Soccer expert Chris Lierly covers the drama of Manchester United’s much anticipated decision to fire their manager after many months of incompetency.
On Dec. 18, Manchester United sacked Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho two days after a 3-1 loss at Anfield against rival Liverpool. The previous month of matches included a loss to Manchester City, a loss to Valencia and draws against Crystal Palace and Arsenal. Long awaited by many a Red Devil faithful, Mourinho’s firing cost the club ￡18 million ($32mil). The board of United appointed Ole Gunnar Solksjær, a former player for the club, as the caretaker manager until the end of the season. Since the Norwegian manager has taken the helm, United have won four Premier League matches by at least a 2-0 margin.
Mourinho stamped his distinct style onto the European continent by winning the Primiera League with Porto, the Premier League with Chelsea, La Liga with Real Madrid and Serie A with Inter Milan. His heavily defensive style that won him title after title was supposed to do the exact same thing at Manchester United, and act as the crowning jewel to an illustrious managerial career. Instead, Mourinho failed to win one major trophy, and his tenure at Old Trafford proved that the tactical world is changing. Liverpool and Manchester City lead the Premier league with two of the most prolific attacks ever seen, and Mourinho’s park-the-bus strategy could not withstand the relentless pressure of Klopp’s Gegenpress or non-stop passing of Guardiola’s Barca-ball.
When confronted over losses to major teams and blunders against smaller ones, Mourinho often pointed out the lack of talent on his team as the primary reason for his squad’s performance. But his statement seems contradictory to the quantity of talent on the roster. Paul Pogba dominated on a French squad that won the World Cup in the kind of attacking midfielder role that Mourinho refused to let him play, and since Mourinho’s departure, the new manager, working with the same players, has not had a hard time making up for lost points.
United’s record since Mourinho’s sacking is four straight wins, but more important is how they’ve won those games. They won them by good margins, and for the first time since the tenure of Sir Alex Ferguson, the Red Devils truly look like a functioning team. Pogba, Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku have all scored in the past few games, and unlike the dreadful atmosphere that infected Mourinho’s teams, this squad looks jubilant at every moment. This has all made the last few weeks hopeful for the United faithful.
Even though the Premier League is likely out of reach, the Mourinho-less team will be a legitimate threat next year and can play spoiler in their competitions against any team with a shot this season. Additionally, they must play against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League, but what would have been a cakewalk for the Parisians with the defensive strategy of Mourinho could prove to be a viable threat if United can translate winning domestic play to the Champions League.
The key will be keeping Paul Pogba’s incredible talent around past the summer, which seems more likely now that Pogba has won his feud with Mourinho. Additionally, there have been rumors that former Liverpool center mid Philippe Coutinho might make a return to England by moving to Old Trafford in the summer.
No one wanted on the sinking ship a few months ago, but now United looks to be a better destination for players who like offensive gameplay.
United fans reacted exuberantly to Jose Mourinho’s exit, but those outside the fan base should as well. For those who support other Premier League teams, the Premier League looks best when its biggest franchise is playing at its best. A strong United makes for a stronger English League. For all fans, the departure of Mourinho’s style from tactical world is an accomplishment.
This era has been defined by revolutionary and beautiful styles that maintain tactical stability. Instead, Mourinho opted for an old, worn out way of playing the game — a way that reinforces the stereotypes of soccer’s critics that the game is boring and low intensity.
He also wasted parts of otherwise incredible careers for Alexi Sanchez, Pogba, Lukaku and Rashford by forcing these high scoring players into a sheltered system. His sacking will be celebrated by the Red Devil faithful until the end of time, but the rest of the soccer world should take happiness away from this as well.