April 6, 2016

LINSEY | Jose Mourinho, Manchester United and the Power of Rumors

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Global soccer is a sport unlike any other. Its unique worldwide infrastructure and international interconnectedness result in a nearly 24-hour news cycle. However, due to the difficulties of communication in the information age, most of this news is unreliable. Newspapers from England to Thailand delight in printing various rumors that range from the probable to the ridiculous. Using a case study of a certain rumor, I will examine their inaccuracies and allude to the inescapable amount of rumors in the soccer world.

Most rumors focus on possible destinations for players in the transfer window, the summer and winter periods when players can change clubs. Understandably, fans are interested in who their favorite teams might sign. The press loves promoting gossip that links big-name players with departures or rich teams with huge summer spending sprees. These deals tend to not actually happen, but they are the most exciting when they do, which leads to their widespread publicity as a possible foreshadowing of a huge deal. In the days of increased money in soccer, floating around astronomical figures also leads to more attention to rumors. When The Daily Mail runs the headline, “Messi may move to Manchester City for astronomical 200 million Euro fee,” eyes around Europe are transfixed on the big-name player, famous club and huge cash value.

Soccer rumors are not limited to players. Managers increasingly face scrutiny over their position and face constant suggestions over who might be appointed to replace them come the summer. One club facing such speculation is Manchester United, the most successful club in English Premier League history. While Manchester United has a proud legacy, the team is in the roughest stretch in its illustrious history. At the moment, the club will likely lack the qualifications for the prestigious UEFA Champions League. As a result, many in the press suggest that the club may jettison manager Louis van Gaal in the summer. Media speculation on possible successors has been rampant but has mostly settled on one candidate.

Enter Jose Mourinho, stage left. Portuguese coach Mourinho made his name in his home country, then proved himself abroad, winning a treble of titles with Inter Milan in 2010. He had some success at Real Madrid, a notoriously difficult place to coach because of strict chairman Florentino Perez, and then he joined Chelsea. At the west London club, he won the Premier League title last season but had an unprecedentedly awful title defense this season. It was so bad that Chelsea’s chairman Roman Abramovich, comparable to Perez in terms of his lack of patience with managers, sacked Mourinho in December. Out of work since then, many suggest his ideal next job would lie just a few hours north in Manchester when the summer rolls around.
Those who suggest Mourinho focus on his pedigree of championships. Mourinho is a proven winner, a man who wins at all costs. United is all about winning, they say, and Mourinho would get them back a record that reflects this. Another point in favor of Mourinho is that he focuses on defense, which has been poor in recent years at Manchester United and could use a revamping.

Yet, I strongly oppose hiring Mourinho. Yes, Mourinho is a proven winner, but his style is a direct clash with the style preferred by United. Manchester United has always won championships through a fluid, attacking style of play; Mourinho wins by shutting down the opposition and trying to steal a goal or two. It is often successful, but not a fit for United. Mourinho does focus on the defense, but that should not be the focal point. United’s midfield (and to some extent, attack) need to be allowed to play with freedom. Mourinho would overload them with defensive responsibilities and limit their offensive game. Lastly, Mourinho prefers to play experienced squad regulars over giving younger players a chance. It is often cited that Chelsea failed to promote any players developed by the club to the first team during either of Mourinho’s two spells as manager. Manchester United, on the other hand, has a tradition of developing their own talent. Even during this tough season, van Gaal has allowed double-digit club youngsters to play their first United games.

It is clear that Manchester United’s style of play, defense and young players would not benefit from Mourinho’s management. Yet, rumors still fly that he is almost guaranteed to be United’s manager next fall. The rumor mill continues to speculate about future managers, when in reality the current coach has another year on his contract. Mourinho to United could happen, but expect United to struggle under his management if appointed. This rumor is viable but would have harmful effects on the manager and the team.