Why is Mourinho and Manchester United a Mismatch – A Case Study

manchester united, mourinho
The Manchester United and Jose Mourinho conundrum has reached another level in the past month or so. Since getting knocked out in the Champions League at the hands of Sevilla, some weird words have been said by the United manager. The Portuguese has been grumpy in his press conferences lately, talking about United’s football heritage and fronting up players’ performances in the media.
For sure, the style of football Jose prefers, isn’t indicative of the United way. So, there must be two contexts into this. Either the manager is not able to gel his players into the system he wants to play. This means likes of Alexis Sanchez and Paul Pogba being ineffective on the pitch. Or the players in the current squad are just not good enough to compete at the highest level. It brings us to the point whether Mourinho is actually gonna succeed in the long run or is he a mismatch at Old Trafford.

Let us do a case study and look back at Mourinho’s history in the clubs he has worked on. This will tell us as to why it seems like there is a bridge of mismatch between Manchester United and Jose Mourinho.

The Mourinho Managerial History: –

FC Porto (2002-04): –

The Portuguese club were at a crisis of not being able to win things in competitions, be it at a domestic level. In 2002, they decided to hire Mourinho as their new manager replacing Octavio Machado. The new manager then showcased his confident personality by claiming that Porto would win the title in his first season in charge.

Well, as it turned out, Porto won the Primeria Liga with a Portuguese record of 86 points. They finished 11 points ahead of the runners up Benfica. Not only the league, they won the Taca de Portugal, the domestic club competition by beating Leiria 1-0 in the final. In addition, a UEFA Cup win beating Celtic on silver goal in extra time highlighted a fabulous start for Mourinho in his first top-flight management job.

His approach at the club, system wise was a revelation at that time in Portugal and Europe. The philosophy was all about having a physically strong team with pressure up top and being physical in midfield and defence. Playing with two up top in most games helped the team to press from the front. The midfield had legs to run up and down. It was an innovation at that time, the reactive play was in full flow. Quick counter-attacking, threat from set-pieces and crosses were the chief weapons.

The following season, Porto continued their dominance in the Primeria Liga by winning it with 5 weeks remaining. The domestic supremacy turned into a European one when they beat Monaco 3-0 in the final of the Champions League. A moment of highest honour both for the club and the manager. In the process of winning in Europe, they beat Manchester United 3-2 on aggregate. It was a game which defined Jose as a manager who could be Sir Alex Ferguson’s nemesis in coming years.

Moving to manage in England: –

During the post-match interview after winning the Champions League, Mourinho clearly stated that he is leaving Porto and looking for tough challenges. He was rumoured to have wanted the Liverpool job. But, in the end, the might of Chelsea and Roman Abramovic snapped up the Portuguese.

Chelsea (2004-07): –

In his first press conference after becoming the Chelsea boss, Mourinho claimed that he is the “special one.” This phrase circulated around the world and it became a tagline with the man himself. Although, the team he created at Chelsea epitomised the introduction he made of himself.

Before he arrived, Chelsea were in a dire situation of not being able to win things and needed someone to change the trend. Well, Mourinho did the same thing with Porto and romped his reputation up with similar achievements at London. The Blues won the Premier League in record fashion scoring 95 goals, conceding only 15 in 2005. They also won the League Cup beating Liverpool 3-2 in the final after extra-time.


The above image depicts us the 2004-05 winning Chelsea team under Mourinho. They were called the “team of the decade” by many and rightly so. The balance, power, physicality and pace in the team was formidable. Everything you need in a football team was present in the starting eleven.

The defensive line was as strong as you can get. The midfield of Claudi Makelele, Frank Lampard and Michael Essien had power, game-mind and up-down running stamina. Essien was called as the “engine” of the team. Lampard had that goal-scoring touch from midfield in him. The striker Didier Drogba was a nightmare for the defenders. High and pacy wingers Joe Cole, Arjen Robben and Damien Duff were just mesmerizing at best. All in all, a team built up by a special manager and performed to the level it was expected to.

Fast counter-attacks, physical in midfield, dangerous from crosses and set-pieces. These were some of the weapons of highest quality on show from this team. With a master tactician at the helm, it felt like the team-manager match was made in heaven.

During the 2005-06 season, Mourinho won the Premier League again with Chelsea. He became the first manager in Premier League history to successfully defend the league title at that time. Even though the Blues didn’t win much apart from the league, it was considered a successful season.

The season of 2006-07 saw Mourinho surrender the title to his rival Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford. The Portuguese took his revenge though when Chelsea beat United 1-0 in the FA Cup final. He left the club in September 2007 stating it as a “mutual consent.” During his time in London, he raised his bar to another level with the football and dominance he created in England. No wonder he called himself the special one and lived up to that day by day.

Read More: – Manchester United v Sevilla, Tactical Match Analysis
Moving to Italian Football: –

Jose Mourinho kept on looking for new challenges and this time Inter Milan came calling. The Italian club also had the similar situation as of Chelsea and Porto before the arrival of the Portuguese. Similar as to not being able to win things with previous management and in danger of getting out of top recognition. Mourinho entered the fray at San Siro with a challenge as hard as it could get.

Inter Milan (2008-10): –

Italian football and referees in general weren’t the favourite of Mourinho in his time at the San Siro. But his managerial skills to build a team tough to beat was on the show again. In his first season at the Azzurri nation, he won the Serie A with Inter and also won the Suppercoppa, beating Roma on penalties. They failed to progress beyond last-16 in the Champions League and were knocked out in the semi-finals of the Coppa Italia.

Failing to win a cup competition didn’t hinder from the fact that Inter became a much more solid team defensively and dangerous on the break. Winning the Serie A epitomised that and further success down the line was a matter of reality.

Coming into the 2009-10 season, Inter became a formidable outfit with Mourinho making some good signings in the window. Getting the likes of Samuel Eto’o, Wesley Sneijder gave us an indication of him meaning business. And business he meant when his team successfully regained the Serie A in 2010. They also won the Coppa Italia beating Roma 1-0 in the final.

The silver lining of the season was Inter winning the Champions League. In the process, they beat Barcelona in the semis on aggregate. The in famous celebration of Mourinho at the Camp Nou which won many hearts at Madrid gained much attention. Even though they lost the second leg 0-1, the first leg win of 3-1 was enough to get them through. At Camp Nou, they had 19% possession and almost defended for the whole game.

In the final, Mourinho’s Inter Milan kept as less as 32% possession against Bayern and won the game 2-0. One of the massive underdogs winning a tournament of this magnitude shocked the whole world. The manager deserved every credit he got at that time. This UCL win marked the treble win for Inter, an achievement to be written in bold letters.

Mourinho’s team at Milan was a mirror of his philosophy. Being defensively strong with likes Lucio, Walter Samuel and Maicon in the ranks. The midfield of Thiago Motta, Esteban Cambiasso with Sneijder in the no 10 role was a perfect mix. The wing pace of Pandev and directness of Eto’o helped the side to be quick and direct on counter-attacks. Having the likes of Diego Milito up top helped a lot as the Argentine was a clinical finisher.

Time at Spain for Mourinho: –

Spain was the fourth country which Mourinho visited to grace his managerial qualities. In almost every club he was offered a job, the situation prior to his arrival has been the same. This time it was Real Madrid’s turn to offer him a job after previous few managers failed to have much impact.

Real Madrid (2010-13): –

Coming at the home of the Galacticos, there was an air uncertainty as to what style of football Mourinho would play. Obviously with the past success he had, the Portuguese was adamant with his own counter-attacking style. The problem Madrid had that time was previous managers trying to play Galactico style and failing to deliver.

So, Jose got the opportunity to lead his own style of play at the Bernabeu. In his first season in charge, Real won the Copa Del Ray beating rivals Barcelona 1-0 in the final. They got eliminated by same opponents in the semi-final stage of the Champions League. Even though they failed to win the La Liga, the board accepted the domestic success as a step forward.

The next season though, Madrid won the league (first time in four years). In addition, they not only won the league, but also collected 100 points from the possible 114. Their league season contained 32 wins, 16 away from home which were all records in Spanish football that time. At this stage in 2012, despite the lack of excitement in style of football, Madrid were relieved to get some success back through their manager.

