Former Chelsea and Inter Milan manager Jose Mourinho has not even got himself familiar with the plush surroundings of Real Madrid’s Estadio Santiago Bernabéu Stadium after signing a four year contract last week yet media speculation has already begun predicting that it will only be a matter of time before the two time European Champions League winner ends up following Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford when he decides to call it a day.
The prime cause for all this guesswork is that Mourinho is reported to have insisted – and obtained, an escape clause in his deal which states that after serving Real for two years he will be able to move on if their compensation requirements are met. Apparently he’s also admitted that he is likely to return to England after his time in Madrid comes to an end.
It has to be said that if Sir Alex had decided not to continue at Old Trafford, Mourinho would have been a prime candidate for the job once he made up his mind that his work in Milan was done but will that still be the case by the time Ferguson vacates the most sought after managerial job in English football?
The decision makers at Old Trafford will not go any further than admitting that Ferguson will have a crucial input in deciding who his successor will be while Mourinho has more than enough confidence in his own ability to take up a challenge which may deter many others. He has no hesitation in openly stating that Ferguson’s job is the one that he most yearns for if he ever makes a return to the Premier League.
While that possibility remains a real one it would also be wrong to assume that the man to follow Ferguson has already been anointed – far from it. When United chief executive David Gill was recently asked about Mourinho he simply answered that “He’s done well hasn’t he? The man certainly has something about him. He’s a winner”.
Gill then went on to make a comment which may prove to be a telling one when he raised the name of Steve McClaren as one manager who has been successful in rebuilding his reputation. Was that simply an innocent observation or an unintended slip of the tongue which could provide a clue as to what the club might be considering? It’s certainly a long shot but may not be as farfetched as it may appear.
While nowhere near as successful at consistently winning silverware as Mourinho has been, McClaren is able to tick most of the other boxes. When appointed to replace Brian Kidd at Old Trafford in 1999 he had a reputation as one of the most tactically astute coaches in England, using ultra modern methods shunned by his more traditional counterparts.
Two and a half years working closely with Sir Alex gave McClaren an intimate knowledge of how the club operates. Winning the treble in his first year as Fergusons assistant, followed by another two premierships before accepting the managers job at Middlesbrough will look impressive on any CV.
McClaren’s five years there produced a steady improvement in the premiership, finishing as high as seventh position in 2005 and bringing the club its first major honour by winning the League Cup as well as reaching the UEFA Cup Final. When the England job became available after the 2006 World Cup McClaren was lured into accepting a position which Ferguson later said came too early for his former assistant but that “It’s almost impossible to reject the offer when your country comes calling”
That proved to be a job which caused McClaren to be labeled a failure when he was unable to take England to the finals of Euro 2008. It was a huge disappointment that cost him a job which he only held for little more than a year and destroyed a reputation which took nearly a decade to build.
McClaren was not out of football for long however, accepting the manager’s position at Dutch club FC Twente in 2008. A good first season saw them finish as runners up before going all the way in 2009-10 to give FC Twente its first league title in the club’s history. That championship in Holland prompted Germany’s Wolfsburg to make a successful bid for his services which will make him the first Englishman to manage a Bundesliga club.
As Gill correctly pointed out in his recent remarks “it’s difficult to predict who will be in contention when Ferguson finally calls it a day” because managers can rise and fall very quickly. He was also right in noting that McClaren was able to resurrect his career following that unsuccessful England experience.
The only thing that seems certain is that Sir Alex will remain in his job for the coming season and possibly even the one after. What happens during that time is anyone’s guess, Mourinho may continue with his amazing winning record in Madrid or he could succumb to what appears to be a Real curse of managers getting sacked on an almost yearly basis.
McClaren can very easily match his record but all else being equal, a further comment made by Gill should be kept in mind. The chief executive made clear that “Another thing you have to understand is the culture of Manchester United. How we operate both on the football side and the non-football side”
Based on that criteria, the two and a half years assisting Ferguson at Old Trafford must give McClaren a decisive edge over anyone else. It therefore begins to sound that barring something totally unforeseen and taking everything into account, the 49 year old former England manager could be in with as much chance of getting the position at Old Trafford as the two years younger Mourinho or any one of the many other candidates who could be in contention.
Will Steve McClaren be able to fill the large hole left by Ferguson?