Manchester United's next managerial appointment is a battle for the soul

Manchester United’s win over Arsenal should be enough to keep Louis van Gaal’s critics at bay in the short term, but his future is far less assured and the battle to decide his successor is turning out be one for the future direction of the entire football club.

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It was all smiles at Old Trafford on the weekend, particularly at the point when Van Gaal theatrically demonstrated to the fourth official what was happening on the pitch, but mostly because the Red Devils managed to put a series of on-field setbacks behind them by defeating title-chasing Arsenal.

Ultimately though it probably won’t be enough to save the Dutch manager from the chopping block at the end of the season and if things don’t continue to improve, possibly before that.

Most believe Jose Mourinho is going to take over, yet despite reports that the deal is already done, it is more unlikely and the battle to decide Van Gaal’s successor is still taking place in the Manchester United backrooms.

It would be reasonable to conclude that most of the stories linking Mourinho to United are coming from his camp – this is of course a coach who is renowned for his media manipulation.

Like a seasoned politician, the Portuguese tactician realises that having the UK media on his side will help his chances of securing the job he has coveted since Alex Ferguson stepped down.

This article from could even be perceived as sympathetic to Mourinho or possibly pushing his cause.

From a results and experience perspective it seems fairly logical that United would sign Mourinho, after all he does have two UEFA Champions League titles and three English Premier League trophies.

There are however two important aspects of the ‘Special One’s’ makeup that will give Old Trafford officials cause for concern.

Firstly the football his sides produce, particularly in the crunch matches against similar level opponents or at the final stages of the Champions League, is far from exciting.

If fans at Manchester United are unenthused by the some of the uninspiring football Van Gaal’s side has produced at home this season, how will they react when Mourinho decides to ‘park the bus’ at the Streford End in a Champions League quarter-final?

He will argue that he can coach his teams to play attractive football too and he would be right. FC Porto, Chelsea and Real Madrid all put on some fabulous attacking displays during Mourinho’s tenure.

The problem is that in the really important matches against the likes of Arsenal or Barcelona, Mourinho mostly devised a defensive strategy to stop his opponent, rather than take the initiative.

Does anyone think Mourinho will do anything else when Manchester United face Arsenal or Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City next season?

The second and possibly more important issue for the Portuguese is his controversial conduct, which includes an ugly undermining of other coaches and a persistent blaming of officials.

It is for this reason that Alex Ferguson was against offering Mourinho the job as his own successor and probably why the Scot will be arguing against the club appointing the ‘Special One’ this time around.

On Ferguson’s side are club legend Bobby Charlton and ex-CEO David Gill.

They would argue that Manchester United have a positive global brand that many would associate with strong sporting values, which is an important element in its continuing strong financial revenues.

Current CEO Ed Woodward is pushing for the appointment of Mourinho - perhaps feeling that he can control or change the Portuguese and that nobody else can deliver the short-term results that will keep United competitive. 

Ultimately it will be the Glazers who decide. Past experience would suggest they are mostly concerned with profit maximisation and would therefore choose whatever helps that.

Yet this crucial decision will not only impact on short-term finances, but who has real control inside Old Trafford as well as the value of Manchester United’s playing style to its global brand.

Whoever is in charge of United next season will inherit an improving squad that is full of potential and primed to challenge for the major titles once again.  

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4 min read
Published 1 March 2016 at 3:07am
By Vitor Sobral