How do you replace the head of your organization who transformed it into a behemoth? It’s not an unusual situation (see: Jobs, Steve) and Manchester United is still struggling with succession three years after Sir Alex Ferguson retired.
After the departure in 2013 of Ferguson, who managed the soccer club for 27 years and won 13 English Premier League titles and two Champions Leagues, United replaced him with David Moyes, a young Scottish manager who lasted 10 months. Now the club has also sacked Moyes’s veteran replacement, Louis van Gaal.
Off the pitch, United has gone from strength to strength. It has signed deal after deal, including the largest kit deal in history worth £750 million ($1 billion) with Adidas (pdf), and is on track to overtake Real Madrid as the richest club in the world this year once more, according to Deloitte. But on the pitch, the club has struggled quite badly, failing to challenge for the title without Ferguson.
And so as early as today (May 24), the club is finally turning to serial winner José Mourinho.
FourFourTwo magazine named him the best soccer manager in the world last year, after Mourinho masterminded the Premier League title after returning to Chelsea. That was 12 months ago. Since then? He was fired in December. Oh well. Things change quickly in soccer.
But Mourinho has still won league titles in four countries and the Champions League twice, which makes him as close a thing there is to a sure bet in this topsy-turviest of sports. His challenge to revitalize United is even greater now, as the Premier League enters the first year of its new TV rights deal which gives all 20 clubs unprecedented spending power. He renews his rivalry from Spain with Pep Guardiola—only this time they are across the road from each other as Guardiola takes over as Manchester City boss this summer.
And he will also face Claudio Ranieri, the man who was fired to make way for Mourinho in 2004 at Chelsea during his first spell at the West London. After he was fired, Ranieri was considered a bit of an also-ran, wandering around the world managing fairly mediocre teams. Ranieri returned to England last year with a small club called Leicester City—and proceeded to win his first title in perhaps the biggest upset in the history of team sports.
Mourinho has apparently always coveted the United job—a Spanish journalist released a book in 2013 that said he “sobbed loudly” when he found out that he was being overlooked three years ago. At the time, United fans laughed at him by hanging a banner at Old Trafford saying that Moyes was “The Chosen One,” mocking Mourinho’s nickname of “The Special One.”
United finished seventh that year. Will United fans like Mourinho a bit more if they finish first next year?