Manchester, England — Manchester United needed a serial winner to restore the team’s status as a European powerhouse. Jose Mourinho craved an iconic stage like Old Trafford to remind the world of his rare talent as a coach.
It’s been inevitable for some time that England’s most prestigious club would come calling for soccer’s most successful current manager, and confirmation arrived Friday.
United announced the long-awaited hiring of Mourinho on a three-year deal, ushering in an exciting era not just for a club that has slumped as a domestic force since Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013 but for the soap opera that is the Premier League.
“Jose is quite simply the best manager in the game today,” said United executive vice chairman Ed Woodward, after enticing the Portuguese coach on a reported annual salary of 12 million pounds ($17.5 million).
The stats might just back it up: Mourinho is a two-time Champions League winner, with FC Porto and Inter Milan. He has won eight league titles since 2002 across four countries (Portugal, England, Italy and Spain), three of them coming in the Premier League with Chelsea.
For all his faults, he is as close as it gets in soccer to being a guaranteed trophy winner. And, these days, that is all United wants.
For a club of United’s global standing, it has been a disappointing three years since Ferguson’s trophy-filled 26-year tenure ended. David Moyes, Ferguson’s hand-picked successor, lasted 10 months and Louis van Gaal was fired on Monday after an underwhelming two years in charge. The 20-time English champions have finished seventh, fourth and fifth in the Premier League and won’t even be in the Champions League next season, the biggest factor behind the decision on Monday to terminate Van Gaal’s contract early.
Mourinho, with his win-at-all-costs attitude, is the perfect quick fix for United.
“I prefer to forget (United’s) past three years and focus on the giant club I have in my hands now,” Mourinho said. “I think what the fans are expecting me to say is that I want to win. I think what the players need to (hear) is, I want to win … I think we can really, yes.”
Mourinho said United has “a mystique and a romance about it which no other club can match,” and that he “always felt an affinity with Old Trafford.”
“I think I am in the right moment of my career,” he added. “United is one of these clubs you need to be prepared for it because it is what I used to call a giant club and giant clubs must be for the best managers.”
The 53-year-old Mourinho has been out of work since December when he was fired by Chelsea after a tainted second spell at Stamford Bridge that brought another Premier League trophy but ended with his departure for “palpable discord” with his players. That tenure unraveled in its third year, which is not uncommon for Mourinho. A dynasty builder he is not.
Mourinho’s appointment likely will not be universally welcomed by United fans. United has a long-held tradition of giving youngsters and academy graduates a chance, but Mourinho has established a reputation of only looking at the here and now.
His soccer philosophy — win, whatever the style, even if that involves “parking the bus” — may also be at odds with United’s preference for free-flowing, attacking play. Immediate success would change everything, though, and some of Mourinho’s teams have been richly entertaining for periods of seasons. Real Madrid’s league-winning team of 2011-12 under Mourinho scored 121 goals, for example, blowing away the mighty Barcelona that season.
Away from the field, Mourinho can be a spiky character, and his confrontational and abrasive style with soccer authorities, media and even his own players has courted controversy at times. He is currently entangled in a legal case with former Chelsea team doctor Eva Carneiro, whom Mourinho undermined by accusing her of being “naive” for treating an injured player on the field during a Premier League game.
Carneiro is suing Mourinho individually while pursuing a constructive dismissal case against Chelsea that is set to be heard by a public tribunal in June. It could be his first public appearance as United manager.
“Mourinho is a really good coach, but that’s as far as I would go really,” United great Bobby Charlton, who is also a director and ambassador at the club, said in 2012.
The hiring of Mourinho could also spell the end for club great Ryan Giggs after nearly 29 years at Old Trafford. Since retiring as a player in 2014, Giggs has been United’s assistant coach but that role is set to be given to Mourinho’s long-time No. 2, Rui Faria. There was no immediate news on the make-up of Mourinho’s backroom staff.
United backed Van Gaal with more than $350 million in the last two offseasons — money that was largely wasted by the Dutchman. Mourinho should get similar financial support to make additions to a squad that has some obvious deficiencies.
United needs a world-class striker to back up the raw talent of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford. Sweden striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a likely marquee signing. The team needs a creative playmaker, a fresh central midfield unit and Mourinho also must decide what to do with Wayne Rooney. United’s captain was once its stand-out striker but appears to have been reinvented as a deep-lying midfielder.
Mourinho’s arrival also puts the spotlight on Manchester next season. Across town, Pep Guardiola will start a three-year contract at Manchester City, ensuring a renewal of a coaching rivalry that started in Spain from 2010-12 when Mourinho was at Real Madrid and Guardiola at Barcelona.
Mourinho first came to global prominence in 2004 when, as Porto coach, he charged down the touchline at Old Trafford in celebration of a winning goal by his team against United in a Champions League match. Twelve years later, he returns to the stadium as United’s manager.