The Stage of Soccer: Decoding (For) Mourinho, Once and For All

You don’t boo Aretha Franklin or Beyoncé for getting a few notes wrong at a specific performance. Certainly, we didn’t and don’t request their retirement when we haven’t heard an album in a bit. It is within this backdrop that one must frame the recent Mourinho brouhaha at Old Trafford. This piece would aim to show how and why the special one’s recent press conferences have been necessary in keeping a critical cap on an amnesic audience.

Mourinho inquired of the journalist if he read some of Hegel’s writings in the course of his studies. The truth is to be found in the whole, and it is up to Manchester United both as a globally famous club and to the club’s board if the club wish to experience success with Mourinho, or not. The man is a proven winner and would probably continue to win, at the very least, in the right conditions. So, just to recap: he is one of the greatest managers in the world, he is the only manager who has won eight major titles in England, Italy and Spain after his successes at home in Portugal.

I have heard many a pundit struggle to unpack the messages from Jose Mourinho. None has managed to make the experience of listening less of a struggle for me. But what does Mourinho mean when he says that becoming second last season is one of his greatest achievements in football? Here is what it means: Mourinho began his elite managerial sojourn with a Porto team full of history but facing a momentary drought. Mourinho not only took Porto back to match its history, his Porto outdid every prior Porto team by winning the UEFA Cup (today’s Europa League) and the champions league barely a year later.

As for Chelsea, it is true that the club had been coming close in 5th, 4th, 3rd, and 2nd positions; but it was Mourinho’s effectiveness and Abramovich’s war chest that brought Chelsea a first title in 50 years. Real Madrid and Inter were equally dominant forces in Spain and Italy respectively just before he won titles at these clubs. What, therefore, is Mourinho driving at by saying being 2nd last season amounts to one of his greatest achievements in football? Well, it’s simple really. Mourinho took over a team that just finished 7th in the Premier League. This hardly compares to the clubs he inherited hitherto each of which had challenged for the title in the years preceding.

In his 1st season in charge at Old Trafford, Mourninho bettered the 7th place finish by a step: United finished 6th, but this was on the back of the League Cup and the Europa League – a title that took United back into the Champions League, a competition finishing 7th or 6th wouldn’t qualify a team for! Mourinho’s 2nd season saw the newcomers get knocked out at home by Sevilla in the 2nd round of the Champions League while playing the FA Cup final and finishing 2nd (4 places better than the year before) in the league. It is true that Manchester City got miles better. But that view seems obsessed with a half empty approach for Mourinho’s United bettered the preceding year’s 5th, 4th, 3rd, and 2nd.

While Mourinho’s transfer choices since arriving Manchester leave much to be desired, it is undeniable that there has been progress. Until the recent back-to-back losses, the team had slowly grown in becoming difficult to beat in the country, never mind the loss of the fear factor. United cannot eat its cake and have it. If United fans want to get back to the glory days of Fergie, they must eschew the modern day temperament of instant success in football. In Mourinho, United have got a special winner whose cabinet reveals an absence of jinx and a variety as scarce as Fergie’s record. It behooves on United to see its marriage to a winner as what it is. Mourinho opened the curtains at Porto, it is only right that he closes at Old Trafford having distinguished himself across Europe. More than any manager known presently, Mourinho possesses the wherewithal to become a serial winner at the Old Trafford dugout for many years to come.

Truth need be told: Mourinho is too big for 2 year contracts and 1 year contract extensions. United should fully brace up to Mourinho. There is no good in half measures. He should be afforded a 10 year plan of building a team Europe envies. At the risk of speculating a manager’s mind and of exposing in-house strengths, the following formation suggests a Manchester United that already boasts a very strong team with which Europe must be concerned:

A 3-5-2 starring;

Chris Smalling: he began his high profile career as a right fullback at Fulham. The recent change in his hairstyle has brought about a steely look hitherto lacking in his make up as a center half. In a 3-man defence, Chris Smalling could start as the man on the right.

Eric Bailly: I am handing his laxity at the end of last season and his sloppy errors lately to formational/personnel errors from the gaffer. In the center of a 3-man defence, Bailly looks every bit a libero-leader in a record-breaking team for clean sheets.

Marcos Rojo: a central defender with a favored left foot balances the formation and completes what I believe to be a very strong 3-man defensive line available at Old Trafford presently.

Speculatively, Matteo Damian subs Smalling as does Diogo Dalot, Phil Jones subs Bailly while Ashley Young subs Rojo. Each of these 4 replacements for a 3-man back line offers a decent alternative.


To the left of the central midfield is Nemanja Matic for whom a license to go forward and shoot could reveal Perisic-isque qualities. To the right is Fred, while tucked in the hole is Ander Herrera playing a role somewhere between Michael Carrick’s and Roy Keane’s.

A replica 3-man central midfield is possible in Andreas Pereira, Marouane Fellaini, and Scott McTominay.

Roaming both defence and midfield on either side are are Luke Shaw and Antonio Valencia.


This can be simplified to several options of a support forward and striker e.g.

Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku

Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford

Alexis Sanchez and Anthony Martial

Need I say more?

Note that a certain Juan Mata is holidaying from these speculative formations. Manchester United has faced tremendous backlash over recent poor results and its players’ abysmal performances. Certain Mourinho signings such as Victor Lindelöf’s and Alexis Sanchez’s haven’t been shrewd. The manager has been overwhelmed by the caliber of personnel at his disposal making selections awful on several occasions. It is hoped that this speculation would serve as a workbook in turning a designer squad into an invincible winning team.

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