It didn’t take long for Louis Van Gaal’s moment of triumph to turn into something rather more morbid. Still carrying the FA Cup in hand, the Dutchman was informed of his impending dismissal as Manchester United manager in front of the assembled media. The setting for the breaking of such a development was a surprise. The news itself wasn’t, though.
Van Gaal’s Old Trafford exit had been a season in the making. He was fortunate to keep his job into the new year, with United faltering in their progress under the Dutchman’s control, ultimately missing out on Champions League qualification. Van Gaal’s exit was plotted over six months at the very least, as was the appointment of his replacement.
Ever since Jose Mourinho famously sprinted down the Old Trafford touchline 12 years ago his appointment at Man Utd seemed to be something of an inevitability. Now with Van Gaal gone the the Portuguese’s fate will finally be realised with his appointment expected this week.
But has Mourinho’s arrival at United come too late? He was the right man to take over from Sir Alex Ferguson three years ago and he is the right man to put back together what has fallen apart under Van Gaal. But is the damage inflicted by back-to-back managerial failures to be repaired by a quick fix?
After all, that is Mourinho’s trade. He is European football’s go-to-guy for instant success having won league titles in four different countries and the Champions League with two different clubs. But never before has he faced such a task. This job might not just make or break Man Utd, but Mourinho too.
Following abject failure at Chelsea this season, with the Blues putting up the worst defense of a Premier League title in history, Mourinho needs United just as much as they need him. Ruinous final years at both Stamford Bridge and Real Madrid have given the Portuguese coach something of a toxic reputation. He must now dispel it at Old Trafford.
Mourinho has yearned for the Man Utd job ever since Ferguson vetted him as a potential successor as far back as five years ago. He has postured and posed in preparation for this appointment, even attempting to change his personality in order to appeal to the club’s hierarchy, supposedly concerned at the Portuguese’s often erratic and contentious behavior.
Many see Mourinho’s impending appointment at United as an arrangement of convenience rather than one of true compatibility. He was passed over three years ago because he was deemed not befitting of the ‘Manchester United way,’ whatever that means, so what makes it any different this time around?
Circumstances have changed. United are in need of someone, anyone, to fast-track the club back to the top of the English game, regardless of how that is achieved. The Old Trafford club can no longer pick and choose how they wish to succeed, now they must simply hope that it happens at all.
Concerns over Mourinho’s suitability also revolve around the Portuguese’s philosophy as a football coach. Van Gaal’s style of play was much maligned, but Mourinho’s appointment might not bring much of a ideological departure. United fans grumble that a change of manager might only be a case of the same bus parked by a different driver.
And yet Man Utd don’t have much of an option but to hire the former Chelsea, Inter Milan, Porto and Real Madrid boss. With Manchester City luring Pep Guardiola the Salford club needed someone with the conviction and pedigree to go head-to-head with the Spaniard, as well as Antonio Conte at Chelsea, Arsene Wenger at Arsenal and Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool. Thus Mourinho was the only man for the job, just as he has been for years. United must hope that they haven’t left it too late.