Winning the FA Cup was meant to be the moment Manchester became united again; so following it up with a move to bring in Jose Mourinho is a gamble that could just as easily jeopardise that mission as achieve it.
United weren’t exactly in their pomp on Saturday, the victory over a limited but passionate Crystal Palace side was achieved largely through the sheer determination of Wayne Rooney not to miss out on lifting the trophy he has wanted to win since he was a nine-year-old.
But when you consider Louis van Gaal has been accused of ‘not playing the United way’ and of ‘not understanding what United is all about’ then there were plenty of unifying aspects of the victory which had the potential to partially heal some of the painful wounds suffered by the club this season.
Jesse Lingard’s stunning winning goal, scored in extra-time after the Red Devils came from a goal behind, was certainly good enough for the United pantheon, as was Rooney’s performance as he reminded fans just how much he cares for the club.
The sight of their team lifting a major trophy, the first since Alex Ferguson stepped down, also had the potential to bring fans together, even if a small minority still aimed abuse at van Gaal as he climbed the Wembley stairs.
Importantly, too, United’s long tradition of encouraging and developing young talent was at the heart of their success.
Lingard has been at the club since the age of seven and you could see it in his celebration; Marcus Rashford has also come through the ranks and produced an excellent display before going off injured.
Another youth team product, Ryan Giggs, stood proudly in the dugout directing the performance.
For a moment, then, as United’s players huddled together in the centre circle for a celebratory jig this looked like a young team that was just starting to understand what their manager wants from them and where they can go together — there were hints of it too in the semi-final against Everton.
So, when Van Gaal and Ed Woodward embraced in Wembley’s Royal Box there was a very brief illusion that Manchester was on its way to becoming re-united at long last.
How naive we all were.
There is yet to be an official announcement but the world and his wife seems to know Mourinho has already been approached to be United’s next manager and was to be offered the post regardless of the result at Wembley.
It’s not difficult to understand why the United board may have reached that conclusion. Some of the football at Old Trafford this season has been deadly dull — and there were long periods on Saturday when it was again despite the late hurrah — and fans have been divided over Van Gaal’s managerial style.
When fans and manager are not together, players and tactics are not together and a European giant is outside the top four then it’s not unreasonable to expect change.
But is Mourinho really the man to unite United?
Of course he brings success — it’s been pretty much guaranteed everywhere he’s worked — but the Special One also brings division and controversy.
Already, Old Trafford fans are split pretty evenly over whether they want Mourinho in charge. The board has shown reluctance too — Bobby Charlton has famously resisted in the past, claiming Mourinho isn’t the right ambassador for United’s global image.
Take a look at the list of core values which United fans treasure as the heartbeat of their club and it’s not exactly a Special One tick list.
When it comes to style of football for instance, it’s hard to see Mourinho playing ‘the United way’.
Although his first season in his first spell at Chelsea was thrilling, with Damien Duff and Arjen Robben playing together, his own style has developed into a far more pragmatic, safety-first 4-5-1 system with a powerful striker such as Didier Drogba or Diego Costa at the tip of it all.
Bringing youth team players through the system isn’t really Mourinho’s style, either. It’s hard to think of anyone he has developed in that way, certainly during his time in England. He has always been a man for a big budget.
The rumoured move for Zlatan Ibrahimovic fits the bill in terms of finding United’s Drogba but also smacks of short-termism — bringing in a 34-year-old superstar may put bums on seats but it doesn’t help develop a five-year plan.
Romelu Lukaku at Everton would appear to be a better deal — but he and Mourinho were hardly best buddies at Stamford Bridge when he was sold to Goodison having not been given a proper chance in the Chelsea first team.
If you’re looking at United heroes to keep the team together under new management then there may be a problem, too.
Captain Rooney was the key at Wembley but where would he fit into a Mourinho team? That quarter-back role doesn’t look Mourinoesque and it would be a gamble on recent evidence to put him back up front on his own.
Juan Mata, who scored United’s first goal, was dumped by Mourinho at Stamford Bridge for not fitting his vision of a hard-working attacking player — so his future, too, would surely be in doubt. It just goes to show that the Old Trafford board still have some serious thinking to do before completing a move for a manager who brings success — but at a price.
At a time when supporters are desperately missing the United way, this is a significant crossroads.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved