Opinion: Jose Mourinho is proving to be the perfect fit for Manchester United

Opinion: Jose Mourinho is proving to be the perfect fit for Manchester United

When Mourinho was appointed United boss, there was plenty of doubters, but he is making United look like the team of old.

Craig Millar

On 9th March, 2004, Old Trafford witnessed a historic moment. With Manchester United only minutes away from progressing to the quarter finals of the Champions League, Benny McCarthy stood over a free kick in a dangerous position.

The Porto forward struck it well, but Tim Howard had it covered, and got both hands to the shot. However, he inexplicably contrived to keep the ball in the danger area instead of pushing it away from goal, and Costinha scored to knock United out.

The manager of Porto was not so well known, but after the ball hit the back of the net he announced himself in his less-than-understated way by running down the touchline to celebrate with his players. Jose Mourinho had arrived.

United appoitment brought doubts

Nobody could have predicted that he would end up in the Old Trafford hot seat, but in the years since that fateful day you cannot deny that he has been one of the most successful managers in the world. Yet his appointment at United brought plenty of doubters.

His prickly, sometimes spiteful nature, and the number of controversial incidents he has been involved in throughout his career posed questions to his suitability on a moral level. Eye gouging, bating of rival managers, winding up opposing fans were part of his make up.

Indeed, it was thought that he was the main candidate to initially take over from Sir Alex Ferguson but senior figures such as Sir Bobby Charlton were thought to have baulked because of the image Mourinho had.

When he finally did arrive, his CV was not in question, but things like style of play and the collapse of his second spell at Chelsea were. His pragmatic approach has always brought trophies. When you enjoy success, then in general fans will tolarate this.

United's football has always been based on attack, so employing dour, nullifying tactics wouldn't have been an appealing prospect. Yet that would have been more of a minor concern. After all, Louis van Gaal had served up some of the most uninspiring football seen in many a year for the two preceding seasons.

The Chelsea implosion would have drawn more scrutiny. One of Mourinho's strengths down the years was his bond with his players, certainly at Chelsea in his first spell. He is said to be a great motivator and you could not envisage that his relationship would fracture so dramatically during his second spell.

When they won the league in 2015, it was a season of two halves. In the first period, Chelsea were expansive and exciting. Just as in certain games, Mourinho looks to close things down, he did that in the second part of that season as Chelsea became grinders and never looked like slipping up on their way to the title. 

Maybe he was unable to switch the players back on the offensive the following season, but he could not have helped matters with his spat with the club doctor, Eva Carneiro, on the opening day of the season. It was suggested that this is where his breakdown with the players manifested.

Difficult start to Old Trafford life

Being Manchester United manager attracts the upmost scrutiny anyway, but all of these doubts put even more pressure on Mourinho. Initially, he handled things well, but there was a period where it appeared things may unravel quite quickly.

Winning his first four competitive matches, he then lost three in a row and there was a lot of inconsistency in the early months. Signs that he may not be coping so well came to a head when United absolutely massacred Burnley and ended up drawing.

Mourinho was sent off after clashing with referee Mark Clattenburg over a penalty appeal. Another dominant performance, another draw and another red card came later in the month as United were held by West Ham United. This time he clashed with a water bottle.

The frustration was obvious, as United were playing well, but results were not forthcoming. He cut an angry figure in many a press conference and it was touch and go as to whether this was going to be a match made in hell.

The pressure comes with the territory, but there may have been a changing point in Mourinho's approach that has helped United go on a march on all fronts. The change came about after two more draws, one at home to Arsenal and the other away at Everton.

United's inability to turn dominant performances into wins hampered a serious title challenge and when Arsenal were outclassed at Old Trafford, Mourinho tried to shut up shop and make sure of three points. Arsenal scored late on with their first effort on goal.

Change in policy a positive

The Everton game was not such a convincing performance, but United held the upper hand but when he introduced Mourane Fellaini to see out the result, it backfired spectacularly. Fellaini came in for huge criticism for his part, but from that point on it is hard to recall United battening down the hatches.

United did not any more drop points until the Liverpool home game in mid January and continued their progress in all competitions. More than that, the football was of an entertaining nature, in fact has been fantastic to watch on times.

The introduction of Henrikh Mkhitaryan was a big factor in this. The Armenian had been criticised by Mourinho early into his United career, and there were whispers he may be moved on. However, the situation was handled well, and both he and United have been flying.

Fellaini, Luke Shaw, Anthony Martial, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Ashley Young, Morgan Schneiderlin and Memphis Depay have all had issues at some point this season. Mourinho has handled them all well and you would probably say only Shaw has a cause for concern right now.

Mourinho is starting to deal with players on his terms, and his methods are paying dividends. He is starting to get the best out of the sqaud. Whoever is in the team is performing, and it shows a togetherness. The decisions to keep faith with Fellaini and Schweinsteiger in particular look to have gone down well.

Trophy charge means no place for youth

This week the United boss mentioned that April and May could well become a difficult period with so many potential games coming up. The fact that he is taking every competitions seriously shows that he is now in control, and in control in the style of a United manager.

No quarter given, no picking of games or competitions, he is setting them out to win every game. He has even brought back 'Fergie Time'!

Mourinho mentioned youth when he arrived, as one of the positives of van Gaal's reign was the number of youth players introduced. In a bid to win every competition, he has had to delay bringing any of the talented youth players through. Marcus Rashford is a squad fixture, but the only other youngster to really see action is Timothy Fosu-Mensah, who has had brief outings.

Yet as this season gets towards the business end, it is unlikely that there will be any other opportunities. It is something that will need to be addressed at some point, as United have a lot of talent coming through. Yet with signings expected in the summer, Mourinho will be possibly in a similar situation next year.

Still, if he puts a trophy or more on the mantle-piece, then it will be fair to say he has had an excellent first campaign. The lack of youth involvement would be a concern, but would be tolerated.

To put it in context, if United fail to win a trophy considering they are in a final and have great chances of progressing in Europe and the FA Cup, then it will be a huge disappointment. Yet, you would still feel more confident about United going forward than under van Gaal, who signed off with the FA Cup.

Mourinho is looking more and more the real deal.