With Jose Mourinho’s long-anticipated arrival at Manchester United drawing closer, we take a look at the top eight issues he’ll have to face when he moves into the Old Trafford hotseat.
Mourinho will take over a team still in considerable flux after two unconvincing years of Louis van Gaal’s stewardship – but what are his most pressing issues?
1. CHARM DAVID DE GEA
It is hard to over-estimate the importance of goalkeeper David de Gea to United’s short-term prospects.
He is not only the club’s best player – and possibly their only world-class one – but also a beacon to potential future signings. Holding on to him may be tough without Champions League football, but would be the best piece of business United could do this summer.
Mourinho can command fierce commitment among those he values most, though, and if he can make De Gea believe in his cult of personality it could be the trump card the Red Devils need.
2. UNIFY THE CLUB BEHIND HIM
Mourinho was somewhat unsubtle in pitching to be Sir Alex Ferguson’s replacement three years ago but was overlooked amid suggestions that important voices behind the scenes, including Sir Bobby Charlton, did not see him as a ‘United man’.
After failed experiments with David Moyes and Louis van Gaal, Mourinho looks to have his wish.
Instead of antagonising those who argued against his appointment, or crowing about the club’s recent struggles, he must work over-time to win over his doubters.
It has been too long since there was a true consensus and the Portuguese may have to play against type to build one.
Van Gaal may have been welcomed at Old Trafford when he first arrived – but his negative brand of football soon had some fans questioning his wisdom – and he lost many more of them over the course of a frustrating 2015/16 season.
A return to the Champions League, and a more attacking brand of football, is the absolute minimum expected from Mourinho’s first year in charge – and only then will he truly start to win over all the doubters.
3. GET THE DRESSING ROOM ONSIDE
One thing that undermined the Van Gaal era was a perceived lack of trust from his players, with a number of unconfirmed reports that several of his big-name players were unhappy with the Dutchman’s tactics and playing style.
In return, Van Gaal may have lost some of his players with some unusual soundbites, including saying his team ‘weren’t used to being champions’ and bizarrely, that they needed to ‘show they were horny’.
But what cannot be denied that belief in the side has ebbed away over the last couple of years (and, to be fair, during the David Moyes era), to the extent that tedious performances have come to be seen as the norm.
Tactically, Mourinho is no great entertainer. But a little bit of trademark spark on the touchline will go a long way to restoring a positive atmosphere among the players, hopefully – from their point of view – put a bit of fizz back into training and bringing the buzz back at Manchester United.
4.WORK OUT WAYNE ROONEY’S BEST POSITION
Jose Mourinho is a known Wayne Rooney fan having tried to sign the player during his time at Chelsea, so it’s likely the skipper will remain at Old Trafford under the Portuguese coach.
Rooney, however, has operated in midfield during the second half of the season and following the emergence of Marcus Rashford – with the player since admitting he sees his long-term future in that position.
And with Mourinho favouring a 4-2-3-1 formation during his second stint at Chelsea, it’ll be interesting to see if Rooney is one of the three to play behind a central striker or if he sees him dropping even deeper to the base of the midfield, where his excellent range of passing could still be a potent weapon for United in the years ahead.
5. OVERHAUL THE TRANSFER POLICY
Since Ferguson and former chief executive David Gill departed in 2013, United’s transfer business has too often veered between confused, rushed, and incompetent.
They have allowed themselves to become a bargaining chip for agents, missed out primary targets and been overcharged for others.
The investment in the past three seasons has been sizeable but the returns modest.
Mourinho is forceful enough to take the reins from Gill’s successor Ed Woodward, or at least push him to be more effective. He is not used to seeing his shopping lists unfulfilled and will not want to start now.
With Zlatan Ibrahimovic reportedly on the brink of signing, the club has also been linked with several other star names as Mourinho begins to make moves to freshen up United’s squad.
6. REVIEW HIS YOUTH POLICY
Arguably the greatest success of Van Gaal’s tenure was the number of academy graduates he blooded in the senior side, whether by design or circumstance.
Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard look ready to play big parts in the future, while Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Timothy Fosu-Mensah have also showed promise.
At Chelsea the most sustained criticism of the ‘special one’ was his disinclination to promote players from the Blues’ hugely successful Under-21 team. Only Ruben Loftus-Cheek has made the breakthrough at Chelsea in recent years – but the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne were both shown the door under Mourinho without being given the chance to ever prove their worth.
United fans love to see locally developed stars emerge and would not be overjoyed to see Mourinho’s stunt their progress. Rashford on a season-long loan at Hull anyone?
7. IS HE ANTI-MATA?
United’s FA Cup win would not have been possible were it not for Juan Mata’s equalising goal in the 81st minute.
The Spaniard has made plenty of telling contributions in his time at Old Trafford but the feeling remains that he has never been treated as a central pillar of the side.
He would, therefore, be forgiven for thinking the arrival of the man who sold him to United in the first place back in January 2014 was not great news.
Mourinho certainly failed to warm to Mata at Chelsea but may need to revise his opinion.
8. CHARM THE MEDIA
When he first went to Chelsea he was the ‘Special One’, when he returned to Chelsea, he was the ‘Happy One’. So what will he brand himself upon his return to the game with Manchester United?
Mourinho is a man who, unlike his predecessor Van Gaal, can – and often does – have the media eating out of his hand. And he’ll be keen to continue where he left off at Chelsea when he takes charge at Manchester United. The man has already been branded a winner and a ‘proven champion’ by some ex-players – which is already one step forward compared to his predecessor, who was constantly being barracked by a number of the clubs old boys (Paul Scholes – we’re looking at you).
Mourinho spoke of ‘building a dynasty’ upon his return to Chelsea in the summer of 2013, but truth of the matter is, Mourinho never really stays at clubs that long. It’ll be interesting to hear his thoughts and long-term visions for Manchester United – and getting the press onside early on could be a key factor for Mourinho.
As soon as you ‘lose the media’, the Manchester United job instantly become even more of a pressure cooker. Just ask LVG!