Jose Mourinho came to Manchester United with an abundance of expectation, surpassing almost anything previously seen in the Premier League. On the fact of it, his assignment was clear: Restore the stature and standing of a club that had experienced an alarming period of decline in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era. It was a situation the Portuguese was well-prepared for — three seasons leading Real Madrid’s galacticos will ready you for more or less anything.
The shadow of Ferguson
Initially, the two-time Champions League winner bore the burden well, adding two trophies (and a Community Shield) to his already illustrious resume, and, not to mention, to the club’s near-universally envied trophy cabinet. It was a strong platform for constructing greater, long term, success, particularly at a time when the shadow of Ferguson was threatening to become ever more imposing.
he Chosen One, David Moyes, had failed to make good on the opportunity of a lifetime, before Louis van Gaal implemented a cautious and orthodox system of play at the Old Trafford that failed to meet the fans’ expectations. Moreover, both of Ferguson’s successors struggled to make an impact in European competition, marking an unacceptable decline the club’s global standing. Keenly aware of Manchester City’s move to lure Pep Guardiola to the Ethiad, United opted to fire van Gaal, leading to the appointment of the Portuguese as his replacement heading into the 2016/2017 season.
A strong start, but not enough
Mourinho’s first season in charge brought in the expected trophies, as the club added the EFL League Cup and a Europa League title to the Community Shield won at the outset of the season. Ordinarily, that would be enough for most club sides, but not for United. This, let’s not forget, is a club that demands Premier League and Champions League success.
Contending for either one has become something of a baseline expectation for any United manager, but this is even more the case when someone with Mourinho’s reputation is in charge. History, of course, has it that the Portuguese clinches the league title in his second season with a club. It happened at Inter Milan, Real Madrid, and even Chelsea. And with Guardiola finishing his inaugural season in Manchester empty-handed, surely it would happen for Mourinho again at Man United.
Of course, City and Guardiola proved themselves to be a record-setting disruptive force in the league, forcing Mourinho and United to play second fiddle — and a distant one at that. During that campaign, the doubts began to emerge, and the critics surfaced. This was not what the United faithful bargained for. Finishing the season trophyless is not in the club’s DNA. Ferguson made sure of that.
Winning at all costs?
Manchester United didn’t become the most successful club in England playing second fiddle. It was a result of playing attacking, attractive football and winning trophies. But although Mourinho is not especially renowned for the former, he has built a career out of the latter. Winning at all costs is, or was, his stock in trade. Only this time around he had neither good football nor trophies.
As far as trophies were concerned, the Red Devils failed on all fronts last season. From the League Cup to the Premier League and European Cup, it was the same story. United fell short. Not even an FA Cup final against Chelsea could change that, bad as Antonio Conte’s season with the Blues was.
It’s two seasons gone and Mourinho has not been able to secure the Premier League title. Old Trafford is getting impatient — 2013 is a long time ago now. Many were also less-than-impressed with United’s defensive style of play. The manager’s attitude did not help matters too.
Playing the blame game does no one any good. Mourinho would often call out his players for blame after a loss. Only Nemanja Matic and Scott McTominay seemed to escape his tongue lashings. He also had running battles with other managers and club’s legends who made comments he did not like.
A season for redemption
The 2018/2019 season will be Mourinho’s opportunity for redemption. He is looking to overhaul his squad to launch an assault on the title. New signings have already started arriving at Old Trafford. Brazil’s Fred has been acquired to add steel to the midfield, while youngster Diogo Dalot is expected to provide additional cover at full back. More signings are expected as some players will be let go. Mourinho is determined to make up for the disappointment of the 2017/2018 season.
The flip side of this is that a failure to mount a serious title challenge this time around, and another disappointing season, could have negative consequences for the manager. Van Gaal was let go after two seasons despite returning the club to the UCL and winning the FA Cup. Mourinho may well follow the same route if things do not improve next term.