Why Manchester United should replace Mourinho with Nuno Espirito Santo
Manchester United have been found wanting in many things so far this season, but narrative isn’t one of them. Sir Alex Ferguson’s return to Old Trafford was a poignant reminder that there only ever used to be one story-line when he was in charge. Sure, there were often plot-twists and side-stories, but each season reached the same conclusion: winning.
Where there was once hope that Mourinho could emulate the same success that Ferguson delivered, the only similarity they now share is that very sense of inevitability, though the products are wildly different. With Ferguson, there was always the belief that they could win, an inexorable air, an authority both on and off the pitch; now, under Mourinho, the feeling of inevitably surrounds his exit, which will surely be soon.
As Liverpool and Manchester City dispatched Southampton and Cardiff City respectively, the gulf between United and their two bitter rivals has rarely been wider. Liverpool and City swept to victory in the sort of assured swagger that United carried with them for so long. It is not that drawing at home to Wolves is the final straw - a worse result will come - but that it presented a glimpse into what could be in the red half of Manchester.
Mourinho considers himself learned in philosophy, having studied at college and invoking Hegel when propping up his own self-importance, once again. ‘The truth is in the whole’, he quoted, suggesting that the evidence of his managerial greatness lies in his CV, which includes two Champions Leagues and three Premier Leagues. Yet these are relics of an era in which Mourinho’s approach once triumphed, but now look increasingly out-dated.
If Mourinho understands Hegel, he will also be familiar with the story of Socrates and Plato. It’s where the phrase ‘the student has become the master’ is thought to have spawned from, given that Socrates taught Plato all he knew, with the student Plato then becoming one of the most renowned and eloquent philosophers in Ancient Greece. The relevance for Mourinho stood two metres adjacent to him on Saturday afternoon. Nuno Espirito Santo was once a reserve goalkeeper under Mourinho and is often thought to be a disciple of the United manager.
It is not outlandish to argue that the student should now usurp Mourinho at United. We are only six games into the new season, but Wolves’ admirable start is not a symptom of new-boy momentum, but a reward for Nuno’s intelligence and commitment. Simply put, Wolves played better football than United and could have easily left with all three points, had they been more clinical. It casts sharp relief on those who suggest that United’s failings are down to a lack of investment, and that Mourinho does not have the players at his disposal to succeed. Nuno does not have the quality that Mourinho has, but his side played with greater adventure and speed. And no, it was not a question of desire, as the United boss suggested. That was a convenient excuse for a coach who shirks responsibility.
The last time United opted to hire a manager with no experience of winning silverware, fans were treated to some of the most trite football in the league. So it is with the ghost of David Moyes still haunting that some may be against Nuno swapping the Midlands for Manchester. For United, however, a history of silverware has not be a guarantor of quality; both Louis van Gaal and Mourinho have an enviable trophy cabinet, but failed, and are failing, to take United back to the elite of world football.
When you listen to Nuno speak with his contagious energy, it is hard not to be enthused. It is this passion that has endeared him to those at Molinuex, and for good reason, but he will have designs on holding office at a better club. He exudes an authority that the big clubs demand and, unlike Moyes, would not be daunted by weight of leading a behemoth organisation.
Zinedine Zidane and Carlo Ancelotti are currently unemployed, with the former closely linked with United. Both would arrive with a stellar record of success and would instantly excite fans, but should Ed Woodward choose either options, he would be picking the easy route. The far more braver choice would be to hire Nuno and, crucially, it would address the problem that has plagued United since Ferguson’s exit: a clear playing style.
Nuno’s football outlook marries with the traditions of attacking endeavour cherished at United and he would guarantee an inspiring brand of football. Neither Zidane or Ancelotti would bring such assurances; Zidane’s Real Madrid were brutally pragmatic and Ancelotti is an astute tactician but often favours a defensive approach.
There’s no doubting it would be a risk - and probably unlikely. Woodward sees United through a commercial prism. As long as United remain in the Champions League and continue to draw in marquee names, such as Paul Pogba and Alexis Sanchez, his bargaining power with sponsors is unrivalled, and so the money flows. Yet there is only so long that United’s commercial exploits will continue to outstrip their footballing performance, for the two are about as equal as that ‘special relationship’ between the U.K. and the U.S.A.
What United need is a facelift. A manager who can bring a fresh sense of purpose. Someone to walk into Carrington with relish and belief. A coach who encourages proactive football and discards the shackles. Nuno’s liberating approach would be the perfect antidote to the post-Ferguson years of oppressive football.