One of the features of Louis van Gaal’s Man United reign was the seemingly constant criticism from Utd old boy’s like Paul Scholes and Rio Ferdinand about the results, and the style of play. It seemed to get under the Dutchman’s skin, and lead to conspiracy theories about the influence Alex Ferguson still has.
To be fair, the Dutchman wasn’t alone. There aren’t too many managers who would react well in the same situation.
But Jose Mourinho is different.
The new Manchester United manager welcomes the criticism. The Portuguese is never short of confidence, and talking to the media in China yesterday said that Scholes, Ferdinand, and every former Man United great has earned the right to say what they want about the team:
This club was so successful for so many years that you have lots of legends. Not like some clubs where you have a couple of them as a consequence of a certain successful moment. At this club you find legends from five years ago, legends of 10 years ago, legends of 15 years ago and legends of 20 years ago. Some of them are in the English media and some of them are in their own country’s media.
Mourinho shows a lot of awareness about the club, and it’s continued success under Ferguson – as well as how much influence these former players have with the fans that still adore them:
Their voice becomes very powerful. When people belong to the club history, they are different to a normal pundit. You have to look at them in a different way. You have to be respectful with these guys.
They are so powerful in the fans’ world that they can influence positively or negatively. The fans love them, so when they are positive they can unite and when they are negative they can create a more difficult situation.
Not that Mourinho wants them to go easy on the team. Just because a former player has a fondness for his old team doesn’t mean they can’t criticise them – especially when they have moved into media and are expected to give their opinions.
They are working and have to try to be honest and independent. So, myself, as Manchester United manager cannot ask them, ‘You belong to our history, you are here to help.’ You have to accept that if they are happy with the team they can elevate the support; if they are not happy maybe they can disturb and make things more difficult.
Perhaps it’s a wonderful PR ploy, including inviting the former players back to the training ground whenever they want.