The following season, Madrid won the Super Copa beating Barcelona on away goals. Apart from this, they didn’t had any success in domestic or European competitions. Lost the league to Atletico Madrid, lost the Copa Del Ray to the same opponents in the final. Got bundled out by Borussia Dortmund in the semi-final of the Champions League.

These losses along with players not really liking the style of play from Mourinho culminated into the manager leaving the club in the summer of 2013. Turning the “Galacticos free style football” into a counter-attacking team wouldn’t work in the longer term and the board knew. But, for short term, Mourinho did his job of getting Madrid back in the fray in Europe and also won them the La Liga.

Coming back to England: –
Chelsea (2013-15): –

Coming back to Chelsea was on Mourinho’s radar from a long time. Once again, he got the job of rebuilding a club’s situation. Chelsea previously won the Champions League in 2012 and Roberto de Matteo was sacked the following season. Rafa Benitez was appointed as the interim manager but of course, the Chelsea fraternity were not happy while the Spaniard was there. They won the Europa League though to become the first English team to win back to back European competitions.

Arrived the special one in 2013 with another rebuilding job in his hands. In the first weeks of the 2013-14 season, he ruled out Chelsea’s chances of challenging for the Premier League even though his team won 10 of the possible 12 points home and away against the top two teams of that season, Manchester City and Liverpool.

The Blues finished third in the league. Getting knocked out in the semi-final of the Champions League was considered a step forward.

In the summer of 2014, Chelsea did some good business getting the likes of Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas and Samuel Eto’o. They did terrifically well to win the Premier League and the League Cup. In the process, they got important wins against Liverpool, Arsenal and other top teams.

Although, losing out to PSG in last 16 stage of the Champions League was a blemish, but winning a double was no mean feat. The next season (2015-16) was the one to forget though for Mourinho and Chelsea. They got to their lowest point thanks to rifts between players and manager. He was sacked in the month of December in 2015.

Manchester United (2016-present): –

Obviously, we know all about the Portuguese’s reign at Old Trafford so far. Despite winning the League Cup and Europa League last season (2016-17), the style of football wasn’t always accepted by Red Manchester coterie. The fact that United have struggled to win things post-Fergie era, the board and fans have accepted any style of football as long as it brings success.

This season, with Pep Guardiola playing beautiful football and romping to victories, the pressure has risen on the Portuguese. His style of football has certainly not got the best out of players such as Paul Pogba, Alexis Sanchez.

Since the results this season hasn’t matched the expectations, the pressure has risen two fold in the past month or so. Especially going out in the Champions League to less than prolific on paper Sevilla made many twitch in North-west England.

Inference from Mourinho’s managerial history: –

We have had a detailed look of the clubs Mourinho has managed so far, their prior and post positions in the league. If we analyse that, we will find one peculiar trend which mirrors with the style of play. The Portuguese has taken clubs from not so good positions into winning things. Two things stand out is that likes of Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan were never really caring about what style of football is being played.

They just wanted to win things to get the recognition back in Europe regardless of how they get there. The situation wasn’t too different at Old Trafford with Louis Van Gaal, David Moyes struggling to take over the successes of Sir Alex. But, the might of United is too big for the supporters to sacrifice the style of football for success.

The fact that United won’t win anything this season (apart from FA Cup), the style of football is getting the groans from the fans. The main reason being there is a standard which is set in the last two decades at the theatre of dreams.

Inference: –

One thing jumps out of the whole context which has been discussed so far is that Jose Mourinho is at his best when he has to set up an underdog team which can defend and play on counter-attack or prefer a 0-0 result rather than a 5-4. His previous clubs never cared about any style or substance in the football. But, United have a certain way in which they play which is quite different to what Jose prefers.

So, combining these facts, histories and contexts, we can conclude that Mourinho is at the wrong club to achieve massive success. The reason could be that rival managers have preferred to play the game in a beautiful way and might get success in the years to come by. Maybe, just maybe, for Jose to be at the hot seat of Old Trafford and win things, he might have to tweak his style a bit or the United board has to really back the Portuguese with whatever he needs.

Article by Mizgan,

Twitter – @mizgans

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