It seems shocking to point out in the deep recesses of the football-loving internet that there are those who consider Pep Guardiola a fraud. Pep. Guardiola. The coach who has won titles in three of the biggest leagues in the world and two Champions’ Leagues is apparently “Fraudiola” to some enlightened fans. These folks tend to argue that all his achievements – the trophies, the acclaimed pattern of play, the praises from current and ex-players – all these things don’t matter because of how much money he has spent. If you find that difficult to believe, then wait and see what happens on Twitter the next time Manchester City lose a match. Here’s the thing though, this is bigger than Guardiola. There seems to be a suspicion of managers “buying” success as opposed to truly earning it. This is despite the fact that the biggest trophies are almost always won by the biggest and richest teams. And yet there exists in football fandom this puritan mindset that posits that if you can easily bankroll it then it’s not authentic.
Jose Mourinho was sacked from Manchester United earlier this week for the club’s poor and inconsistent performances over the first half of the season. Many articles have been written about his departure and more will be written in the next few days. Some have written about his tactical shortcomings, some have addressed his issues with his biggest players and yet others will talk about money for defenders. But if there is one thing everyone can agree with it it’s that under his management, recruitment at United has been subpar. This has been an issue at the club even prior to his arrival but when you look at the Manchester United squad, in as much as it’s not devoid of quality, it doesn’t resemble a typical Mourinho side, let alone a typical United side.
Goalkeeper: Mourinho inherited one of the finest keepers in the world and an international number one as a second choice. No need to improve on this.
Defense: Terry, Carvalho, Lucio, Ramos, Samuel. Over the years, Mourinho has preferred his center-backs be leaders. Not necessarily captains mind you, but leaders. He’s always preferred to build first with a strong defense and unfortunately, he wasn’t able to replicate this at United. When you consider what he inherited in Rojo, Smalling, and Jones, it’s fair to say there was a void in terms of leadership. Why then did he decide to buy Bailly and Lindelof – two talented defenders to be sure – who are less experienced than what he already had? When you then consider how injury prone his defenders are, one can almost understand why he was so desperate to rectify that in the last transfer window.
Midfield: Lampard, Maniche, Cambiasso, Essien, Motta, Khedira, Matic. When examining the typical Mourinho midfielder, one thing stands out: power. He seems to prefer his midfielders play in an imposing, combative fashion. That way they can help protect the defense as well as provide a platform for the attackers. While that might explain why he bought the likes of Pogba, Matic, and Fred (and his liking of Fellaini), there is a disarming lack of chemistry among the midfielders. They’re supposed to complement each other and yet they all seem to have styles that clash. Considering the amount of money Mourinho spent bolstering this position, it is ridiculous that United routinely lost midfield battles as a matter of routine.
Attack: Drogba, Milito, Diego Costa, Ibrahimovic, Adebayor. Throughout his career, Mourinho has preferred to play with a lone striker, regardless of the actual formation. His typical striker is tall, big and strong and dominant in the air. They are more than just goalscorers, they are excellent holdup players and have good technique. In that sense, buying Ibrahimovic made some sense, even though he was 35. Buying Lukaku though makes less sense. Granted the Belgian is physically similar to the aforementioned players. But Lukaku has never been particularly great in the air (despite his size) and because of his average technique, he isn’t particularly suited to holdup play. He’d much rather receive the ball in space for him to chase than to get it to feet. As a result, he hasn’t been able to make much of an impression since moving to Manchester United.
What it all boils down to is a problem with recruitment. All the talk of who is more to blame between Woodward and Mourinho is redundant now. The point is that a lot of money has been spent on transfers and not a lot of progress has been made. Regardless of whoever takes the Manchester United job on a full-time basis, there have to be significant improvements in the recruitment process. If not, United’s time in the wilderness is far from finished.