Manchester United’s topsy-turvy season took a new turn on Tuesday when Jose Mourinho’s three-year helm came to an abrupt end. The Portuguese manager was relieved of his duties a day after losing 3-1 at the hands of fierce-rivals Liverpool. Former player (and club legend) Ole Gunnar Solksjaer was named interim manager, and it’s safe to say the Norwegian has a big task ahead of him. The Red Devils currently sit in 6th place, having only picked up 26 points from the first 17 Premier League matches. Although everything seems to be going wrong for the club nowadays, Mourinho’s time in Manchester did include some memorable moments. Let’s take a look at the five best achievements of the Mourinho era, as well as five things the club needs to work on to get back to the summit of English football.
Mourinho’s Top 5 Moments
1. Finishing 2nd in 2016/2017 Premier League season
Jose Mourinho is a win-at-all-cost kind of manager, so to put a second place finish as his best achievement in Manchester seems comical. However, given the circumstances of last season, not many fans expected United to come the closest to stop City’s indomitable run. While every other top club was playing catch-up, the Citizens took the league by storm, and finished the season as the competition’s first ever Centurions. Additionally, United played most of the season with a make-shift backline compromised of two converted wing-backs (Valencia & Young), and the likes of Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, and Marcos Rojo, all of which have only showed a glimpse of their brilliance during their long stay in the red half of Manchester. Last season’s finish was the club’s best since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, which is a testament to the Special One‘s managerial ability.
2. Europa League victory
Mourinho was quoted earlier this campaign saying “… for the ones who like stats, 14 seasons in the Champions League 14 times qualified [past] the group phases, the season I didn’t play [in] the Champions League, I won the Europa League… good record”. United’s Europa League victory in 2016/2017 was crucial because it not only secured a spot in the next season’s Champions League, but also proved Mourinho was able to win major trophies wherever he went. Given it was only his first season in charge, a top four finish was always going to prove challenging. The Portuguese managed to land United back to the promised land, and combined with the Carabao Cup and FA Community Shield victories, ensured his short tenure in Manchester brought trophies.
3. Signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Where were you when Zlatan signed for United? The Swedish superstar touched down in Manchester after a successful four-year stay in Paris, where he led PSG to four Ligue 1 titles, finished as the club’s second all time top-scorer, and helped cement the club as one of the giants of European football. His introduction to the English game was seamless and his presence was felt from the start. The goals he scored were pivotal in helping United win the Carabao Cup and to an extent the Europa League, despite his season-ending injury late in the year. Asked how he recovered ahead of schedule, Ibrahimovic famously remarked “Lions don’t recover like humans”. The big Swede’s contributions are sorely missed, with Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku only contributing to 9 goals between them so far this season. Zlatan will live long in the memory of United fans as Mourinho’s best signing.
4. Manchester Derby comeback
This derby was full of significance because City came into the match knowing a victory meant they were crowned Premier League champions. The ‘noisy neighbors’ got off to a strong start, as first half goals by captain Vincent Kompany and Ilkay Gundogan ensured things went according to the script. Mourinho’s men came out to play in the second half however. Paul Pogba scored two goals in the space of two minutes to level the game. Chris Smalling’s volley then gave United the lead in the 69th minute, and the scoreline remained the same thanks to goalkeeper David De Gea’s outstanding save from Sergio Aguero’s leaping header. The Red Devils hung on to a famous victory–Mourinho’s first in the league against Pep Guardiola–and delayed the title celebrations of their bitter city rivals for another week.
5. Beating Juventus away from home in the UCL
The Old Lady are a defensively resilient side full of attacking talent across the pitch. When United came to town on Matchday 4 of the Champions League, their chances of getting a result–let alone a win–were slim to none. Juventus attacked relentlessly throughout the match, hitting the post on either side of the half before Cristiano Ronaldo put a well-timed, powerful volley past David De Gea’s goal. Ultimately, it was their inability to make the most of their chances that cost them the game. Mourinho threw in Juan Mata, Marcus Rashford, and Marouane Fellaini in the second half, and all three of his substitutes played a role in helping United win the game. Rashford won a foul just outside the 18 yard line, and the ensuing free-kick was curled in by Juan Mata to tie the match at 1-1. Deep inside injury time, Ashley Young’s looping cross from a set-piece was flicked on goal by Fellaini, and the ball ricocheted inside the net via a couple of Juventus defenders. United’s win ended the Italian side’s 19 game UCL group-stage home unbeaten streak, while Mourinho’s post match celebration ensured the match lived in infamy.
United’s To-Do List
1. Hire a Director of Football
Gary Neville described United’s footballing dealings best on air last weekend by saying the “people who were in charge of the commercial side of things [after Sir Alex Ferguson and David Gill’s departure]… were put in charge of the football side of things and they are not competent enough to do it”. City has Txiki Begiristain, Bayern’s director is Hasan Salihamidžić, and Dortmund’s is Michael Zorc. All three are former footballers who know the game inside and out. If United are to turn things around quickly, a director of football is needed to strengthen the relations between the board and the manager.
2. Give the youngsters some playing time
With the likes of Pogba, Lukaku, and Young consistently misfiring, it’s time the club goes back to its traditions of giving young players the opportunity to prove themsleves. Andreas Perreira was left frozen out by Mourinho so he’s got a point to prove. Meanwhile 17 year old Mason Greenwood’s good form in the youth level has led his name to come up by the media in recent weeks. If United play their cards right, they could potentially have another Rashford-esque debut at their disposal…
3. Keep David De Gea
United fans felt a sense of joyous relief when De Gea’s Real Madrid’s saga came to an end through the now famous tax machine episode. The Spaniard’s performances have single-handedly kept the club from falling worse than they already are, and with a new manager in town, expect the supporters to call on Mr. Dave Saves to stay at the club and sign a contract extension.
4. Sign a quality Center Back, Striker, and maybe a Right Back
Jose Mourinho famously complained to the media after the Board did not grant his wishes to sign two top CB’s in the summer transfer window. Given United’s defensive woes this season, it’s hard not to understand why. Besides Victor Lindelof, no other center-back has truly cemented his place in the starting lineup. Due to the lack of firepower up top, a proven striker is needed to provide some competition in places and get the goals flowing again. With Antonio Valencia getting old, a right back might be needed as well. That all depends on Diogo Dalot’s ability to fully transition into the first team.
5. Get rid of deadwood
Smalling, Jones, Young, Rojo, Darmian, and Matic have all underperformed in recent seasons and if the club is to progress forward, some players have to be sold. Smalling has pace and posseses an aerial threat, but his rash decision-making and slow build-up play often leads to his downfall. The same goes for Jones and Rojo, while Darmian’s lack of service undoes his good work going forward. Matic and Young look like a shadow of their former selves, and the likes of Fred and McTominay are eager to show their worth to prove critics wrong.
What do you make of these thoughts? Let us know in the comments below!