A penny for José Mourinho’s thoughts right now. What must he be thinking watching this supercharged, re-energised and resurgent Manchester United side? A cavalier United team that have offered a glorious throwback to the iconic and halcyon days of yesteryear, free from the trouble and strife left behind by the departed Portuguese.
In front of the watching Sir Alex Ferguson – 77 today – United were
everything we wanted – but failed to be – under Mourinho. This was a
performance in which the Scot would have been proud. The type of showing
that he was synonymous with and one that became United’s trademark for a
quarter of a century on his watch. It was almost like he was there in
the dugout, such was the relentless, poetry-in-motion swagger that the
Reds overwhelmed Bournemouth with. Fast, fluid, ruthless and rampant.
In the ascendancy from the off, feet only came off United pedals with
the flash of Lee Mason's red card to Eric Bailly eleven minutes from the end.
Only Sir Matt Busby and Mourinho himself have won the opening three
matches of their spells in charge, but neither of the decorated coaches
have completed the streak with quite the same level of entertainment as
Solskjaer has already imprinted. The style, the tactics, the mentality,
the belief and the feeling around the club – the difference between
Ole’s effervescent United and the torrid tenure of the moribund Mourinho
is night and day. Chalk and cheese. Fire and ice. Just about any other
sublime-to-the-ridiculous comparisons you can think of.
Across the trio of games against Cardiff, Huddersfield and
Bournemouth, United have plundered 12 goals, conceding three, having
been given a new lease of life under Solskjaer. We most likely would
have won all three under Mourinho but the difference comes in how we’re
In the multimillion-pound industry that football has become,
substance is often put ahead of style to ensure that competitors keep up
to speed and ahead of their rivals. The job of a Manchester United
manager is to marry those two seemingly incompatible elements together.
So far, Solskjaer has done so to perfection. After Mourinho’s famine has
come Ole Gunnar’s feast. He is making this management lark look easy.
Mike Phelan – a man who knows this club like the back of his hand,
should never have been let go when Sir Alex left and David Moyes came
in. It is his return that has had a massive impact on the rediscovery of
United’s missing-in-action DNA.
Marcus Rashford’s injury time winner saw the Reds squeeze past the
Cherries in the reverse fixture, whilst United discovered the Terriers
nasty bite away from home last term. Scores of 5-1, 3-1 and 4-1 – albeit
even against fodder – used to be a routine business for a Manchester
United side in the dominant days of yesteryear but these are different
times and under Mourinho it was anything but.
His record against the
league’s lesser lights was poor. This is still a side with flaws yet to
be exposed, but we deserve a bit of enjoyment after everything that’s
been before. Life as a Manchester United fan is fun and enjoyable once
more and I look forward to watching us again now.
In Busby’s maiden campaign at United he won his opening three games,
with the team scoring eight times, while Mourinho’s side yielded six
goals. The run is also the first time United have netted 12 goals across
any three-game run for seven years.
What must Mourinho be thinking seeing the rampant and rejuvenated
Paul Pogba at his destructive and bullying best – a player, like many of
his team-mates, transformed after just a few short weeks under the
arm-around-the-shoulder management of United’s new caretaker boss. The
very same Pogba that Mourinho spent £89 million on and failed so miserably to get the best out of has now spread his wings
and emerged from the cocoon that he has been trapped and entombed
within for the past two and half years. And how. He is a free-spirited
enigma, at his best when given licence to roam. When given a restrictive
role, Pogba loses his edge. At Juventus, he had the metronomic Andrea
Pirlo alongside him allowing him to rampage forward at will. There is of
course, no such luxury at Old Trafford, but Solskjaer’s message has
been simple: go out, express yourselves and play for the fans, the badge
and the club you represent. How refreshing that we finally have a
manager who simply “gets us” as a club.
Mourinho called Pogba a ‘virus.' It is now, indeed, alarmingly clear
who the real virus was. For anyone who may not have worked it out yet:
he is not in the dressing room any longer. United have been cleansed,
cleared and are well on the road to recovery. There will undoubtedly be
some bumps in the road, some re-opening of old wounds, but for now the
adhesive plaster has been applied and the symptoms have gone. A cloud
has been lifted and Solskjaer’s megawatt glow has lit up the place.
United are brimming with confidence and have won three straight
Premier League matches for the first time since March. As 2019 rolls
around, it brings the prospect of a brighter future where there once
appeared none. Even the tangible, ever-growing threat of a Liverpool
title triumph cannot temper the newly found positivity flowing around