And so onto Jose Mourinho then, who has finally arrived at Old Trafford after his admiration for Manchester United was, at long last, reciprocated. Football’s worst kept secret was eventually let out in the open six weeks ago as United parted ways with Louis Van Gaal and appointed the former Chelsea, Inter and Real Madrid manager in charge for the next three seasons.
Given the travails United have endured over the last three seasons, the only thing surprising about Mourinho stepping in the home dugout at Old Trafford is that it has taken so long for the club to make such a decision.
In fact, some would argue the Portuguese should have been, and perhaps was, the only option to replace Sir Alex Ferguson. The three diabolical seasons that followed and the rotten football that came with them have made the decision to overlook the then Real Madrid manager even more puzzling, particularly considering United proceeded to appoint a man with a trophy cabinet as empty as a cricket ground in winter.
However, Mourinho is now in town and, crucially unlike Louis Van Gaal, he knows what to expect from the Premier League and from the British media. Where Van Gaal seemed puzzled by the relentless media focus on United and on the expectations that surround the club, Mourinho will thrive. While Van Gaal and Moyes, albeit in slightly different ways, spoke of lowering ambitions, the former Chelsea manager has already stated he wants to forget the last three seasons.
Mourinho’s appointment was met with the sort of optimism and genuine excitement that, with the exception of Jesse Lingard’s winner at Wembley, United fans had not experienced for a while. At the same time, newspaper columns and radio phone ins have been awash with pundits sounding a lot more cautious about the 53-year-old’s latest career move. Mourinho’s first signings as United manager have been subject to the same treatment, with some praising the swiftness with which he’s conducted the deals, while detractors were quick to criticise the money invested on Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Eric Bailly and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
To dismiss his volatile nature would, of course, be foolish, for his track record shows that things often end in tears with him. Equally, however, to suggest the Portuguese is a manager past his best and his appointment was driven by sheer panic is absurdly short-sighted.
Perhaps the most surprising criticism aimed at the 53-year-old is that he’s not cut from the cloth United managers are traditionally made of. Leaving aside the fact that United have long lost focus of any ethical concept, Mourinho’s histrionics lend themselves to a fascinating comparison.
The Portuguese can intimidate his own players and members of the press in equal fashion, tends to be scathing about the latter as he often is about referees and rivals and for those who cross his path there is no way back.
He is, in other words, as close to Fergie as a manager can possibly be. Mourinho’s detractors cite a poor lack with youngsters and a penchant for defensive football as the reasons why the Portuguese should not have been given the job.
However, while the former Chelsea manager might not be renown for giving youth players a chance, he is responsible for promoting Alvaro Morata through the ranks at Real Madrid, alongside with Jese and Nacho, and was arguably the only manager capable to get the best out of a young Mario Balotelli.
On the other hand, with the notable exception of Kevin De Bruyne – admittedly an almighty mistake – and Ryan Bertrand, none of the players he was criticised for not giving a chance to have gone on to become world beaters.
It will, of course, not be all plain sailing. Mourinho’s tendency to rub people up the wrong way is likely to win him few friends outside the club, and perhaps even within it, but he’s a proven winner and his trophy cabinet speaks for itself. It might be a marriage of convenience, but United and Mourinho could also be a match made in heaven.
“Jose Mourinho, you wanted the job!”, sang the Stretford End as Chelsea faced United in the third game of Mourinho’s second spell in West London. He probably did then and he certainly does now.