By John Ryan
- One man come in the name of love
One man come and go
One man come he to justify
One man to overthrow ……..
As a young lad growing up in Ireland two memories stand out from the 1980’s; Alex Ferguson taking charge of Manchester United and U2 doing our country proud on the world stage.
Later in life I wondered if ‘Pride in the name of love’ had been written about Alex Ferguson given the lines above.
Ferguson brought passion, he transformed the club in his twenty seven year tenure. He made unpopular decisions but backed them up with trophy after trophy and he knocked Liverpool from their lofty perch.
Of course the true meaning of the song lay behind the life of Martin Luther King Junior but given his success that verse is a fitting summation of Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United career.
Manchester United Are Now A Different Animal
Jose Mourinho has taken over a different Manchester United.
The club today is a corporate monster with vast riches and a fan base all over the world. While Ferguson first assessed a squad of mainly British and Irish players, Mourinho manages a multi-cultural group of young men who live in the world of social media, mobile phones, selfies and dabbing.
It is a far cry from the days of Paul McGrath, Norman Whiteside and Bryan Robson having a few pints after games and often mixing with the fans.
Mourinho is sometimes slated for how he sets up his football team but if Ferguson’s early and late years at United are studied, the team was not always the free flowing side that was seen between 1994-1999.
In 2008 for example the influence of Carlos Queiroz saw United oust Barcelona from the Champions League with two wonderful performances in defence.
Both Men Guided Unfancied Teams To European Success
Barcelona and Real Madrid are two giants of world football. Alex Ferguson has beaten both in European finals. In 1983 he led unfashionable Aberdeen to the most amazing win over Real Madrid in the European Cup Winners Cup final.
Mourinho has worked for both Barcelona and Real Madrid and like Ferguson he has beaten Barcelona in a final.
Mourinho led an unfancied Porto to the 2003 EUFA Cup and 2004 Champions League title which brought him to Stamford Bridge and three Premier Leagues.
Both men have been able to reproduce success at different clubs which is something many managers struggle with.
Both Ferguson and Mourinho have made unpopular decisions but were able to stick by them and go on to great success.
For Ferguson it was allowing players like Stam, Beckham, Keane and Van Nistelrooy to leave the club.
Mourinho sacked Adrian Mutu in his first spell as Chelsea boss after the player was found to be taking recreational drugs.
Many thought Mourinho should have shown more compassion towards Mutu but just four months into his Chelsea reign a tough decision was needed.
Six months later Chelsea were the English champions. Both men have shown fantastic ability to manage a talisman. Ferguson took a gamble on the wayward Eric Cantona and later rebuilt his team around Cristiano Ronaldo.
Mourinho created a Chelsea side where Frank Lampard became a goal scoring machine from midfield and later also deployed Cristiano Ronaldo to great effect at Madrid.
Both Men Not Afraid To Use Mind Games
Tricks and feuds are common to both men. At Aberdeen Ferguson had Gordon Strachan and John McMaster stand over free kicks, run into each other to make it look like they had messed the set piece up before one would deliver a perfectly flighted ball that the Aberdeen forwards knew was coming.
Ferguson took Jock Stein’s advice before the 1983 Cup Winners Cup Final by presenting Real Madrid’s Alfredo Di Stefano with a bottle of wine prior to the game.
Stein advised that it would make the opposition Manager think Ferguson was just glad to be in the final rubbing shoulders with a supposed superior Manager and would relax and unsettle him.
Mourinho is said to have hid in a laundry basket to sneak into the Chelsea dressing room after being banned by UEFA from matchday contact with his players in April 2005. Each of these tricks led the respective Manager to success showing a thought process designed to get around any obstacle.
Both Men Not Afraid Of Confrontation
Ferguson and Mourinho have both feuded with rival managers, officials and players however both seemed to be too wise to take each other on.
In their head to head meetings it took Ferguson fourteen attempts to record a second win over Mourinho. In their last meeting just two months before Ferguson retired, Real Madrid inspired by a celebration less Cristiano Ronaldo won 2-1 at Old Trafford in the Champions League quarter final.
Mourinho said after the game that the better side lost. When his Porto knocked United out of the same competition in 2004 he ran down the touchline to celebrate. There was potential then for both men to be at odds with each other yet instead a friendship formed.
Perhaps one major difference in their approach has been their approach upon arrival at a club.
Ferguson Built A Club At Both Aberdeen And Manchester United
At both Aberdeen and Manchester United, Ferguson immersed himself in the locality. He set up a scouting network at both clubs and made it fashionable to join them.
He went to great lengths to get the best young talent available, for example driving to Torquay late at night to sign Lee Sharpe.
Ferguson had no fear of the transfer market and while he made many a blunder such as Djemba-Djemba, Kleberson and Bellion, he sourced players such Schmeichel, Kanchelskis, Evra, Vidic, and Carrick who all added a different dimension to his side.
As each player was bought eyebrows were raised yet one by one all helped Manchester United to trophies. Ferguson’s view was always a long term one where once players were producing the goods they would be at the club as long as he wanted them.
