Commentary

Jose knows he mustn't pick fights he can't win

Scarves featuring the image of Manchester United's new Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho are displayed for sale outside Old Trafford.
Scarves featuring the image of Manchester United's new Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho are displayed for sale outside Old Trafford. PHOTO: AFP

Jose Mourinho will be a better manager (at Manchester United) for the punch on the nose he had at Chelsea. It will have been an enormous learning curve for him.

Despite his achievements, he'll have learnt things about modern footballers, that he thought he understood, and also about himself. As hard as it was, he'll be wiser for it.

He is a pragmatic manager but plays the game the correct way. He fell out with (Chelsea playmaker) Eden Hazard because Hazard doesn't do anything when he does not have the ball. He's a reluctant worker.

Why was Juan Mata, twice player of the year at Chelsea, sold? He didn't do enough going back towards his own goal.

To be successful, you need the flair players taking part when you don't have the ball. Mourinho's 100 per cent right on that.

During my playing career at Liverpool, our wide midfielders - Jimmy Case, Ray Kennedy, Sammy Lee, Craig Johnston and Ronnie Whelan - were all workers. Is it a coincidence we won the big trophies? All 10 outfield players worked to get the ball back and defending started with the centre-forward.

Mourinho is not everybody's cup of tea. You know he's going to be in an argument with somebody most weeks of the season. He'll have to be more careful as United's manager, with all due respect to Chelsea, because they're one of the big players on the world stage.

You hear rumours that certain players won't be happy under Mourinho. So what? Have they been happy for the past three years?

There's no better feeling than going home on a Saturday or Sunday when you've won a big game. You might not have played well, but you've won. That's all that matters.

Mourinho is not everybody's cup of tea. You know he's going to be in an argument with somebody most weeks of the season. He'll have to be more careful as United's manager, with all due respect to Chelsea, because they're one of the big players on the world stage.

Given the profile of football today, he only has to look at somebody the wrong way and he's going to get headlines.

Alex Ferguson (at United) was calculating. He picked fights where, in the bigger picture, they benefited him.

During Mourinho's time in England, whether it's with pundits or his own medical staff, his fights have often been wasted energy. He got zero sympathy within football and from the general public for the latter. All great managers pick fights knowing they're going to win them.

As well as his own mistakes, Mourinho will be clever enough to learn from (his predecessor at United) Louis van Gaal's.

When I watched United last season they generally had most of the ball, but a lot of it was comfortable possession, going sideways or backwards.

You would constantly hear Ronnie Moran screaming in Liverpool's training sessions to "look forward" and there would be an expletive accompanying that.

A lot of teams today think that keeping possession is what the game's all about. They're wrong.

The whole idea of football is to get the ball to the people who put it in the net as quickly and accurately as possible to give them the maximum time to finish, not to have 60 per cent or 70 per cent possession on the halfway line.

I've managed against Mourinho where Chelsea have been behind or we've been in charge of the game and he's been on the touch-line telling his back four to bypass the midfield and get it directly into Didier Drogba.

Remember Robert Huth coming on in the Champions League at Barcelona as an emergency centre-forward in 2006?

Getting United back into that tournament will be his priority. If you're looking for the perfect scenario, you promote your youngsters and still win trophies.

When the Class of 92 came along, there was talk of United finding the holy grail, not just young players but ones who would be stars on the European and world stage. If they had, it would have happened again in 2002 and 2012, but it didn't.

As manager of one of the most successful clubs in football, time is not Mourinho's friend. He cannot wait for anyone.

United need better players. The big challenge facing them is keeping David de Gea, who for the past two years has been their best performer. For them to be back challenging, Mourinho must make two or three top signings. Maybe a right-back.

It's a shame Luke Shaw broke his leg against PSV when he was looking a top left-back. Mourinho will also be looking for a couple of midfielders, an anchorman and one who can get goals from a wider area, and a striker.

The influential Jorge Mendes, his agent, will be a huge help in identifying and signing them.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 30, 2016, with the headline 'Jose knows he mustn't pick fights he can't win'. Print Edition | Subscribe