SOCCER

José Mourinho opts for Manchester United and steps away from Madrid

The coach, who believes the Spanish league is the trickiest, has signed a pre-contract with the English club worth a guaranteed €20 million

José Mourinho in London.
José Mourinho in London.Stephen Lock / ZUMAPRESS.com

The separation of Real Madrid and José Mourinho was not a typical case. It’s not often that the president of a soccer club is seen regretting the departure of a coach as much as Florentino Pérez did in May 2013. The Real boss never let go of the chance that he could get the Portuguese coach back. This winter, Mourinho’s sacking from Chelsea opened up a window of opportunity.

But that possibility seems to be getting fainter and fainter ever day, according to the management team at Real Madrid and sources close to GestiFute, the company of the coach’s agent, Jorge Mendes. All report that Mourinho has signed a pre-contract with Manchester United to replace Louis van Gaal.

Agents close to the English club indicate that the document that links United and Mourinho is a legal instrument that is common in the world of soccer. For United, it guarantees the services of the coach for the upcoming seasons, while for Mourinho, it ensures that he will be paid compensation should the club decide not to go ahead with the deal under the terms already agreed.

United reserves the possibility of terminating the agreement if, in the coming months, it finds a coach that it considers more appropriate. If that should happen, Mourinho would enjoy two payments of increasing size. If United does not sign the definitive contract by May 1, the club will have to pay him £5 million (€6.5 million); if by June 1, it still hasn’t signed, it will have to pay him another £10 million (€13 million). May is the key month, given that that is when the vast majority of signings are completed and the sporting strategies of the bigger clubs are settled.

This legal framework reveals two things. First, the willingness of Mourinho to commit to United, a club he has always dreamed of managing. Second, the doubts that persist in the hearts of the directors at United, who, rather than signing an unconditional agreement, have given themselves a margin to sound out the market in search of alternatives.

The board of the British club, which is the richest in the world after signing new TV contracts, has for some time been debating the pros and cons of signing the former Chelsea and Real Madrid coach. Among Mourinho’s defenders is Ed Woodward, an accountant who is currently executive vice-chairman at Manchester United. Among the more reticent are veterans such as Sir Bobby Charlton and the club’s former coach, Sir Alex Ferguson, who some time ago chose to reject Mourinho in favor of David Moyes. Given the lack of agreement, the directors have opted for a compromise via this pre-contract.

They have Mourinho tied down, and in the meantime can wait to see if there is a better option out there. Among the other names mentioned in the British press are Tottenham Hotspur coach Mauricio Pochettino; Ryan Giggs, current assistant coach at United, and Dortmund boss Thomas Tuchel.

Senior staff at Real Madrid have been talking to Jorge Mendes for months to set out the basis for an agreement. To negotiate with all of the available information, and to avoid bluffing on the part of the agent, a Real Madrid director said the club carefully investigated the exact situation of Mourinho. The result was the confirmation that his rights have belonged to United since February.

Mourinho has appeared to be very unwilling to return to Madrid every time the idea has come up. He has justified this stance by saying that the Spanish club is conditioned by its political decisions, that his relationship with the press is terrible, and that he cannot lead a locker room that Sergio Ramos, Cristiano Ronaldo, Marcelo and Pepe still occupy – the Portuguese coach had serious disagreements with all of those players. But sources close to him warn that the real cause of his caution over a return is the extreme sophistication of Spanish coaches, who are capable of turning teams full of scrappy players and rookies – such as Málaga or Éibar – into feared opponents. Barcelona is only the latest nightmare. The Spanish league is, in his opinion, the most dangerous.

A master of opportunism like few others, Mourinho is the most adept coach around when it comes to evaluating the consequences in the market of every one of his steps. His partners say he is worried about the effect that his last season at Chelsea had on his professional prestige. And more and more technical secretaries are beginning to think that his methods, which were cutting edge 10 years ago, are somewhat behind the times in 2016.

The worst league to put this to the test is the Spanish one, where, according to those close to the Portuguese, the level of innovation among managers is unique. Mourinho believes that his fame would suffer much less damage were he to be losing games against teams with huge budgets, such as those in the Premier League, than if he were exposed to the many teams with scant resources – ones that in Spain can make life difficult for anyone.

English version by Simon Hunter.