Ferguson The Father Figure
His fire and passion, will to win and ability to motivate made Manchester United unstoppable. He was like a Father scolding his sons but only because he wanted the best for them and how his players bought into his way of thinking.
For almost four decades Ferguson repeated success after success and to do that you have to be a very special human being.
While Ferguson was never a great coach, his superb strength lay in his ability to give his players clear instructions, get them to play attacking football, fight for each other and play for the badge on their shirt.
Supporters questioned him but loved him and above all else trusted him. Those who played for him both feared and respected him in equal measure. At both Aberdeen and Manchester United he created a dynasty and a history, a legacy.
Mourinho Emphasis Is On Winning
Jose Mourinho has been a more pragmatic manager. Upon arrival at Porto, Chelsea, Inter and Real he set each club up to win from the beginning.
He has spent big on the most sought after players. His sides have played functional football often winning games with twenty five per cent possession of the ball.
He encourages his teams to be lethal in the last third of the pitch and at each club he has always had one outstanding goal scorer.
Being more Machiavellian than majestic has drawn stings from journalists, pundits and those who describe themselves as purists. Mourinho’s teams have been labelled boring, defensive and ‘parking the bus’ as they won games efficiently.
When Alex Ferguson left Manchester United in May 2013 it is said that Mourinho was unable to sleep after hearing that David Moyes had been lined up as a replacement.
He denied this and later returned to Chelsea but once Luis Van Gaal was removed from the Old Trafford hot-seat last May, it was clear how much Mourinho wanted United.
Has Mourinho Finally Got His Dream Job?
From the beginning of the season he has been like a man compromised. He wants to win but he is astute enough to know that there is a ‘Manchester United way’.
Manchester United’s fans want to be entertained and want football played the way Busby & Ferguson delivered. The players Mourinho currently has are not good enough to play that way and win so he has had to find balance. Perhaps the striker’s position sums up the dilemma he faced.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has won over many Manchester United fans with his array of goals. But having him in the team has slowed down the pace of attack.
Now with him being injured local lad Marcus Rashford is getting his chance to shine. The Old Trafford faithful love to see products of youth tearing the opposition apart.
But for Mourinho Rashford obviously doesn’t have the experience needed to be the ‘1’ in his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation. Does he look to the transfer market in the summer for a partner or replacement for Rashford?
Run To Europa League Final Reminiscent Of 1990 FA Cup Run
As we approached the Europa League final the United path to the Stockholm showpiece as well as the football played have been patchy.
It has been very reminiscent of Ferguson’s 1990 FA Cup run. Back then, sides not as good as United terrorised Ferguson’s men.
There were three 1-0 wins away to Nottingham Forest, Hereford United and Sheffield United.
There was a belting game at St James’ park to see off Newcastle 3-2 before a titanic 3-3 draw against Oldham in the semi-final. United made it home in the replay before a see saw game against Crystal Palace threw up another 3-3 draw. In the replay a Lee Martin goal gave Ferguson his first trophy as Manchester United Manager and the rest was history.
Trophies Or Top Four?
Mourinho already has a trophy as Manchester United Manager but winning the Europa League would be his best hope of Manchester United reaching next season’s Champions League.
The manager has said he would rather win a trophy to get into that tournament than to finish fourth in the Premier League.
Manchester United have never won that trophy and on a withering route to the final the fans could be forgiven for thinking it was 1990 all over again.
Each game has brought pressure because of the size of Manchester United’s transfer fees and perceived lack of recent success. Just as it was then could this trophy win be the start of something great for the club?
Mourinho Not Ferguson Replica
Mourinho is not a replica of Ferguson but there are more than enough similarities. Winning the Europa League will set him up for a long stay at Old Trafford.
At times this season he has played with six players near their own goal and limited possession resulting in many draws. In the 1989/90 season Manchester United scored just forty six League goals.
In the 1991/92 season the club drew fifteen league games. As he adapts his own philosophy towards one that matches the club’s ethos, Mourinho is managing change in the same way as Ferguson had to all those years ago.
On the sideline he is passionate, articulate and there have been no sign of the antics that landed him in trouble at Real Madrid. Mourinho has shown that he wants to give Manchester United the football and success Busby and Ferguson both gave but much of this season has been based on his model of success.
Mourinho Now Has An Opportunity To Build His United Team
With a transfer window in the Summer, the opportunity to promote from the youth system and members of the Moyes and Van Gaal era possibly leaving, Mourinho has the chance to stamp his full authority on the club.
Just as important though will be the move towards the attacking flair that was seen from many a United side in the past.
There might not be a Liverpool to overthrow these days with the League title having gone to four different sides in the last six seasons. But it looks like this man has found his spiritual home at Old Trafford.
As his methods are justified by up front success this could be a marriage made in heaven. Moyes and Van Gaal this decade are what Dave Sexton and Ron Atkinson were in the 1980’s.
With patience and long term planning on all sides Jose Mourinho might just be the man to fully restore pride in the name of what their fans love -Manchester United football club