Why Mourinho is Wrong for Manchester United

Mourinho Burnley

The Special One has become The Humiliated One per the English media – a media whose reputation for being gentle, compassionate souls precedes them. Not really. That said results and Mourinho‘s poorly concealed private conversations have offered fair fodder for the oceans of ridicule that have followed.

Manchester United ‘s last seven results in the Premier League:

L (Man City) , L (Watford) , W (Leicester) , D (Stoke), D (Liverpool), L (Chelsea) , D (Burnley)

That’s a piss poor record which is worse than  that of David Moyes and if you paid attention in your maths lessons means 6 points from a possible 21. For context bitter rivals Liverpool earned 19 points over the same period with a much tougher slate. The number one question of the punditry class has been to wonder – Has Mourinho lost his edge? Is he a razor we wonder.

We know why he was hired right?

(1) He’s a proven winner  – feels like we heard that before.  

(2) He can bring back the fear of Old Trafford vanquished under the less accomplished managers to precede him.

(3) He can bring in the big names United failed to land under Moyes/Van Gaal– largely due to his own close relationships with Jorge Mendes and Mino Raiola.

Point 3 is fair but the other points we question given what we understand about Mourinho’s career. SoccerSurgery examined Mourinho’s caliber previously, arriving at a conclusion which proved quite controversial in some quarters but we believe to be well supported by a fat sack of historical facts. Say that 10 times fast! Before we proceed perhaps we should recap that conclusion:

Mourinho is clearly a strong, tactically sound coach and inspiring to his pledges but his success is heavily reliant on a patented step plan to rig competitive balance in his favour.

This is the bedrock of our view that Mourinho is the wrong man for the job but we’ll buffer that as we examine other elements vital to be successful in following a legend like Sir Alex Ferguson at a club like United. Let’s tackle the critical issues in order of importance.

Winning Trophies

If you have not taken time to review our examination on Mourinho. Please do it now for the context. Ultimately history has shown that Mourinho likes to run his races “on softer ground”. This is bad news for United fans in light of the hyper competitive, high stakes nature of the Premier League today as it has rapidly evolved.  Some early signs of this was seen in the complications that enveloped Mourinho in the leadup to his sack from Chelsea just one year ago. It’s almost like people forgot.

Mourinho‘s apologists would swiftly point at a “recent” Premier League title won with Chelsea in the 2014/15 season. Well…with regard to that season let’s briefly examine (a) the interesting contextual landscape of that season and (b) the seismic managerial changes at rival clubs in that relatively short period of time.

  • LiverpoolBrendan Rodgers, now exiled to Celtic, started that season in charge and struggled “a wee bit” to cope with (1) the gloom of the prior season’s failed title run, (2) the loss of talisman Luis Suarez that summer and (3) Champions League commitments. Now? Mourinho will have to match wits with his tormentor – Jurgen Klopp. The same Klopp who defeated Mourinho handily in the 2013 Champions League semi final knockouts leading to his exit from Real Madrid; the same Klopp who beat Mourinho’s Chelsea side 3-1 in Stamford Bridge last season which would help chase Mourinho from the Blues 8 games later.
  • Manchester City – Led by Manuel Pelligrini in the 14/15 season City actually had a superior goal difference(+45) to Chelsea (+41) despite Chelsea remarkably losing just 3 games all season. Additionally, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero missed 19 games combined. Eden Hazard missed zero games that season though Costa missed 14 games. Now? Arrive Pep Guardiola – Mourinho’s record against Pep in 18  meetings? 4 WINS, 6 DRAWS, 8 LOSSES. Enough said.
  • Arsenal – Of course no manager change here..maybe never(just kidding Gunner fans); but there existed significant turmoil that season on the injury front with Koscieny (11), Ramsey (9) and Giroud (11) missing significant games. That is no new phenomenon at Arsenal of course as we highlighted before. That said, Mourinho does have tremendous success against Arsene Wenger so he should be looking at these fixtures with anticipation.
  • Chelsea – We discuss the managerial appointment here as significant in light of the lack of head to head contests with Conte  – the pair meeting just once in 2009. That said does the 4-0 humiliation at Stamford Bridge offer a sign of things to come? Conte’s pedigree of course is unquestioned which presents an ominous outlook for Mourinho.

The problem for Mourinho is that he has been surprisingly overmatched against the bigger names to have invaded the Premier League recently. Why then did the United hierarchy project success and not further struggles upon his appointment?

