As The Special One settles in to the Special Job at Old Trafford, murmurings of disquiet amongst Manchester United fans have been quieted -for now at least- as Jose Mourinho makes all the right noises about the club, its importance on the world stage, and its famous traditions. The new signings bedding in so well have helped him too: Zlatan, Mkhitaryan and Bailly have all shown that Jose has not lost his eye for a player, his ‘specialists’ neatly filling the yawning and obvious gaps in the squad, those massive footballing potholes left unaddressed by Moyes, Van Gaal and, if we’re being honest, Sir Alex in his final years.
With everything beginning to look like smooth sailing -Pogba not withstanding- Jose threatens to upset the apple cart once more with his side lining of Schweinsteiger, one of the greats of his generation, a true legend of a player. Crucially though, not a United legend: brought in by Van Gaal last season to shore up a creaky midfield, Basti was a player cultivated by the Dutchman during his tenure at Bayern Munich. Indeed it was LVG who converted “Schweini” from inconsistent winger -having started his career as a left back- to Midfield General, dictating Bayern’s play with crisp, precise, passing and movement. For years he was conductor of the FC Hollywood orchestra, their cadence and tempo all going directly through him, the best of their play dictated by his stunning range of passes. Whether it was spraying 60 yarders in a way Steven Gerrard could only ever dream of, or his short, sweet, pass and move groove Schweinsteiger was the man, and the Allianz Arena purred with pleasure as one of their own begun to symbolise all that was great about German football at both club and international level.
Enter Mourinho, exit Bastio… On the face of it the midfielder is Jose’s ideal player: a specialist positionally, a leader on the pitch, a gentleman off it (although some of his antics early on suggested he might go in another, more bad boy direction). Injuries did not help Basti’s cause and it’s fair to say that at times he looked a little laboured and chubby in the Red of United. Rumblings in the press -allegedly from the players- about LVG and Schweinsteiger’s relationship, with the latter being allowed to “take the piss” because he was “Teacher’s Pet” may have contributed too, or at least made the decision easier. Were these issues factors in Mourinho’s decision to separate him from the first team and have him train with the reserves? Perhaps, but Jose has form in -some would say deliberately- taking top players and club legends down a peg or two, sometimes selling, sometimes simply marginalising, and in the process sending a subliminal message to the remaining squad that no-one is untouchable, that he is the man in charge, that he is the man most important.
Veron in his 1st spell at Chelsea: Recoba and Adriano at Inter: Raul, Casillas and Ramos at Real: Lampard, Cech and Essien during his Chelsea 2.0 regime. Many, many more. All players who could have contributed much to his respective teams but for reasons known ultimately only to Jose, ended up in his bad books, unneeded, unwanted.
So, the answer to the question on United fans’ lips: is it the right decision? Well, only time -and the signing of Paul Pogba- will tell. Supporter anger will be muted as Schweinsteiger is merely a legend of the game, not a legend of the club. There’s probably more consternation and dark mutterings about the Giggs decision than this one to be fair. Certainly there’ll be none of the hysteria shown by the Bayern Old Boys Club and FifPro officials, although in typical Jose style Mourinho has been quick to fire back a few barbed comments of his own.
Clearly, a manager must be allowed to manage and make tough, controversial decisions. Otherwise what is the point? United have brought the manager in to do precisely that. Fans have been split on the appointment and this writer remains sceptical. But what is done is done. Jose must be given enough rope. If he ends up hanging himself with it at least it will be his very own fault. By his own decisions may he be judged, but for now, let’s all give him his due.