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The Great Red Debate: What can Manchester United fans expect from José Mourinho?

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In this week’s Great Red Debate, Busby Babe writers Ryan Baldi and Andi Thomas discuss what Manchester United fans can reasonably expect José Mourinho to deliver at Old Trafford, both on and off the pitch.

Wigan Athletic v Manchester United - Pre Season Friendly Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

Ryan: By now, we are well aware of what José Mourinho tends to bring to any club he joins: virtually immediate success, plenty of drama played out in the media, and often total distruction after three years or so, as he walks away from the scene having set the whole place ablaze -- then rinse and repeat at another continental superclub.

Although, at both FC Porto and Internazionale, Mourinho did his standard two or three years and moved on, leaving each club in a pretty healthy situation. He’d made both clubs champions of Europe and brought unprecedented success to each, only parting ways to take on a new challenge elsewhere — first leaving Porto to take charge at Chelsea in 2004, then departing the San Siro for the top job at Real Madrid in 2010.

So there is some hope of a happy ending at Manchester United.

Plus, though ever capable of snide press conference remarks and jabs at Arsene Wenger, the self-proclaimed Special One seems to have mellowed ever so slightly as he approaches his mid-fifties.

Perhaps he’s finally learned the lessons of past mistakes; having been burned reputationally by the Eva Carneiro scandal, maybe Mourinho has grown tired of his own drama and just wants an easier life.

Or it could be the calm before the storm, who knows?

But there is no doubt that, following the dismissal of Louis van Gaal, Mourinho’s appointment has brought renewed hope to Old Trafford. After three years in the doldrums, United fans are starting to allow themselves to believe that their time is about to come back around.

So, Andi, we’ll cover the medium- and long-term too, but what can we resonably expect Mourinho to deliver next season?

Chelsea v Swansea City - Premier League

Andi: One of the oddest things about Louis van Gaal's United was the inability to treat the smaller sides in the Premier League with the contempt that befits a title contender. Last season, United lost away at West Bromich Albion (who finished 14th), Bournemouth (16th) and Sunderland (17th), as well as at home to eventually relegated Norwich City. They also drew home and away at relegated Newcastle United. Leicester City, by way of comparison, didn't lose to a single team in the bottom half all season long.

Mourinho is often criticised for his defensive approach to the bigger games. But against the smaller teams, his sides have tended towards ruthlessness, dismissiveness and even — whisper it — a little expansiveness. So I think we can probably expect to see United go after the the bottom half of the Premier League with renewed fervour, and hopefully that translates to a steadier stream of points from those fixtures. After all, just one more goal in any of the games mentioned above would have secured Champions League football.

In terms of style, this approach will probably manifest itself with a little bit more directness and pace. Gone, hopefully, will be those endless daisy chains of passing back and forth along the back four; gone, too, those corners that were carefully ushered back to a (presumably quite baffled) David de Gea. Mourinho sides get at their opponents. So, in theory, do good United sides.

Ryan: I agree. The thing I’m most looking forward to next season is a sense of urgency returning to United’s play. I doubt we will hear mention of a "philosophy" or a "process", in the way that van Gaal would often try to hide poor results behind his dogma.

Mourinho is the ultimate pragmatist: the teams that are there to be beaten, will be well beaten. If his side faces a trickier proposition, he’ll do whatever it takes to grind out a result.

Obviously, predicting where exactly we’ll finish in the league is kind of pointless at this stage, especially with so much of the transfer window yet to play out. But it will be nice to see a competitive United side again.

In the medium-term, do you anticipate Mourinho reverting to type and increasing the drama levels? Or do you think he recognises that he has finally got the job he (allegedly) always wanted, and will demostrate a little more decorum to make sure he hangs onto it?

Andi: It's almost impossible to imagine a completely nonsense-free Mourinho — that's just who he is — so I think we can expect a certain amount of snark, "mind gaming", and other diversionary nonsense. When managers are in control of it, and in control of themselves, then all that stuff is just another tool. And if it works, as it often does, then there's no reason for any manager not to indulge. Alex Ferguson was thundering at referees and building siege mentalities when Mourinho was still in short trousers, after all, and there's a Pep Guardiola to wind up.

However, I hope, perhaps in vain, that he's been able to recognise that his treatment of Eva Carneiro was somewhere between shabby and appalling. From memory, there were rumours of Mourinho being generally unhappy going into last season (linked to disagreements over transfer policy), and perhaps that incident and the subsequent fallout were provoked, at least in part, by a more general malaise. He is presumably happier now. But there's definitely a destructive and nasty streak in him, and it would be very surprising if that were completely gone.

UEFA Champions League: FC Porto v Chelsea Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

Ryan: True. Despite his apparent calm and contented demeanor since landing the United job, it’s easy to forget that his dispicable mistreatment of the Chelsea medical staff happened less than a year ago.

There was a lot of moralising from certain quarters of the United support when Mourinho was initially linked to replacing van Gaal, with his constant sniping at opposing managers being cited as being in opposition to what is befitting of a United manager. But those making such points perhaps suffer from short memories, or at least need to give their rose-tinted spectacles a wipe, because Ferguson, as you point out, was the master of mind games. For Fergie, the key encounters began long before the scheduled kick-off time. And in that regard, Mourinho will always be the same.

But that’s all well and good. It’s just the unsavoury stuff that we don’t want to see, and I’m hopeful that there will be no repeat of the kind of firestorm that put paid to his second Chelsea spell.

So, finally, to the long-term. Do you think there will even be such a thing? Or are you optimistic that Mourinho will go beyond his usual three-year tenure this time?

Andi: I'm sceptical that Mourinho will be a long-term fixture at Old Trafford for two reasons. The first is him — while the idea that he leaves nothing behind him but scorched earth and screaming is a little overplayed, he does seem to operate with an intensity that cannot help but exhaust himself and everybody around him.

And the second is that, well, football managers in general don't tend to hang around for that long. Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger might be the models for stability and sensible governance, but their longevity was and is freakish to a quite remarkable extent. They all burn out; they all get replaced. So while it's not too hard to imagine that Mourinho might be around for four years, maybe five, anything beyond that — anything dynasty-shaped — seems rather unlikely. And that's without even thinking about whether it would be a good idea. Mourinho was the coach of tomorrow some years ago, but sooner or later he'll be the coach of yesterday.

But that's not to say that Mourinho's time in charge won't have long-term effects. At the same time as buying him the players he wants, United are also reorganising the academy, expanding their scouting operations, and dragging various other parts of the club up to modern standards. If Mourinho wins trophies, then excellent and job done, but it's the stuff behind the scenes that will determine the long-term future of the club, and they have to function regardless of the manager.