We’re not there yet, but should José Mourinho decide it was time to call it a day at Manchester United, there’s a man, currently without a job, who would apparently be interested in managing in England: Leonardo Jardim.
That last bit of information comes from Le10 Sport, but this article isn’t about that, it’s just an opinion.
As things stand, when it comes to the green rectangle in the middle of whichever stadium they play in, Manchester United aren’t the most attractive club in the world.
Sure, they still have their history and the great reputation helped by Sir Alex Ferguson’s time in charge that went some way to acquiring “600 million fans around the world”. They also, thanks to the creative genius of Ed Woodward, always find new things to be sponsored by.
The problem is, what you see on a near daily basis is a manager who seems extremely proud of being able to count to three and possesses the ability to suck every bit of joy out of life itself.
While rivals are, for the most part, being talked about because of what happens on the pitch, when it comes to Manchester United, the media seem to focus more on what happens off it, and that’s partly down to Mourinho.
Wherever the Portuguese manager goes, a circus follows, and there’s a feeling some of it is intentional, as it helps distract from his recent professional shortcomings.
After the contrasting shock to Sir Alex Ferguson that was David Moyes, the pitch side antics of Louis van Gaal and the Special One’s slow conversion into a parody of himself, perhaps what Manchester United need more than anything is someone who will stay out of the limelight and just get on with things.
There is this presumption that whoever is in charge at Old Trafford needs to be a character, someone whose personality suggests he’s more capable of managing all the egos in the dressing room, but is that really the case?
More than anything, the club needs a manager to come in, sort out the good from the bad as best they can, and instil a clear idea of what they want from their players.
Furthermore, the recruitment (of players, not sponsors) aspect needs to be taken away from Ed Woodward, and given to someone who will work with the manager, not against him.
The Leonardo Jardim era at Monaco was meant to be a project, one they knew probably wouldn’t click straight away, but what ensued was something we’ve rarely seen at any football club.
His first transfer window saw six ‘new’ players arrive: Fabinho return for a second loan, Aymen Abdennour signing permanently from Toulouse, Wallace on loan from Braga, Tiemoué Bakayoko from Rennes, Martin Stekelenburg on loan from Fulham and a certain Bernardo Silva on loan from Benfica.
Exiting the club were 27 players, either released, sold or shipped out temporarily, including Falcao, as Jardim and Luis Campos, his director of football, went to work.
They finished 3rd, and it wasn’t all that pretty.
At this point, it might have been a good idea to build on the clear out, but the owners went overboard, needing to recoup money from their 2013-14 Falcao-James Rodriguez summer of madness.
The next year, the Portuguese manager was forced to sell a bunch of first-team players like Layvin Kurzawa, Aymen Abdennour, Anthony Martial, Yannick Carrasco and Geoffrey Kondogbia, and only ended up signing Fabinho permanently, and bringing in Thomas Lemar from Caen and Ivan Cavaleiro from Benfica for the first-team.
The rest of the departed players were replaced by loan arrivals (like Stephan El Shaarawy), meaning he had little choice but to adapt as best he could to his situation, knowing the vast majority of his players would be leaving at the end of the season.
Still, they somehow finished 3rd, but, again, it wasn’t pretty.
Then came a summer of little change to the first-team. Loanees were sent back to their clubs, fringe players (like Ivan Cavaleiro) were sold, and the club invested in areas they needed, such as full-back (Djibril Sidibé and Benjamin Mendy) and centre-back (Kamil Glik).
At its core, however, the team was very similar to that of the previous year, especially from midfield onwards, with the addition of a reinvigorated Falcao, who was determined to prove he wasn’t washed up after two failed spells in the Premier League.
Furthermore, the arrival of an attacking right-back allowed Jardim to field Fabinho as a defensive midfielder alongside Tiemoué Bakayoko and Joao Moutinho, creating the player Liverpool signed last summer.
What happened with a little bit of stability? Monaco finished 1st in Ligue 1, dethroning Paris Saint-Germain in the process, scored 107 goals and nearly made it to the final of the Champions League.
Unfortunately, with success comes attention, and, once again, the squad was ripped apart, unable to keep hold of the vast majority of its first-team, all lured away by bigger clubs capable of offering more money.
That summer, key players such as Kylian Mbappé, Bernardo Silva, Benjamin Mendy, Valère Germain (an ideal backup for Falcao) and Tiemoué Bakayoko were all shipped out, replaced by Stevan Jovetic, Adama Diakhaby (who has since signed for Huddersfield), Youri Tielemans, Keita Baldé (currently at Inter), Rachid Ghezzal (now at Leicester City), Terrence Kongolo (also at Huddersfield).
This constant personnel change would be toxic for any manager, and it’s no surprise that, after years of it happening, the magic wand Jardim was waving around trying to mitigate the mess his club enforced finally snapped.
The Portuguese was left with little choice but to leave the club after a handful of games this season, with Monaco in 18th, having won one game from their opening nine, unable to get his message across to a squad whose average age is just under 23.
Yet, the one year where he had some semblance of normality, where he had a core group who understood what he was trying to do, it all clicked and produced some scintillating football, averaging just under three goals a game in the league.
What’s interesting is that, throughout this entire process, rarely did you hear about Leonardo Jardim.
He very rarely complained, understood that he couldn’t keep everyone at a club that, despite success, wasn’t one of the biggest in Europe, and he just got on with it.
In February of this year, he told Le Parisien: “Every manager wants to play great football, but sometimes that isn’t possible and you need to just find a way to win regardless to give confidence to the players and progress. To have a style, you would need to be able to keep your players every year or recruit some that fit what you’re trying to do.
“In the world, there are two to three managers have the means to do that year in, year out. Monaco’s project is different. We form players, but we can’t be sure to keep a style of play because you need to adapt to the footballers we have?”
But what if he was one of those select few? What if he was at a club where players don’t use you as a stepping stone? One whose fans want, perhaps more than anything, to see the return of exciting ‘we’ll score more than you’ football?
Manchester United’s philosophies have always included a desire to combine the recruitment and development of young players with the occasional big transfer to immediately reinforce the team.
That isn’t Mourinho, yet you can see why they did appoint him when they did, as trophies were proving hard to come by and the former Chelsea manager had a reputation for winning those.
And he did, in his first season. After that, well…
There has been very little sign of actual progress on the pitch under José Mourinho, no clear plan, and the club, seemingly wanting to stick to their philosophies, went against their manager when he publicly demanded the signing of some experienced players.
Yes, Manchester United finished second last year, but Arsène Wenger was struggling at Arsenal, Liverpool were preoccupied by a great Champions League run, Spurs regressed and Chelsea were once again imploding.
With the installation of a new director of football and a manager who, together, have a clear idea of what they want to do, a lot of these problems could be solved.
The club are moving in that direction, looking for the right man to help/take over from Ed Woodward with transfers, but it remains to be seen if Mourinho, who likes to have control, will want to work under those circumstances.
It wouldn’t be surprising if José did finish the season at Old Trafford, as the club didn’t sack Moyes or Van Gaal until Champions League football was out of reach, but even if he does qualify for the competition, next summer seems like the right time to try something new.
Even if it isn’t Jardim, find someone who has an idea of what he wants to do, and help him achieve it.
Chelsea’s appointment of Maurizio Sarri, a manager whom a chunk of the Stamford Bridge faithful bemoaned hadn’t won enough trophies, is a great example of this.
Sometimes, track record and reputation aren’t everything. Sometimes, it’s simply about finding the right man who fits the club’s ideals, and giving him the tools required to achieve his goals.
It just so happens that, at this moment in time, Leonardo Jardim is available.