Manchester United were undoubtedly one of Europe’s most feared teams during the 27 glorious years of Sir Alex Ferguson. Upon his arrival in 1986, he had a tough job of turning a ‘Group of Individuals’ into a strong ‘Team of players’. He had to restore a club who had failed to dominate under his predecessor, Ron Atkinson. After a slow start, he began to impose his vision onto the players. Making them realise what they are playing for, what is on stake and that they should work as a team if they even have a chance of winning silverware. Apart from his footballing vision and legendary tactics, he was known for his charisma and support for his players, treating each of them as his own kin. Now nearly 30 years after his era, United are being managed by a well-known successful footballing visionary, Jose Mourinho. Jose, is experiencing many ups and downs in his second season at Old Trafford. Having lost the title to Manchester City, bowed out of the Carabao Cup and recently losing the Champions League knock-outs to Sevilla where it was once again clear, the managers tactics have back-fired.
Mourinho is one of the most successful managers on the planet wining numerous trophies in career with different clubs in different leagues. He is a modern-day manager but, it is now looking that his tactics are no longer modern day and are negative and ‘antique’ in context to Manchester United. Known as a defensive manager and famously revolutionizing the Park the Bus tactic in his career. The best example of his implementation of this phenomenon during Porto’s Champions League triumph in 2004, where, he led a young and inexperienced Portuguese club to Champions League glory. A season where he knocked a mighty United side managed by Sir Alex away at Old Trafford, a season where he declared to the world, that he is the ‘Special One’. Given his defensive approach, he has always preferred at least one holding midfielder in his side. He currently prefers the 4-2-3-1 set-up at United which is not looking accustomed at United, due to lack of wing play. This season, we have seen goals coming for United but mostly in the second half, with the first half being rather boring and where most of the team is in the defensive half. In tactical sense, United start with a 4-2-3-1 but eventually switch to a 4-5-1 during the course of the game, which in turn is hampering United’s main players like Lukaku, Pogba, Martial, Sanchez and Rashford. But, Mourinho has enjoyed great success with this formation, while at Real Madrid, where he played Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira as the holding midfielders, Ozil as an attacking midfielder, supported by Ronaldo and Di Maria on the midfield wings finishing with Benzema as the lone striker.
This season is showing that Mourinho’s defensive approach to the modern fast paced football isn’t working. United is traditionally an attacking side but is playing every match too defensive and cautiously this season, which is back firing and not working, starting to cause doubts amongst supporters, who believe that Jose is the right man for the job, but his approach is not, after spending 300 million in two years. In spite of having attacking players, Jose is taking a far more defensive route which is causing unrest in the camp and talented players aren’t being able to showcase their attacking intent and are rather made to defend, which they are not accustomed to, but are made to, due to their strong physique. To get back on top, Jose has to rally his troops and act as a leader and motivator. He has to trusts his players and their quality. Build a team around their strengths, motivate them. Once a team play as a team for the team, we can expect success. Not trying to say that Jose should change his tactics for United as it is very difficult for any manager to adopt a new regime which may be out dated but, has guaranteed success. Mourinho needs to become the leader. And what better way to do it then the Fergie Way. For that, let’s go back in time!
The 1990’s was one of the most important years of Premier League and modern football. Younger, fitter and more intelligent youngsters started dominating the game and the Premier League gradually opened its doors for foreign exports. Once such example is Eric Cantona. Manchester United signed the Frenchmen from Leeds in 1990 and from then onwards the King, started the European Revolution in England and changed the system by his aura and skill. Cantona was one of the first Non-English player to play in the Premier League, during its starting years. Previously called the First Division, it was mainly dominated by English nationals, until Eric came. It was Sir Alex’s choice to sign the player who the tabloids said was not a quality player and would not fit in England. But, time would tell if that were true. Cantona went on to become a United great, wining many laurels with them. But, we are about to talk on how signing Cantona, changed United’s style of play and how Sir Alex made a team around him, and creating a successful and determined side who would do anything for the side from that day onwards. Cantona was a traditional target forward played for United as a striker in a 4-4-2. But when Sir Alex discovered his tracking back abilities and habit of playing as a deep lying forward, made him switch to a 4-4-1-1 with Cantona playing as an attacking midfielder. He moulded the team into playing alongside and in accordance to their strongest player. He built a team around him in such a way that the players would exactly know how to play alongside each other.
Sir Alex and Eric had a great relation outside the pitch and had a mentoring relationship with him. It was his vision to test the league with an unpredictable outsider, who had the ability to control the ball and make great forward passes. He would hold off defenders and allowed United to be more threatening through the wings. Ferguson mentored Cantona into becoming a leader and influencer on and off the pitch. He was clearly his star man, who motivated his team mates in training with his personality, charisma and dedication. His example led to the team in igniting that wining spark and mentality to do or die and win for the badge.
Cantona’s influence and dedication was a key factor in the development of the class of ’92. Few more examples on how Sir Alex moulded a team around Ronaldo and Rooney, two youngsters, who would turn out to be one of the best attacking partnerships in football. Ferguson’s vision and aura led them to work in perfect sync and harmony. Their chemistry was saw good that they knew exactly what the later would do before they even did it. Other examples of Sir Alex’s vision led to great leadership in Roy Keane, and Vidic. As mentioned before, Sir Alex treated every player individually and personally developed them into playing for the team. In other words, using every player’s individual strength and made each player aware of their responsibilities and knowing their team mates so that they can work better and freely on the pitch.
Knowing that it will be very difficult for Mourinho to change his approach, but one thing is certain, he needs to apply the mantra of Sir Alex and starting acting as a leader and rally his troops by telling them what they are playing for. As mentioned before, Sir Alex, personally influenced each player and guided them as if they were his own children. It may be absurd but if Mourinho wants to win, he will have to do the exact same, know the most important players in his squad. Build a squad around them, play the team according to the strengths of each individual, select a team who can back into each player and create leaders. Jose needs to build his team around Alexis Sanchez and Paul Pogba. Two dynamic, versatile, game changing players. They are the perfect players who could be the leaders in the team. Influencing the others, dedicated, hardworking, playing for the badge and not for pride. They need to set an example to the others on their responsibilities. That will only happen if Mourinho mentors them into doing so. He has to lead from the front so that his players can lead on the pitch and set an example for youngsters like Rashford, Martial, McTominay and others.
It is certain that United have high potential and attacking minded players. Nothing will happen if they aren’t mentored and given that winning desire. They need to be set free and play as a unit, irrespective of the tactics. It is not the tactics first that cause the defeats, it is the mentality of the players and the lack of hunger and desire to win. Then come the tactics.
To conclude, I would say that Mourinho should start Uniting the players and needs to start acting as a leader, rather than a boss. If he does that then automatically results will come and he will have the fans backing.