United must wish they had gone for Po­chet­tino in­stead of Mour­inho

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - SOCCER - PAUL WIL­SON

FUNNY old game, foot­ball man­age­ment. Both Stoke and West Brom were glad to see the back of Tony Pulis, and look where they are now. And look where Pulis is now, cheer­fully turn­ing Middlesbrough into a force again and keep­ing pace with Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds at the top of the Cham­pi­onship.

The word cheer­fully is used care­fully, for although Pulis has a rep­u­ta­tion for func­tional foot­ball, his out­look is usu­ally sunny and his at­ti­tude al­ways pos­i­tive. His re­ac­tion on miss­ing out on the chance to sign Yan­nick Bo­lasie last week was fairly typ­i­cal. “If we can’t get the play­ers that will im­prove us, then we’ll work our socks off to get the best out of the ones we have,” Pulis said.

Which brings us in a round­about way to Manch­ester United, who would never hire a man­ager like Pulis in a mil­lion years but sorely need some of his uni­fy­ing phi­los­o­phy.

Jose Mour­inho, de­spite £364m spent in five trans­fer win­dows, has let it be known he is dis­sat­is­fied with the club’s fail­ure to bring in more play­ers over the sum­mer. He specif­i­cally wanted an­other top-line cen­tre-back and, while the ex­ec­u­tive vice-chair­man, Ed Wood­ward, ap­pears to have taken the rea­son­able view that United are well enough staffed in that area, not least with the cen­tre-backs Mour­inho has brought in, the man­ager’s com­ments duly un­der­mined the con­fi­dence of Eric Bailly and Vic­tor Lin­de­lof at Brighton .

United’s list­less­ness is not con­fined to their back­line ei­ther, with var­i­ous play­ers from Paul Pogba to An­thony Mar­tial nurs­ing per­sonal griev­ances. There has al­ready been too much cov­er­age of who said what and when to make in­ter­est­ing read­ing for any­one other than Manch­ester City fans or Mour­inho-haters, but suf­fice to say that United at the mo­ment are not work­ing their socks off. They are look­ing like a failed ex­per­i­ment, and an ex­tremely ex­pen­sive one.

There is a blame game go­ing on at Old Traf­ford, which some choose to in­ter­pret as par for the course for a third Mour­inho sea­son and oth­ers more point­edly re­gard as a cal­cu­lated dis­trac­tion to draw at­ten­tion from the un­palat­able truth that United are miles be­hind City on the field.

Some loy­al­ists, in­clud­ing Dim­i­tar Ber­ba­tov, bless him, are of the opin­ion any side can suf­fer an early-sea­son blip and United’s ti­tle chal­lenge will soon be back on the rails. The former United and Spurs striker even pointed out, in his ca­pac­ity as a Bet­fair an­a­lyst, that Mour­inho’s In­ter­nazionale be­gan their all con­quer­ing 2009-’10 sea­son with a tame draw.

Yet that was peak Mour­inho, back when a ca­pa­ble man­ager was still ex­cited by the pos­si­bil­i­ties pre­sented by a tal­ented group of play­ers. This feels more like piqued Mour­inho, the sit­u­a­tion rem­i­nis­cent of the di­vi­sive and un­nec­es­sary stance taken against Dr Eva Carneiro and a largely blame­less Chelsea med­i­cal staff in 2015.

That in­ter­nal rift had no happy end­ing and it is hard to see why this one should turn out any dif­fer­ently if Wood­ward and Mour­inho are at odds with each other, and the play­ers some­where in be­tween.

It is also dif­fi­cult to work out why Wood­ward handed Mour­inho a con­tract ex­ten­sion last sea­son if he knew he would be tight­en­ing the purse strings. Three years of Mour­inho would prob­a­bly have been enough for most United sup­port­ers, who re­alised some time ago he was not go­ing to fully em­brace life in Manch­ester or se­ri­ously chal­lenge Pep Guardi­ola for supremacy of the city.

Spot­ting the flaws in failed suc­ces­sions is al­ways eas­ier in hind­sight but some United sup­port­ers are also ask­ing them­selves why a club that prides it­self on play­ing with a cer­tain swag­ger has gone for three con­ser­va­tive man­agers in a row since Alex Fer­gu­son.

More might have been ex­pected of Mour­inho, though un­less he can get his at­tack­ing act to­gether very quickly he will sim­ply be lumped in with David Moyes and Louis van Gaal as part of a gen­er­ally un­sat­is­fac­tory post-Fer­gu­son con­tin­uum. The game has moved on and Old Traf­ford has failed to move with it, un­less any­one counts stack­ing up official mat­tress, cof­fee and out­door ap­parel part­ners as signs of progress.

United were never go­ing to land Guardi­ola, given City’s long-stand­ing in­ter­est and Barcelona con­nec­tions, though Jur­gen Klopp was un­der con­sid­er­a­tion at one point and might have been per­suaded when frus­trated at Bay­ern Mu­nich pick­ing off his best play­ers. Klopp won the Bun­desliga ti­tle and reached a Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal with Dort­mund, which put him on United’s radar.

The man­ager in the op­pos­ing dugout when United take on Tot­ten­ham to­mor­row night has still not won a thing, though a the­ory is gain­ing trac­tion that an ideal can­di­date has been over­looked all along. Moyes had not won any­thing ei­ther when United ap­pointed him in 2013, yet by that point, even though com­mu­ni­cat­ing through an in­ter­preter, Mauri­cio Po­chet­tino had be­gun to make a name for him­self at Southamp­ton, both for an at­tack­ing brand of foot­ball and a will­ing­ness to trust young play­ers.

When Southamp­ton fin­ished eighth in his first full sea­son no one queried the wis­dom of re­plac­ing Nigel Ad­kins any more but it was Spurs who took a punt on an up-and-com­ing man­ager, while United went for what they re­garded as the more re­li­able op­tion in Van Gaal and were re­warded by two years of stale, pas­sion­less foot­ball.

Part of the rea­son Mour­inho was even­tu­ally wel­comed, against the bet­ter judge­ment of some of the United board, was that he could hardly fail to perk up the place af­ter that, yet though he has won sil­ver­ware it would be hard to ar­gue he has en­er­gised the club to the same ex­tent Po­chet­tino has at Spurs.

Tot­ten­ham are so im­pressed they have awarded their man­ager a con­tract un­til 2023, which if he sees it out will mean a nine-year ten­ure. Ea­gle-eyed ob­servers will have spot­ted this is ex­actly the sort of sta­bil­ity/con­ti­nu­ity Fer­gu­son orig­i­nally hoped Moyes would pro­vide, vastly prefer­able to chop­ping and changing ev­ery two or three years.

While there is no guar­an­tee Po­chet­tino would have fared any bet­ter than Moyes in the dif­fi­cult pe­riod of ad­just­ment im­me­di­ately af­ter Fer­gu­son, there is ev­ery rea­son to be­lieve he would have been more pop­u­lar with United sup­port­ers than the two sup­pos­edly su­per-man­agers that fol­lowed.

It would be hard to ar­gue he has en­er­gised the club to the same ex­tent

‘There is a blame game go­ing on at Old Traf­ford, which some choose to in­ter­pret as par for the course for a third Jose Mour­inho sea­son’

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