So, Manchester United fired Louis Van Gaal, and if we are to believe widespread reports in the media, is set to appoint Jose Mourinho into the Old Trafford dugout.
Louis Van Gaal had it coming though. His stats were damning. 1.29 goals per match (the worst since 1989/90) and a 2015/16 goal-tally of 49 (United’s worst in the Premier League era). These speak volumes for a coach whose team averaged more possession (58.47 per cent) than any other team in the league. United also finished the season on 66 points (their second worst point tally in the Premier League era). He was only usurped to the title of the worst point tally by – guess who – Messers David Moyes/Ryan Giggs, in the 2013/14 season.
The biggest accusation leveled against Louis Van Gaal by far though was his subjugation of the Manchester United’s ‘style’ or brand of footballer, a venturesome and gutsy style that had delighted fans and irked opponents. As Steve McClaren, once said “Manchester United never lose, they simply run out of time.”
For Manchester United, winning was never enough. How you won was just as important as the win ratio.
Louis Van Gaal’s rap sheet with the fan was as long as his obstinacy.
So enter Jose Mourinho.
If there’s ever a marriage of strange bedfellows, it is Manchester United and Mourinho on a red velvety bed whispering sweet nothings to each other.
No doubt, Manchester United needs to get back to winning ways as quickly as possible and nobody seem better suited to putting them on that path than Jose.
But at what cost?
It will be at the cost of all Manchester United ever stood for.
By appointing Jose Mourinho as its new manager, United will be betraying its brand essence and personality and selling its soul for a plate of porridge. Mourinho’s appointment will amount to no more than a quick fix and a shot in the arm. This is similar to what (persistent) sales promotions are to brand building efforts – a gradual erosion of hard-won affinity and equity.
Jose is the antithesis of what Manchester United stands for. He is abrasive, vainglorious, unenterprising in his football style and disdains nurturing budding talent, a key cornerstone of the United Way of Brand Building. That is the Jose we have known thus far. I cannot bank on the river not flowing downstream.
But perhaps it is so well and dandy to look at the goings-on at Manchester United through the prism of ‘brand personality’ and ‘preserving the brand.’ Ed Woodward – a commercial man – is probably thinking in more pragmatic terms. After all, Manchester United is a business, and as with a lot of businesses, you are as good as your last quarter – equity be damned.
Ed Woodward – the Ed of Wall Street– will be keen to remind all, especially his bosses on the other side of the Atlantic, that the various lucrative sponsorship deals and global patronage that Man United enjoy were possible only because the club won trophies. And Jose brings in trophies. Let’s ignore the trifle matter of the how. Plus there’s a need to counter the rising belief at the Etihad and the recruitment of the high-profile Pep Guardiola. And oh, there’s Liverpool to serve as reminder of how the mighty can get stuck in the miry clay.
It all feels like a sound commercial argument. But it isn’t. It is only discounting the future for immediate gain. It is making Manchester United another Chelsea or Manchester City, or a club without a clearly defined ethos. Brand loyalty happens when a brand consistently delivers on its promise, its essence and connects to the audience at an emotional level. A rational winning- at-all-cost style isn’t the stuff emotional connections are made of. It’s as hard as steel. And people don’t fall in love with steel. Except you’re Superman. And yea, steel is a commodity.
But maybe Jose is a changed man. Maybe he has learnt from his experiences in Spain and at Chelsea. But that in itself is a problem. A changed Jose is not the Jose Mourinho. And nothing damages reputation and performance like a pass-off.
I leave you with some fond Jose moments. You gotta love the fella though!