With a smooth ride like 2014/15 all is well in “MouWorld” but should adversity present such as last year, Mourinho has proven to be a notoriously sour loser at best…. self destructive avalanche at his worst. This leads us to our next concern with his appointment.

Club Reputation

Surely the casual United fan is aware of the phenomenon of flying hair dryers and boots inside Sir Alex Ferguson‘s locker room but the key word there is inside. SAF’s anger is legendary and was a key tool in his motivational arsenal to push on his side when needed. These stories made the gossip rags and eventually were told in several auto biographies but were never embarrassing to the club at the time given concealed from the view of cameras. That was purpose work. That was SAF’s acknowledgment he was not bigger than the club’s reputation.

Mourinho throughout his career on the other hand operates on an entirely different wavelength:

  • 2005 – Mourinho allegedly sneaks into Stamford Bridge in a laundry basket to give a team talk despite being banned for a Champions League tie against Bayern Munich
  • 2006 – Mourinho publicly accuses Frank Rijkaard (Barcelona coach then) of colluding with referees at half time – receives 2 match touch line ban.
  • 2009 – Now with Inter given a 1 match ban for abusing a referee in a game against Atalanta
  • 2010 – Again at Inter, receives a 3 match ban for a taunting handcuff gesture on the sidelines to Sampdoria fans.
  • 2010 – 2 match ban for being sent off after protesting to the referee during Real Madrid’s 5-1 Copa del Rey victory against Real Murcia, a third-tier team.
  • 2010- 2 match ban for telling his players to get booked in Real Madrid’s Champions league game against Ajax.
  • 2011 – 5 match ban for an outburst and post-match comments  regarding “The Unicef Conspiracy” after a Champions league loss to Barça.
  • 2011 – 2 match ban for a poking finger to eye of Barcelona No 2 Tito Vilanova during a La Liga game.

At this point we have to stop, otherwise we would never end this post! But at the time of publishing Mourinho is also now facing a 1 match ban for his halftime comments in their last game against Burnley. His poor disciplinary record is notorious but added to that the nature of the incidents makes one wonder how the United brain trust saw fit to risk the erosion of their brand and the longevity of their commercial relationships – the two of course going hand in hand.

Finally, we can’t address reputation without looking at:

The Legend of United on the Pitch

Over the SAF years all fans understand that United plays a brand of football that seeks to stomp teams.

His teams always played to win, to pass the ball, to impose their football and play an attacking style. His teams were aggressive, dominant and resilient, never giving up, regardless of the game situation. Shape and system were flexible to the opponent but crucially though, the philosophy always remained the same – a commitment to dynamic, romantic attacking football.

To understand Mourinho‘s philosophy just take that and flip it upside down.

More renowned for “parking the bus”,  Mourinho‘s central philosophy is to utilize a low defensive block, suffocate the opponent’s attack and capitalize on mistakes whether on the counter attack or via set pieces. It certainly is too early to assess United’s performance/style but judging from his tame approach in the away fixture at Liverpool we have clues perhaps old patterns die hard despite his protestations of bringing a “different style” as indicated in his first United presser.

Where all the big clubs – Bayern, Real Madrid(to a lesser extent), Barcelona, Arsenal, Manchester City, Liverpool – are aiming to press high and control possession even when playing their rivals; Mourinho’s style seems a tad out of touch and betrays Manchester United’s proud reputation on the pitch. A reputation even rival fans envy.

Ok that’s all’s well and good but if not Mou then who?

Short answer – Noone with lengthy career accomplishments… but why is that so important? SAF, Wenger, Klopp, Simeone all got starts at massive clubs with just moderate success on their resume.

This is where vision is needed. Sight beyond sight.  A number of managers who have (a) reputations strong enough to attract big talent and (b) proven records delivering results without passive football could have been considered;  with Van Gaal allowed his final year were they deemed unavailable this past summer. In no particular order these are:

  • Thomas Tuchel – the Germans are tactically proven
  • Mauricio Pochettino – battled for the Premier League title last season
  • Diego Simeone – Fought Barcelona/Real Madrid and won.
  • Unai Emery – made a mockery of the Europa League as a “competition”.

So there are alternatives if one has an open mind.

This marriage with Mourinho may well work out for the good of all parties involved. Who knows. That said we wouldn’t bet more than the couch change on it.





  • Kev November 4, 2016 at 9:38 pm

    Good analysis….do you think his strategy could be more successful with united’s upcoming fixtures? After all, it is still early days.

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