28 May 2016

Man Utd may be in for turbulent times

12:42 pm on 28 May 2016

OPINION: One turbulent reign may have been substituted for another as Manchester United hires the most polarising manager in world football.

The self-dubbed "Special One" - José Mourinho - has been signed after another season of disappointment.

Fans show their support for sacked manager Jose Mourinho during the English Premier League football match between Chelsea and Sunderland.

Fans show their support for sacked manager Jose Mourinho during the English Premier League football match between Chelsea and Sunderland. Photo: AFP

He replaces the stubborn Louis van Gaal, who has publicly blamed his demise on a cabal of former players conspiring against him.

But the Dutchman only really came undone moments after winning the FA Cup, as the club, which did so well to keep the tabloids guessing about his future during the season, suddenly sprouted a hundred leaks.

Despite his firing being the worst-kept secret in football, he stayed classy in the end.

"Thank you to the owners and board of Manchester United for giving me the opportunity to manage this great club. I would also like to express my gratitude to the amazing United supporters. They are truly the best fans in the world," he said in a statement.

Immediately afterwards, more than one exposé was hashed out by British tabloid journalists revealing van Gaal's supposedly Draconian man-management style.

He would send players emails detailing their faults in previous games, they wrote.

Apparently, these were treated with the same disdain as notes from Nigerian princes promising riches and deposited straight into the virtual trash can.

Jose Mourinho gestures during an English Premiere League match.

José Mourinho during an English Premiere League match Photo: AFP

He may have lost the dressing room, but more importantly, the club has not performed.

Its final Premier League placing of fifth was outside the qualification zone for the prized European Champions League tournament - a necessary target.

The team has scored only 49 league goals - the lowest in 26 years and one more than basement-dwellers Sunderland.

It has played a turgid style of football that often led cameramen to seek out snoozing fans at games.

United seemed to have no greater concept of the forward pass than a Super Rugby side.

And so to his successor.

José Mourinho is the rare myth who remains in the spotlight.

He has won league titles in Portugal, England, Spain and Italy and has two prized Champions League titles to his name - the same number Manchester United's elder statesman and past coach Sir Alex Ferguson managed to win.

He also courts controversy.

He once poked the eye of a rival coach, he is embroiled in a very public unjustified dismissal case with a former trainer, and has made many disparaging comments about other managers.

He has been both adored and despised by former players and criticised as a divide-and-rule leader.

His first signing is rumoured to be Zlatan Ibrahimović - one of the few men in football with an even bigger ego.

His arrival could spell the end for club legend and assistant manager Ryan Giggs, who first joined the club 28 years ago as a wiry 14-year-old, and who must now leave the comfort of home to forge his own path.

Jose Mourinho

José Mourinho Photo: AFP

He will be tasked with shedding the memory of the past three years - something he openly acknowledged in his first interview for the club.

"It is a giant club. It must be for the best managers. I prefer to forget the past three years and focus on the giant club I have in my hands," he said.

"I want to win. What the players need to do is listen. I want to focus on the history of this giant club. I will give everything to go in the direction we all want."

The club will almost be unrecognisable from the cosy Sir Alex era, which ended with the its last league title in 2013.

Having finished 7th, 4th and 5th the last three years, fans are becomingly dangerously used to mediocrity.

In fact, van Gaal telling booing fans to lower their expectations earlier this month surely helped club chief executive Ed Woodward wield his axe - only a failure asks for lower expectations.

It is not even a case of his having a weak squad - $540 million was spent on players, most of it wasted, during his two-year tenure.

It makes sense for Woodward to turn to a man like Mourinho.

He is a born winner who may come with plenty of baggage, but most of that weight is the trophies he has won.

He will attract top players which should mean the end of the club paying the type of over-inflated prices it has for players over the past three years.

His teams are not known for their attractive style - in big games they often tried to stifle teams and strangle them to death.

But in others his players played quick expansive football. His philosophy is to let the ball do the work.

And if the team wins, do the fans care?

They just miss the gloating.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs

We have regular online commentary of local and international sport.