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02nd Oct 2016

Sunday’s football showed Pochettino would have been a better bet for Man United than Mourinho

Instead they must hope that Mourinho finds a way to win

Dion Fanning

When the end was coming for David Moyes at Manchester United, he was still clinging to the terms under which he had been employed.

He’d been given a six-year contract only ten months earlier, an indication that United understood what he had to do and how Moyes liked to do it. They had appointed a methodical and cautious manager which surely reflected the reality that the job of succeeding Alex Ferguson would require patience too. And, it was believed, Manchester United were not a sacking club.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 20: Manchester United manager David Moyes shows his frustrations during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Manchester United at Goodison Park on April 20, 2014 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

“We have secured a man who is committed to the long term and will build teams for the future as well as now,” Sir Bobby Charlton said at the time of Moyes’s appointment. “Stability breeds success.”

But then, quite rightly, Manchester United decided to act before Moyes had completed one season. They had a long-term plan, but they didn’t want to lose sight of the short-term objectives either. They were a sacking club, after all. A point which seemed to be underlined when, again correctly, they dismissed Louis Van Gaal despite United’s triumph in the FA Cup last May.

Van Gaal had won a trophy, but his style of play was not what was expected from Manchester United. The football was robotic and unadventurous. There have been signs against Leicester City and Stoke City this season of a return to a more attacking style.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 21: Louis van Gaal Manager of Manchester United lifts the trophy after winning The Emirates FA Cup Final match between Manchester United and Crystal Palace at Wembley Stadium on May 21, 2016 in London, England. Man Utd won 2-1 after extra time. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

But the appointment of Moyes in 2013 might have been a clue to the problem that continues to exist for Manchester United.

The club post-Alex Ferguson requires an overhaul and a coherent plan. In the three years since Ferguson left, United have had a few coherent plans, but some of them have lasted no longer than the manager who brought the plan to Old Trafford with him. United have decided that they didn’t like the manager and they didn’t like the plans. When they dismissed Van Gaal and hired Jose Mourinho, they hired a short-term manager – which was part of his appeal.

United might feel they have strategies in place to overcome any problem. The signing of Paul Pogba shows that under Ed Woodward they will pursue the most coveted players in world football. Huge transfer fees are not a problem. In some ways they are a bonus as they allow United to position themselves alongside the biggest clubs in Europe who are paying the big bucks which is, of course, where they belong.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 02: Paul Pogba of Manchester United reacts to shooting wide of the goal during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Stoke City at Old Trafford on October 2, 2016 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

If they recruit these great players, the manager will simply fit them into his plans – whatever they are, whoever he is – and who wouldn’t want the best players in the world as part of his plans?

But there is clearly a problem with this seductive vision. After Sunday’s draw with Stoke City at Old Trafford, Jose Mourinho insisted that this had been Manchester United’s best performance of the season.

He had a point. As they had against Leicester, United were impressive in attack at times and they could have had this game won by half-time again. But if there was a defining characteristic of Manchester United under Alex Ferguson, it was that it didn’t matter how you played at Old Trafford against Stoke City, all that mattered was victory.

This is why Mourinho was hired. He, too, understood this philosophy. It was his core value. Of course, he would do it in his own way, but United remain strangely vulnerable in defence too, which is not what people expect from a Mourinho side.

Under Van Gaal they had three more points at the same stage last season and they had already beaten Tottenham and Liverpool.

United have taken four points from their last four league games and will return from the international break with games at Anfield and Stamford Bridge in the Premier League. Mourinho will not be as adventurous in attack on those trips, but it would be hard to have faith in his defence.

Manchester United v Stoke City - Premier League

United will take comfort from the performance of Manchester City at White Hart Lane, but it was another reminder that Mauricio Pochettino would have been a better replacement for Louis Van Gaal than Mourinho.

After all, it was his Spurs side not Mourinho’s United who found a way to beat City for the first time this season so whatever pleasure United take from that result, there is a reminder that things could be different.

Instead they hope that the man they appointed was the Jose Mourinho who could always find a way to win.

United need Mourinho to be Mourinho and being Mourinho has always required winning, especially at home to Stoke City.

Excuses were for others, for those who would have to explain why they hadn’t gathered trophies the way Mourinho had. Mourinho has always been dismissive of those who explained away their failures.

He is not a manager who has ever been temperamentally suited to the long-term and recent history suggests that there is a limited time when he can make things work. These days, United are committed to the short-term as well, but there is so much to do at Old Trafford that they might have been better off with a man with a long-term vision.

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