The sight of Jose Mourinho applauding the fans perched at Stretford End for their support, with the United scarf tucked under arm, was confusing to many. Some thought it to be a good-bye salute, with a vast majority of fans aware of the fact that Mourinho would be gone sooner, if not later. Some felt it was a salute to fans who had sung his name deep into the stoppage time of the game, despite the scoreline reading a paltry 3-0.
But when Mourinho went on about how all of them are United for the club and how fans are the best judge, his intentions became crystal clear. It gave out a clear signal that the man from Setubal is demanding fans to be on his side in this battle against the board and a battle against the world. He seems very confident that the players on his side and with little gestures like applauding for the fans and calling them the best judge in football, he wants the Old Trafford faithful to be on his side.
What is certainly surprising in this case, despite all the efforts of the media to turn everyone against Mourinho, is how Manchester United fans have connected with Mourinho and how they have got behind him in troubled times. It was clear from how chants of ‘Jose Mourinho’ rang out in stoppage time against Spurs. It was pleasing to see, especially when a vast majority of fans know that Jose won’t be at United long.
Everytime something like this has happened, Mourinho has got the sack. Every time he’s had discrepancies with the board, he has been gotten rid of. Every time he’s had a rant at the media the way he had after the Spurs defeat, he has been axed. Be it at Chelsea or Real Madrid. But what Jose Mourinho has done at Manchester United is that he’s brought out a much bigger problem in front of the world. And it is a problem that has not been brought to the fore ever since it first made an appearance at Manchester United back in 2005.
Right when the Glazer ownership took charge, there were fears that they would soon turn Manchester United into a business that would be happy with earning commercial benefits more than anything else. It was on that apprehension that a group of protestors led by Andy Walsh had formed a club of their own- FC United of Manchester. The fears that led to them forming a new, well-owned club are now coming true.
One thing from the past that describes how the Glazers have seen the club as a money making the machine more than as a football club that is the greatest in the world is reflected by a small paragraph from Jim White’s book ‘Manchester United: The Biography’. It says: “Mind, the Glazers’ timing had been shrewd; albeit fiendishly expensive, this was a real asset they were getting their hands on. Old Trafford had been completely redeveloped and was now easily the largest ground in the country. With capacity at seventy-five thousand, its matchday takings were around £3 million. A further quarter of a million was spent every home game in the megastore. New television deals had been signed supplying ever more money.”
The passage goes on saying: “If the club had seemed at the apex of football money-making under Martin Edwards and Edward Freedman, that was nothing. Now cash became the single over-riding motivation.”
The lines about United being at the ‘apex of football money-making’ and the one about ‘cash being the single overriding motivation’ seems like a true fact, as things stand. When the fans and the team itself was crying out for new signings in the form of possibly Toby Alderweireld or Harry Maguire, United announced a sponsorship deal with Chivas and Royal Stag, later announcing ICICI Bank as another sponsor. And the way in which United have gone about signing sponsorship deal over the past two or three years explains why they are currently the richest club in the world, with the current value in excess of £4 billion.
Mourinho has been going on and on about how he hasn’t sanctioned the signings he wanted to improve the side this past summer, but some have criticised him for not deserving to sign the players he wants. Those who have criticised the Portuguese on that part also state that Mourinho has done nothing to deserve the freedom to make his own signings and to have control over what signings he makes. That roots from how Mourinho has failed to find his system at the club ever since his arrival.
But their argument is valid only to a point. Because the Glazers handed Mourinho a new contract in 2020 ensuring him that he will back well enough to challenge for the title in the upcoming season. Despite those promises, the approach has been hypocritical. And the way it has been managed isn’t the way a club as big as Manchester United should manage it. That too at a critical time in Mourinho’s career.
While Mourinho doesn’t promise a brand of football that United have boasted of during the Sir Alex Ferguson era. But the decision of hiring him was no one else’s but the Glazers’. It was perhaps the lack of knowledge and awareness of what United fans want and of the club’s culture that made them appoint Mourinho. If not that, then the prestige and brand name that Mourinho has forced them into getting him when he never seemed like a manager who fits into the United philosophy. Bringing Mourinho in would have given the club the attention the Glazers needed and the revenue they needed from getting someone like Mourinho in.
When the critical time to back him came, they have failed and have let the club down.
It isn’t just the way they’ve operated United though, that has drawn criticism. The way the Glazers have operated their baseball club Tampa Bay Bucaneers. It is known to be a club that boasts of immense revenue and riches. But it hardly imposes itself on the game- the way United are functioning these days despite being the richest club in the world.
The great late Johan Cruyff rightly points out in his autobiography that the reason why Ajax failed after his departure from the club as its manager was that it hardly had football people operating it. The Amsterdam based side had businessmen running it and it was a major cause for Ajax’s failure, Cruyff felt. Not just that, but Cruyff stated similar reasons for the downfall of Dutch football.
And you can draw stark similarities with how United are operating these days- without having people who have seen the game from the pitch. All there exists are people who have seen the game from their VIP boxes, far away from the hustle and bustle of the stands and the pitch. They hardly know how football works, be it Ed Woodward or the Glazers. They are business minded people who have done really well in making United a commercial powerhouse. While they should be lauded for that, things on the pitch have taken a tumble ever since a common wire between the business side and the football side disappeared- David Gill.
As things stand, Ed Woodward seems like a mere puppet of the Glazers, who are taking actions which are hypocritical and don’t seem valid enough to run a football club as big as Manchester United. Installing a sporting director would certainly help, but it would only help in the short-term. And a time will certainly come when questions about the Glazers will be raised again.
If there’s a man who should be credited for bringing out this problem back out, then its Mourinho. He’s hardly been a man who likes being told what to do- the reason why he has fallen out with a dictator in Roman Abramovich in the past. Whenever he takes over at a club, he wants the full backing and allowance to do things his way. Very few people in the world would be more annoyed with life than Jose himself.
The problem he’s brought back into the open will haunt and trouble United long after Mourinho gets the sack. We have to accept that Jose will be gone soon enough, but that will hardly do the club any good. The root of the problem should be pulled out and thrown away before it rots Manchester United more than it already has.
The Glazers will be happy till the time United are fetching them enough money- that will always happen since they’ve created a model that has made United the richest club in the world. They won’t mind if United become a team like Arsenal from the last 7-8 years- happy to finish inside the top four and settle for mediocrity.
Although it was certainly encouraging and refreshing to hear that a plane carrying a message along the lines of ‘Ed Out’ being carried before the Spurs game. But the message should be delivered in a more direct way- the right to where it should be hit because Woodward is a mere puppet of the Glazers.
It’s no denying that the current state of affairs is Jose’s fault as well to an extent, but United need a change at every position for a fresh and a more dynamic approach- on the bench, on the pitch, in the staff, in the management and up there. But the top of the structure is where it should start from. And it should start soon.