Football: United left to drag on with van Gaal or take Mourinho risk

A Manchester United fan displaying a scarf in reference to Jose Mourinho, who could possibly be the next United manager.
A Manchester United fan displaying a scarf in reference to Jose Mourinho, who could possibly be the next United manager.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • You can accuse the modern Manchester United of many things, but at least they knew what was coming on Monday.

They have had so long to get used to the idea of Pep Guardiola at Manchester City that lately, some club officials have been heard spouting the type of delusional rubbish - "didn't really fancy him anyway" - that is more appropriate to rejection at a school disco.

The inescapable feeling is that, just as Guardiola looks the perfect candidate to take City to another level, he would have been ideal for the mission of bringing some sense of clear, long-term, progressive vision where it is sorely lacking at United.

Also at Chelsea, whose owner, Roman Abramovich, has obsessed about him for years.

You could lump Arsenal into that category, too. Guardiola would be the ideal next Arsenal manager, but Arsene Wenger, like Alex Ferguson, will leave only when he is ready.

So how do United react?

The option of sticking with Louis van Gaal for a third season already looked unappealing enough, given the misery of life under the former Netherlands coach, even before City appointed Guardiola, an evangelist of football played at the most intoxicating combination of speed and fluency.

Van Gaal versus Guardiola next season? It would be dial-up against fibre-optic broadband.

It would not seem fair, especially since City's squad look far stronger in all departments in the first place.

What of Ryan Giggs, United's manager-in-waiting? There are plenty high up at United who encourage the idea of Giggs as the Swinton Guardiola, someone capable of making the rare leap from legendary player to high-class coach.

To throw him in against Guardiola, though, would seem hazardous.

Real Madrid are trying something similar with France and club legend Zinedine Zidane, but Guardiola's success in making that transition with Barcelona is the exception, not the norm.

You could see the appeal of Jose Mourinho - a manager who, whatever his faults, would restore some kind of competitive, fighting spirit to United.

Crucially, given the nature and priorities of United's owners, you could also see how Mourinho might appeal from a commercial perspective. Would his antics hurt the United "brand" and - more importantly to the fans, though not to the Glazers - image?

Feasibly yes, but so does mediocrity, especially if it reaches the point where fans in emerging markets begin to think of City first when they hear the word "Manchester".

The other aspect of this is that, as Real learnt, siding with Mourinho against Guardiola leaves you at risk of reputational damage. It is not just beautiful football that Guardiola pioneers. It is decency and eloquence.

For the two years that Guardiola and Mourinho were in direct competition in Spain, it was like Star Wars - Barcelona were cast as the Rebel Alliance against Real's Evil Empire. It did not do wonders for Real's reputation.

What do United want to be in a post-Ferguson world, though? They overlooked Mourinho in 2013 because they thought he was not suited to their values of youth, cavalier football and dynastic succession.

David Moyes was a mistake, but the principle at the time was a reasonable one. Mourinho showed once more at Chelsea, his guarantee of short-term success comes at the expense of harmony, entertainment and long-term planning.

That is as true now as it was then. What has changed is United's level of desperation.

THE TIMES, LONDON

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 03, 2016, with the headline 'United left to drag on with van Gaal or take Mourinho risk'. Print Edition | Subscribe