clear: the incoming man (or woman) must have an ability to bring through and improve players, a committment to the long-term and domestic and European experience.

Mourinho’s experiences to date are almost unrivalled: in a 13 year managerial career he has already won 20 trophies.

At such a rate, by the time he is 71 years-old, that number will have risen to 52. His first ten years saw two Champions League wins – a

figure it took the great Sir Alex Ferguson 24 years to reach – and two trebles. He is one of only four men to win league titles in four different countries, and the only manager in history to win the ‘big three’ European leagues. On top of all of that, seven times he has been crowned the best coach in the world. There are very few managers in the history of the game, if any, who have enjoyed such a meteoric and medal-laden rise. For all the baggage that accompanies him, he holds the trump card that every manager would like – he wins. Everywhere.

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A misguided criticism is that his teams have always been put together with the advantage of a sugar-daddy, supplying millions upon millions to spend on established superstars.

While it is true that since his Porto days he has been blessed with large transfer kitties, his track-record of turning decent, inexpensively bought and inherited players into great ones is criminally ignored. Porto’s all-conquering side of 2004 was stuffed full of unknowns such as Ricardo Carvalho and Deco, who became household names and went on to long careers at the very highest level. At Chelsea and Inter Milan, Mourinho transformed many promising players into truly world-class footballers – Wesley Sneijder being a prime example. When Inter signed the Dutch international he was freshly turfed out by Real Madrid, and his time there can only be described as a failure. Under Mourinho, he flourished into the key man of a treble winning team, was voted the UEFA midfielder of the year and was instrumental in dragging an average Holland side to extra-time of the World Cup final. Sneijder’s drastically poor post-Mourinho form shows exactly how skillful the coach is at drawing the maximum from players.

If you have been paying attention so far, you will have deduced that Jose Mourinho meets two of Manchester United’s requirement with ease.

However, this is a man who once left Benfica after just nine games, having fallen out with the chairman over demands for a contract extension. He has managed five clubs since and, if his apparently inevitable departure from the Bernabeu does indeed happen, he will never have lasted longer than three seasons at any of them. Bursting through the doors in whirlwind fashion and making an instant impact is his forte, and he does it well: he claimed league titles in his first full seasons at Porto, Chelsea and Inter. But in each spell there has never been a feeling of a long-term plan or a vision to for sustained success. His tenures have been constantly dogged by fall-outs and media reports  – many of which he starts himself – of what his next project will be, how unhappy he is, how much he loves England or all of the above. A microcosm of Mourinho is that both times he has won the Champions League, it was clear even before the final that he was going to leave his post. Even when he is winning things, he can’t keep still.

When Frank Rijkaard’s position at Barcelona was unstable in 2008, an out-of-work Mourinho presented the club’s then Sporting Director Txiki Begiristain and Vice-President Marc Ingla with what he believed to be the perfect job application. Mourinho was right, it was, and the two men considered offering him the job there and then. But his past was a nagging concern that they couldn’t free themselves from. Ingla confirms: “There was one moment when I said to him, ‘José, the problem we have with you is that you push the media too much. There is too much aggression. The coach is the image of the club. Three times a week, talking to the media for an hour, talking for the club, you cannot start fires everywhere, because this is against our style’.

“He said, ‘I know, but that is my style and I will not change’”.

The troublesome reputation that precedess him has gone from bad to worse during his time at Real Madrid, which has been characterised by tensions between him and his players and bosses. Whereas before many people could forgive him for the drama he whips up, even his fiercest supporters would find it difficult not to condemn some of his eye-poking antics of the last few seasons. In the past, his mischievous but charismatic and ultimately loveable character carried him through, but his sometimes nasty recent behaviour has left clubs wondering if he is worth all the trouble.

Bobby Charlton’s remarks highlight Manchester United’s concerns, just the same as Barcelona’s were, when considering who should be entrusted with the task of guiding the club into a new era of success. Charlton didn’t give the most glowing of references when he said: “Mourinho is a really good coach but that’s as far as I would go really…..he pontificates too much for my liking. He’s a good manager, though.”

David Moyes is the polar opposite – the closest he has come to top-level silverware is reaching the FA Cup final in 2009. Preston North End appointed him for his first managerial stint, and he stayed for four years, winning promotion to the old Division One as champions and clinching a play-off spot the following year. Moyes signed for Everton in March 2002 and kept the relegation threatened club in the Premier League. In the following ten seasons he secured eight finishes in the top-eight, including the top four spot that seems to be the mark of a good manager these days. The subsequent European campaign saw Everton dumped out in the qualifying rounds by Villarreal – the limit of Moyes experience in the premier club competition that Manchester United hold in such high regard.

During his time at Everton he averaged a net spend of approximately £800,000 per season, and that’s an attraction for United in the age of oil-rich clubs operating with open cheque books. The Scot has a history of putting trust in youth, most notably handing Wayne Rooney the chance to announce himself with ‘that goal’ that ended Arsenal’s unbeaten run, but also with newer crops of youngsters including the highly rated Ross Barkley and Jack Rodwell. Similar to Mourinho, Moyes has a knack for taking average players and improving them, working wonders with the likes of Phil Jagielka, Joleon Lescott, Leon Osman and Leighton Baines into full England internationals. Kevin Mirallas and Marouane Fellaini, plucked from Greece and Belgium respectively, pay testament to Moyes’ ability to spot a player in the more obscure leagues.

Commendable, but not spectacular, would be a fair assessment of Moyes’ achievements, and it’s difficult to make an especially strong case for hiring somebody who has won one trophy in 15 years in comparison to a man with 20 in 13. But then he offers something different to Mourinho. In United, they  want to continue their domination of English football smoothly, and they want to do it in the same style as the last 27 years. Moyes has shown he has the requisite skills of running a club from top to bottom, and now he has the chance to do it the grandest stage of all. Of course, they feel they should have more European titles to their name, and this is where they have to put their faith in Moyes. He may not have won anything of note yet, but you have to give coaches a chance.

Mourinho, by contrast, has come unstuck, his now boring media games and in-out approaches have blocked his route to what was the biggest available job in world football – again.

Alex Ferguson’s announcement has sparked fresh debate over where he stands amongst the most revered managers. Without any doubt whatsoever, he is the finest manager that we have seen as English club level, but his statistics in Europe do detract from his achievements somewhat. It is no coincidence that the usual contenders for the greatest ever all have something in common: Herrera, Clough, Paisley and Saachi all built sides that won European Cups multiple times, and they all led teams that dominated their era.

Mourinho has again missed out on the perfect chance to build such a dynasty, and his loss is Moyes’s gain. It’s a shame – the Portuguese has the talent to do whatever he likes, but until he is prepared to change, the ‘Special One’ maybe isn’t quite as special as he thinks.

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