“Be careful what you wish for” might well be a useful caution for United fans this summer. Even after the rousing FA Cup semi-final win against Everton, most fans still want Van Gaal to go, with the vast majority in favour of Mourinho taking over.
From there, however, it gets confusing, at least for a lot of United fans. The biggest concern about Mourinho, it appears, is his historic unwillingness to promote players from the youth set-up, arguably the only area in which Van Gaal has found favour among supporters. Yet a huge plus for Jose, it is claimed, is his ability to attract much-needed players of established ability and get the best out of them.
You don’t have to be a genius to see which way that’s heading. Mourinho is essentially a pragmatist and an expert at the quick-fix. Not for him the long-term planning of Van Gaal; he’ll want success straight away, and he’ll opt for the quickest and most direct route.
But, in the drive for instant success, there will be players who will lose out. At the moment, for instance, Marcus Rashford seems unassailable as United’s first-choice striker. He’s averaging a goal every two games, contributes much to the team besides that, and has barely had a weak performance so far. It seems unthinkable that he should be left out in the cold.
And yet, should Mourinho be able to assist Woodward in attracting an experienced striker – an Ibrahimovic, perhaps, or a Cavani or Higuain – you sense that such players would only want to come to United, and potentially live with a season without Champions League football, if they’re going to see plenty of action.
There’s been speculation that Mourinho will be working under the condition that he’ll have to respect United’s commitment to youth development. But in practice what would such an agreement amount to? That he’d agree to continue United’s tradition of including a home-grown player in the match-day squad? It’s pretty easy to give token acknowledgement to such a demand and easy to imagine how it could end with Rashford continuing his development on the bench.
Not only that, but if you’re going to recruit a coach with a proven track record like Mourinho, you have to let him be what he is: single-minded with a self-belief that borders, at the very least, on arrogance. You get the best out of such a manager by not imposing restrictions or conditions on him. We have to accept and even encourage him to do things his own way if we want him to be successful.
Of course, I might have it all wrong. Blessed with so many exciting youngsters, Mourinho might see an opportunity he hasn’t had at other clubs and decide he has a pool of talent that will give him exactly what he needs. Timothy Fosu-Mensah, for example, looks exactly the kind of player Mourinho would love; high-energy, comfortable on the ball, with the ability to play in a number of positions and adapt to changes in tactics and formations.
If it works out, we could see a return to the early Fergie model of bringing through the best of youth alongside some shrewd and well-judged transfer market interventions. We could, but we have to accept that this will be very much in Mourinho’s hands. What his track record suggests is that, in building a United side in his own image, there will be casualties. Don’t take it as given that our idea of who those casualties should be would be the same as his.