José Mourinho set out his vision for Manchester United on Tuesday, focusing on returning the sleeping giants to the top of the Premier League rather than feuding with Pep Guardiola.
United is in need of both a quick-fix and long-term stability after David Moyes and Louis van Gaal struggled as successors to Alex Ferguson, whose 26-year reign ended in 2013.
“I was never very good at playing with words, hiding behind words or hiding behind philosophies,” Mourinho said at Old Trafford where Van Gaal spent the last two years talking up a “philosophy” that produced only one trophy.
“I was always much more aggressive in my approach, even with the risks that can bring.”
A seemingly mellowed Mourinho was presented to the media for the first time as United manager seven months after being fired by Chelsea for the second time.
And he immediately took the opportunity to show that his conviction in United captain Wayne Rooney remains strong.
Having previously tried to take Rooney to Chelsea, Mourinho still sees the 30-year-old striker as a goal threat rather than needing to see out his career in midfield.
“It is normal that a player of his age changes, but something that will never change is the natural appetite to put the ball in the net,” Mourinho said. “Maybe he is not a striker anymore, or a nine, but he will never be a six playing 50 meters from the goal. He will be a nine, a 10, a nine and a half, but not a six or eight.”
The 53-year-old Portuguese was quick to insist he is far from damaged goods, having lifted the Premier League trophy in May 2015 before his Chelsea reign imploded amid in-fighting at Stamford Bridge.
“There are some managers that the last time they won a title was 10 years ago,” Mourinho said, without naming Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger who last won the Premier League in 2004.
“Some of them the last time they won a title was never. The last time I won a title was one year ago, not 10 years ago or 15 years ago so if I have a lot to prove, imagine the others.”
The only major trophy secured by United in the post-Ferguson era was the FA Cup in May, which was not enough to keep Van Gaal in a job. The Dutchman was fired after United failed to qualify for the Champions League, only managing fifth in the Premier League.
For Mourinho, targeting a return to the top four is not ambitious enough.
“Manchester United for many years, success was just routine, and in this moment the last three years are to forget,” Mourinho said at a packed Old Trafford news conference. “I don’t want the players to think we have to do better and finish fourth. Finishing fourth is not the aim.”
Not when he has a crosstown duel with Guardiola, the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach also starting out at Manchester City. Mourinho crossed swords domestically with Guardiola while he was the Real Madrid coach.
“To speak about one manager, one club and, I don’t like the word, but one enemy, is not right,” Mourinho said. “One thing is that you are in a competition like I was in Spain when it is a two-horse race. In Italy, it was three teams. But in the Premier League it doesn’t make sense at all.
“If you focus on one team or one opponent then the other ones will be laughing so I won’t be a part of it. I am Manchester United manager with respect for all the other clubs in the country.”
Last season demonstrated just how tough the Premier League has become, with Leicester stunning world soccer by dethroning Chelsea to win the title for the first time. With television rights now worth $11 billion, there’s more cash flowing through clubs in the 20-team league, raising the competitiveness.
Mourinho has already signed defender Eric Bailly and striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, while playmaker Henrikh Mkhitaryan is on the verge of joining.
A fourth target is being worked on.
“We made a nucleus of four priorities, four positions, to give a certain balance to the squad and a certain push in terms of quality,” Mourinho said. “I am a manager that likes specialists and not so much the multi-functional players.”
And Mourinho will not overlook United’s famed academy.
Ryan Giggs, United’s most successful academy graduate, was overlooked for the manager’s job after two years assisting Van Gaal. British football’s most decorated player ended a 29-year association as a result and stressed in his departure statement last week that “giving youth a chance” is in the club’s DNA.
Mourinho’s record of utilizing players developed by the club was questioned during two spells at Chelsea.
“I have promoted 49 youth players from academies,” Mourinho said. “Sometimes you promote because you don’t have another chance or so many injuries, you have to bring them in. The second factor is when you are not playing for big targets then it is easier to bring them up.
“My record of injuries is very, very low. I never promote players because of a need — I do it because of conviction.”