What would Manchester United look like today had Jose Mourinho taken over? The question is, of course, a fanciful one, but the idea that Mourinho could be running United did not seem beyond the realm of possibility ahead of David Moyes’ announcement as "The Chosen One."
The day that the United squad learned about Sir Alex Ferguson’s impending departure, they attended the Chester races. According to the Irish Examiner's Miguel Delaney, the chatter amongst the players was mostly centred around the idea of Mourinho getting the job.
So, here is some "Special One" speculation, imagining a world where that had come to pass.
Marouane Fellaini would probably not be at United. Given that Juan Mata was deemed surplus to Mourinho’s requirements in real life, it seems unlikely he would have brought him to United in the parallel universe we are discussing here.
Mourinho did not bring anyone in tow from Real Madrid to Chelsea but given United’s desperate need to improvement in the centre of midfield, perhaps he could have persuaded Luka Modric to move to Manchester with him.
Given that Cristiano Ronaldo "considered" a return to Old Trafford last summer, per Sky Sports, maybe a detente between the two Portuguese men could have been arranged, following their "falling out," per The Telegraph.
Of the players Mourinho has signed for Chelsea, perhaps a similar hijacking of Tottenham Hostpur’s move for Willian would have been arranged. Willian has been a revelation for Chelsea, and his pace, power and tactical flexibility would have been a welcome addition at United.
Given Mourinho’s tactical preference for a 4-3-3, one new midfielder probably would not have done the trick and a more physical, ball-winning type might have been on the shopping list. It is probable that the summer’s transfer business would have been carried out in a more decisive fashion.
As for departures, Anderson would likely still have been on his way, his injury record and his lack of consistency probably would not have fit into Mourinho’s plans.
Shinji Kagawa might have found himself in the Juan-Mata-At-Chelsea role, on the bench because of a perceived lack of defensive contribution.
Nemanja Vidic, on the other hand, may well have been more likely to stay under Mourinho, given John Terry’s return to form this season, could the Portuguese have revitalised Vidic’s United career in similar fashion?
It is hard to imagine any really high profile departures from United. Although, given Mourinho’s history of isolating a key player in his sides (Iker Casillas at Real Madrid, Juan Mata at Chelsea), perhaps someone unexpected would have found themselves out of favour.
The Portuguese's tactics at Chelsea this season are somewhat un-Mourniho like. Playing a true 4-2-3-1 with one centre forward, three players behind him with two holding midfielders is atypical for him.
United’s squad, with a couple of additions would lend itself to either the 4-2-3-1, or the more expected 4-3-3. Much hinges on how Mourinho would have used Wayne Rooney.
Given Chelsea’s summer-long pursuit of Rooney, presumably to play as an out-and-out centre forward, there is some irony in the idea that Rooney is in many ways, Mourinho’s ideal wide inside forward. Dangerous and creative in attack but also disciplined and dogged when the opposition has the ball.
A 4-3-3 with Robin van Persie central and Rooney and Danny Welbeck cutting inside from wide positions, in front of Michael Carrick, Luka Modric and, say Arturo Vidal, with attacking full-backs, seems like a very Mourinho-esque set up.
However, he is a manager who has demonstrated considerable tactical flexibility, and his current Chelsea side show he is not afraid to vary his standard tactics based on the personnel available to him. Given the excellent centre-forwards United have available, could we have seen a 4-4-2 from Mourinho? It seems unlikely but certainly possible.
Given how difficult Moyes has found life at United, it is hard to imagine how Mourinho’s results could have been worse. The key question is how much better they would have been.
This whole discussion is, of course, speculative, and this is the most speculative area, but it seems to me a solid argument exists to suggest Mourinho’s results would have been dramatically better than Moyes’ have been.
The fallout from Ferguson’s departure has been about as cataclysmic as it could have been. With Vidic leaving, reports than van Persie is unhappy, per The Independent's Jack De Menezes, and under-performance throughout the squad, it is not a huge leap of imagination to suggest that the new manager’s regime is not working for his players. As a consequence, they do not really seem to be working for him.
Moyes has problems Mourinho would not have done. Mourinho is a serial-winner, and he could point to domestic and European success equivalent to, or better than, United’s medal-laden squad. Given the suggestion, mentioned earlier, that the players wanted Mourinho, presumably they would have taken a good deal less convincing that his methods would be successful.
Losses at home to Newcastle, West Bromwich Albion and Swansea, the draw with Fulham, the loss to Sunderland in the Capital One Cup and the first leg at Olympiacos. It is hard to imagine all these fixtures having gone the same way had Mourinho been in charge.
Much has been made, by those who would defend Moyes, of some apparent lack of quality in the United squad but do the most hardened of Moyes’ defenders truly believe United would have been out of the running for Champions League qualification if Mourinho was in charge?
Moyes’ appointment was heralded by Manchester United’s PR roll-out as being an appointment for the long-term. It is an attempt to recreate Ferguson’s dynastic, era-spanning reign and empower a manager considered to have the raw ingredients to be a success, if not the CV to match.
Mourinho has never built a dynasty. In 14 years he has managed six clubs and one of them in two separate spells, making his average tenure two years. Manchester United, though, has something his previous clubs have not. It has both profile and behind-the-scenes stability and typically the sides Mourinho has managed have had one or the other but not both.
He left Chelsea because of a "troubled" relationship with Roman Abramovich, per BBC Sport. He left Inter because Real Madrid came calling, he left Madrid because he had apparently exhausted Madrid’s patience, as noted in the Daily Mail.
So what would have made him leave Manchester United? Would he have poked Steve Bould in the eye during a touchline scrap? Would he have fallen out with David de Gea? Would he and Ferguson have clashed over the unseen influence of the elder?
Or would he have settled down and spent a few years at a club which seems a reasonably good match for his personality and abilities? Even if he had left after a couple of years, having won a couple of trophies, would that not have been an easier transition to manage than the precipitous drop off in results that has occurred under Moyes?
We will probably never find out what Mourinho’s United would have looked like. Although it has been a long, difficult and fundamentally unsuccessful season, some hope remains that Moyes will find his feet and we will see why Ferguson made the choice he did.