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Home   /   Who is Manchester United’s best manager post Sir Alex Ferguson?
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Cameron Winstanley grades the heirs to Fergie’s throne

Sir Alex Ferguson bowed out on his trophy laden 26 years at Manchester United with a 13th Premier League title as United swept all before them to finish 11 points clear of noisy neighbours, Manchester City, at the top of the league.

In the seven years since, it has been a very different story for the red half of Manchester with United now on their fourth manager since Ferguson. What almost seems now as a poison challis, United failed yet again to come close to the glittering highs of the Ferguson era last season as they crawled into a Champions League place on the final day.

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The Red Devils haven’t been short of managerial pedigree either after Sir Alex’s departure. Handpicked predecessor, David Moyes, lasted only 10 months into his five-year-contract. Followed by Dutch tactician Louis van Gaal and then the Special One, Jose Mourinho.

Both van Gaal and Mourinho’s reputation preceded them into Old Trafford with 31 trophies between them, United fans can be forgiven for thinking United would walk right back into Europe’s elite. Ultimately, both tried and failed but not without an emotional rollercoaster along the way. Here I will dissect both mangers performance and influence on the club, including the building blocks put in place for current manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

 I will be looking at five key areas to determine who had the better tenure at the club with each section receiving its own scoring system. To make this a fair assessment, I will only be looking at both managers two full seasons with club. Excluding Mourinho’s disastrous couple months of the 18/19 campaign. Now is the time to find out, who was United’s best manager since Fergie? Louis van Gaal or Jose Mourinho?

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Trophies and League Position

Before their arrival at Old Trafford, these two managers had accumulated 31 trophies between them covering every major footballing country in Europe. Therefore, both had a huge expectation to bring in trophies but specifically bring home title number 21. Like I mentioned earlier, there is a scoring system to ultimately put a numerical figure on both managers success or lack off.

Scoring System:

League: Finish outside of the top four= 0 points, a 4th place finish= 2 points, a 3rd place finish= 4 points, a 2nd place finish= 6 points. Without giving away spoilers, I didn’t need a points system in place if they had won the league.

Cup: Community Shield and UEFA Super Cup= 1 point, League Cup= 3 points, FA Cup= 4 points, Europa League= 5 points. No points are given for finishing runners-up.

Here’s how they both faired in their two league campaigns.

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Louis van Gaal

Louis van Gaal was tasked with steadying the ship after David Moyes’ choppy 10 months in charge. United finished seventh under Moyes, their lowest league finish 1990. LVG’s debut campaign was the 2014/15 season. His first game in charge saw United lose at home to Swansea and only record one win in their first five games. LVG was able to find his feet and lost only three of his next 23 games. United did however, see a big dip in form at the end of LVG’s first campaign as they won just one of their final six games, to finish in 4th. An ultimately decent first campaign in charge as he returned United to the Champions League at the first time of asking and finished six points ahead of David Moyes’ miserable attempt the season prior.


League: 4th= 2 points

FA Cup: Quarter Final, 2-1 loss vs Arsenal= 0 points

League Cup: 2nd round, 4-0 loss vs MK Dons= 0 points

European Competition: N/A= 0 points

Van Gaal’s second season at United regularly took a different complexion to that of his first campaign. Fans become disgruntled with his boring style of football, a far-cry from what United fans expect from their teams. Van Gaal faced many calls for the sack, most notably during December as United failed to win all month, these including three defeats on the trot to Bournemouth, Norwich and Stoke. Poor league form coupled with United failing to qualify from a relatively easy Champions League group saw calls for his job only increase. United only scored 49 league goals, their lowest ever total in the Premier League, with United amazingly, failing to score in 23 games under van Gaal during the 15/16 season. LVG was unable to take United back into the Champions League after finishing fifth before Manchester City on goal difference, not surprising with United scoring 22 less goals than their neighbours in the league. However, LVG was able to pick up United’s first silverware in the post Fergie era, the FA Cup, which United hadn’t held since 2004. But, this wasn’t enough to save van Gaal’s job and he was axed just three days after winning the cup.


