The Portuguese follows David Moyes in July 2013 and Louis van Gaal in July 2014. Mourinho is confident he can be the man to take the club into a new era of sustained success following the fallow years after Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013.
Yet Van Gaal and Moyes, as they set off for Thailand and America respectively, also felt they could deliver glory. Below is a snapshot of where each manager was as his first tour began …
DM 10 July–30 July
Moyes’s sole summer trip was a three-continent, four-country, five-city slog that took in Thailand, Australia, Japan and China, and remains the longest in United’s history. The schedule was inherited from Ferguson and Moyes could have done without it as he grappled with succeeding a manager par excellence at one of the world’s largest clubs. As the former Everton man flew off with his new squad the issue of a disaffected Wayne Rooney loomed large and there was also an ageing defence to consider: two problems “bequeathed” him by his predecessor. And in Ed Woodward, Moyes also had a new executive vice-chairman who was a novice in the transfer market.
LVG 18 July–4 August
This was shorter in time but still took in California, Colorado, Washington DC, Michigan and Florida and had Van Gaal already complaining at his opening press conference in Pasadena before the curtain-raiser against LA Galaxy. The Dutchman’s mood was further soured by in-tour logistics he believed hampered his preparations. A prime illustration was Van Gaal being half an hour late for that media briefing at the Rose Bowl due to the team being located in a Beverly Hills hotel and having to fight gridlocked traffic out of the city.
JM 19–26 July
By United’s standards this is a lightning affair and Mourinho has Van Gaal to thank due to his predecessor’s unhappiness with the previous tour. United travel between only two cities – Shanghai and Beijing – and have only two games, against Borussia Dortmund on Friday and Manchester City on Monday.
Conversely Mourinho added Saturday’s friendly at Wigan Athletic to the schedule because he felt Van Gaal’s build-up was a little light.
As the six-year contract Moyes signed with United suggests, his task in his first season was merely to show he could handle following Ferguson by ensuring the champions finished in a Champions League place. After 34 Premier League games Moyes was sacked, the Scot lasting a mere nine months. Welcomed as “The Chosen One” he left, in what is a cruel business, as “The Failed One”.
After the disastrous Moyes tenure Van Gaal’s initial challenge was to take United back into the Champions League. He did so at the end of 2014-15, in fourth place, but then fell down by overseeing elimination at the group stage of the competition and a fifth-place Premier League finish last season in a campaign that from December onwards was a long and difficult-to-watch stumble towards his sacking. Not even winning the club a 12th FA Cup in May could save him.
When Mourinho began his second tenure at Chelsea in the summer of 2013 he was clear that winning the Premier League would be the aim for 12 months down the line (which he delivered). There has been no similar calming of expectation with United, so it seems fair to conclude the 53-year-old is targeting a 21st title for the club this season. If not, his side must be serious contenders in May or Mourinho has failed.
3 Transfers by time of tour
Moyes can – and did – curse his luck that United’s chief executive, David Gill, also stepped down when Ferguson left as this left the inexperienced Woodward to work for him in the transfer market. The new manager was culpable of blunders, though, especially over the summer-long attempt to buy Leighton Baines and Marouane Fellaini as a package from his former club, Everton.
All of this meant Moyes had no major new signings with him as United landed in Bangkok, none as they returned to Manchester three weeks later and, at the close of the window on 31 August, only Fellaini had arrived. But as there was no World Cup, Copa América or European Championship that summer, Moyes’s only absentees for the tour were due to injury.
As United flew into LAX Airport two years ago, Van Gaal had already acquired Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera so could have no complaints about Woodward, though this did not stop him moaning at the new arrivals for their play on tour. This was a World Cup summer but, as England were knocked out of Brazil 2014 in the group stage, Shaw plus Rooney and the rest of his international team-mates were present. The early recruitment of Herrera and Shaw kicked off a transfer window in which Ángel Di María, Radamel Falcao, Marcos Rojo and Daley Blind were also added.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Eric Bailly and Henrikh Mkhitaryan were all signed by 6 July and Mourinho believes he has a good chance of buying Juventus’s Paul Pogba. This has to put several springs in the manager’s step as United fly out despite those players involved in Euro 2016 and the Copa América being absent. Ibrahimovic is one of those afforded further rest.
4 The Ferguson shadow factor
Being Ferguson’s first choice proved an arsenic-dripping chalice once Moyes’s results went south. As he was the man who followed the man, the last thing the Glaswegian needed was to be backed by him. Furthermore United were reigning champions which made their plunge to the seventh place Moyes left the side in when sacked seem all the more dismal.
Ferguson’s shadow receded after Moyes’ failure and this allowed Van Gaal extra grace. Yet finishing fourth in the first season would never be enough to dissipate the Scot’s aura. What the Dutchman required was a title triumph. Instead United regressed into fifth position and Ferguson was again a key powerbroker in the club’s saga over appointing Mourinho.
Until Mourinho – or anyone – claims that first league title since Ferguson’s 13th in 2013, the knight’s legacy will always hover over United. For the moment Ferguson may have been edged to the periphery by Woodward finally giving Mourinho the job, despite the Scot’s indifference to this decision. But fail like Moyes and Van Gaal and Mourinho will be gone, too – while the Ferguson legend will be even stronger.
5 Auguries as the tour plane was boarded
Moyes’s unveiling was littered with declarations of faint-hearted “hope” regarding what his team would do. This may have been an attempt to respect Ferguson and the institution he was taking over but the result was the new man sounded cowed. It became the story of his tenure.
Van Gaal was the diametric opposite in his opening display. He was not daunted by the size of the club and came across as the archetypal chest-out, alpha-male manager United were desperate for. Yet the giveaway here was the one-eyed stance regarding the club’s commercial operation. His players liked him as a man but as a man-manager they found Van Gaal difficult to fathom and hard to play for. Dismal displays and results followed.
Unlike Moyes and Van Gaal, Mourinho has squeezed a game in before United took off on Tuesday. Saturday’s 2-0 win at Wigan was largely academic apart from a telling caveat: the instant rapport between the away fans and Mourinho. Unlike the permanently seated Van Gaal, Mourinho virtually lives in the technical area so this allowed him to respond to their chants. His opening press conference was laced with what felt like a good blend of charm and pugnaciousness: again in contrast to his two predecessors.
But, as always, all that matters is results. If he wins, he is doing all the right things brilliantly. If not, then…
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