Commentary

Theatrics not wanted - just find balance to make United special

No betrayal please, Jose. No sending Marcus Rashford off on loan, no farming out of Cameron Borthwick-Jackson. No banishing of Juan Mata. No parking the bus, gouging of the eyes or diatribes at the club doctor.

Nobody doubts that Mourinho, the impact man, will swiftly stir life into Manchester United but he needs to remember where he is now, who he is representing now, for this union to be a long-term success.

Mourinho has his own methods, highly successful ones in terms of the serial accumulation of silverware, but certain traits of his jar with United's ethos. The chant of "attack, attack, attack" resonates from the Stretford End. United revere entertainment not containment.

The club's celebrated commitment to youth has been honoured by Louis van Gaal, for all the outgoing manager's myriad other failings. Mourinho has already been linked with Zlatan Ibrahimovic when United have the pace and predatory instincts of Anthony Martial and Rashford to unleash up front. It is defenders and wingers that United truly need.

Alex Ferguson would pick fights with people outside the club but life remained smooth and united inside Carrington and Old Trafford. Mourinho must not threaten that strong internal dynamic with his political streak.

Many observers doubt Mourinho's suitability to manage United, yet he is a highly intelligent individual, a shrewd analyst of situations. He will know the adventurous traits demanded by fans at Old Trafford, and embodied by Ryan Giggs standing in the technical area and the distinguished Bobby Charlton sitting in the directors' box.


Workers walk past a mural depicting present and past football players and managers outside Manchester United's Old Trafford football stadium. PHOTO: AFP

His presence alone, his very aura, will bring some of United's old fear factor back. His record will generate hope. In his 12 full seasons at Porto, Chelsea, Inter, Real Madrid and Chelsea, Mourinho finished first eight times, second three times and third once. He will instil the players with belief.

He will appreciate the expectations when glancing across and seeing the name on the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand. He has always talked respectfully of United, and almost seemed to pay regular homage to Ferguson. This is a job that Mourinho has long coveted and it would be strange if he did not enter the building sympathetic to local demands.

Having left Chelsea under a cloud, Mourinho needs to smile and let the sun shine.

The question is whether, deep down, Mourinho is flexible enough to accommodate United's principles with his own. If he can, United could win with style. He has done it before, notably in his first incarnation at the Bridge where he had Arjen Robben and Damien Duff flying down the flanks, Frank Lampard breaking from midfield and Didier Drogba a rampaging centre forward.

Mourinho is not a total Luddite when it comes to the Beautiful Game. But he does need to let the team breathe, and the players express themselves.

He certainly knows how to strangle the life out of a game, restricting opponents, as he did when Inter Milan ground their way to the Champions League in 2010.

What United fans will crave is a well-organised, unyielding defence and a fluid, vibrant attack. It's about Mourinho finding the balance. His presence alone, his very aura, will bring some of United's old fear factor back. His record will generate hope. In his 12 full seasons at Porto, Chelsea, Inter, Real Madrid and Chelsea, Mourinho finished first eight times, second three times and third once. He will instil the players with belief.

But he has plenty of work to do. He must keep Giggs on, providing that link with United's heritage and also as a useful sounding board. He must talk to David de Gea, trying to persuade the best goalkeeper in the Premier League to remain at United.

Mourinho has some building blocks defensively, but they require an experienced architect like him to construct an imposing edifice.

He lacks The Wall as he had with Walter Samuel at Inter and may need to invest. England could benefit if Mourinho brings the best out of Chris Smalling. Phil Jones also needs a coach who believes in him and makes him concentrate and eradicate mistakes. Luke Shaw's return from injury will be appreciated by a coach who was well served by Ashley Cole at left-back at Chelsea. He will surely invest in a holding midfielder to protect the back-four better.

He arrives at an opportune moment because the van Gaal era had to end. The dressing room needed a change.

It is understood that there was disappointment among the players over the Dutchman's sparing use of Ashley Young.

For a disciplinarian, there were surprising lax moments from van Gaal that Mourinho will not tolerate. Martial is hugely promising but why did he not play against Norwich on May 7 but then train the next day?

Why did van Gaal allow Bastian Schweinsteiger to go back and forth from Germany while injured? Why was Memphis Depay turning up for a reserves fixture in a Rolls-Royce after making a bad mistake at Stoke? Why were players posting video from the team bus bottled outside Upton Park when they had been told not to?

A new era dawns, though, but whether it will be a special one depends on the dressing room and Mourinho adapting.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 26, 2016, with the headline 'Theatrics not wanted - just find balance to make United special'. Print Edition | Subscribe