Why won't Jose Mourinho's still looming Old Trafford exit change anything?
The last 48 hours were nothing short of a whirlwind for Manchester United and its fans. First, there was a leak predicting manager Jose Mourinho's sacking this weekend. Following fans and former players overwhelmingly expressing support, the club came forward to deny the rumour.
Then there was the match versus Newcastle. There have been quite a few games in which United exhibited polarising characteristics on either side of the half-time whistle. This one difined the genre. It recalled raucous times under Sir Alex Ferguson when United came roaring back to win in the last minute. There was beautiful link-up play, short [and long] passing, fluidity, dynamic movement and, most telling, waves of attack in the second half.
While one game changes nothing, it proves the manager alone cannot bring results. The players and the management must do their share. Unfortunately for Mourinho, they haven’t lately.
The Portuguese coach might still be sacked. If not now, maybe in a few weeks or at season's end. In any event, United still wouldn't be challenging for the title.
The problem with clubs like United, or Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, is they have a legacy, a very distinct DNA from continuous imprints driven by a few iconic characters. For United, the primary actors were the three Sirs, Matt Busby, Bobby Charlton and Sir Alex Ferguson. When these icons are no longer part of the game, it’s difficult to maintain that imprint. The only way is to imbibe those values and principles into the club's every aspect.
Manchester City didn’t have a legacy, so they borrowed from Barcelona. They brought in top executives Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain, who in turn recruited Pep Guardiola to transform the entire club operations. From the youth sides to player recruitment to the first team, everything is run according to a certain philosophy.
United's philosophy survives only on paper. The youth teams are back to their glory days, thanks to Nicky Butt. Beyond that, United is losing sight of itself. Chief executive Ed Woodward understands the business well but has no clue how to create sustainable success in football.
There needs to be an inherent buy-in into the United philosophy from top-down. That includes the board, the chief, a director of football, recruitment head and the manager. Without a single philosophy tying all these aspects together, the ‘shambles’ era will continue at Old Trafford. Rumours suggest United is recruiting a director of football. So much rides on whoever takes that job; he will act as the mediator between Woodward and the manager.
The scouting network needs to be developed further to understand whether all first-team targets are compatible with United's DNA. The existing first team squad contains very few players who fit that mentality. United players are renowned for competing for their lives in every match. Among the current batch, some seem too afraid, others couldn’t care less.
In Sir Alex Ferguson's day, the bad apples quickly sorted. One rotten fruit can ruin the bunch. A massive overhaul including the first-team squad and club structure must be planned immediately. We are already five years removed from the Scot's influence. The plan should have been in place before Fergie retired.
Unless the big picture is brought into focus, nothing will change at Old Trafford, no matter how many managers come and go.