League: 5th= 0 points

FA Cup= Winners= 4 points

League Cup= 4th Round loss to Middlesbrough= 0 points

European Competition= 3rd in Champions League group, 3-1 Round of 16 loss to Liverpool= 0 points

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Louis van Gaal Total Points= 6

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Jose Mourinho

Jose Mourinho was sacked by Chelsea halfway through the previous season with his name on the lips of every United fans since January. Jose was finally announced after LVG’s sacking and Ed Woodward invested heavily in Mourinho. Jose won three straight league games to kick off the season. However, United began to struggle, winning only one league game throughout October and November, drawing six out of eight. United were cut adrift in sixth and despite an unbeaten streak lasting 25 games, the closest they got to a place in the top four was 5th. United eventually finished sixth, losing only five times all season. However, Mourinho’s success was not to come in the league but in the cups. Mourinho finished his first season celebrating three trophies, the jewel in the crown, the Europa League, first time United had won the competition and a ticket back into the Champions League.


League: 6th= 0 points

FA Cup: Quarter final loss, 1-0 to Chelsea= 0 points

League Cup: Winners= 3 points

European Competition: Europa League Winners= 5 points

Community Shield: Winners= 1 point

The following season, Jose led United to an unbeaten eight game start in the league and had United fans thinking of a typical Jose Mourinho, second season title win. It wasn’t meant to be for United in the end as Mourinho’s side finished the season in second, the highest finish to date, post-Ferguson. However, when you looked below the surface, cracks were starting to appear. United finished 19 points off champions Manchester City, only 18 points ahead of sixth place Arsenal. United under-performed in Europe as well. A shock defeat against Sevilla saw Mourinho firstly imply United fans were lucky to have him before reminding fans how poor they were in Europe, pre-Mourinho. The fans were growing tired of Mourinho’s attitude and dull performances. The board also failed to back Mourinho in the window and he was sacked just seven months after leading United to second. An FA Cup final defeat against Chelsea not able to turn his fortunes round at the end of an emotionally draining campaign.


League: 2nd= 6 points

FA Cup: Runners-Up, 1-0 loss to Chelsea= 0 points

League Cup: 5th Round, 2-1 loss to Bristol City= 0 points

European Competition: Round of 16, 2-1 loss to Sevilla= 0 points

UEFA Super Cup: Runners-Up, 2-1 loss to Real Madrid= 0 points

Jose Mourinho Total Points: 16

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Team Performance

Now, we will move away from the overall league positions and trophies won and dive more in-depth to look at the stats behind the games. I have selected different stats that will show, just how LVG and Mourinho compare in their team’s performances. Every stat will have a figure from the managers two years, these two numbers will be put into an average and will be compared between managers, giving each manager different points for what stat their side prevail in. Due to the attacking DNA of Manchester United, the winners of attacking stats will receive four points and defensive stats counting for two points. Win Rate will also count for four points. These stats only feature Premier League stats as they were from The Premier League’s official website.

LVG 1ST SEASON 2014/15LVG 2ND SEASON 2015/16JM 1st SEASON 2016/17JM 2ND SEASON 17/18LVG AverageJM AveragePoint winner
Goals scored6249546855.561JM
Goals conceded & p/m37, 0.9735, 0.9229, 0.7628, 0.740.950.75JM
Clean Sheets1118171914.518JM
Goals p/m1.631.291.421.791.461.61JM
Shots p/m512, 13.47430, 11.32591, 15.55512, 13.4712.4014.51JM
Passes p/m560.82528.16532.76528.00544.49538.63LVG
Crosses & p/m908, 23.89786, 20.69848, 22.32753, 19.82847, 22.29801, 21.07LVG
Big Chances Created544462604961JM
Hit woodwork11919161017.5JM
Saves & p/m100, 2.6390, 2.3785, 2.24118, 3.1195, 2.5101.5, 2.68LVG
Blocked shots144, 3.79137, 3.61154, 4.05168, 4.42140.5, 3.7161, 4.24JM
Clearances1,118, 29.42755, 19.871,112, 29.26853, 22.45936.5, 24.65982.5, 25.86JM
Errors leading to goals32342.53.5LVG
Own goals12121.51.5DRAW
Yellow Cards6465786464.571LVG
Red Card512131.5JM
Win %52.63%50%47.37%65.79%51.32%56.58%JM

Total Points:

Louis van Gaal: 18

Jose Mourinho: 34

Jose Mourinho comfortably runs out winner in this area, with the most eye catching the number of goals scored per season. This shows the clear drop off in attacking threat from LVG’s side in his second season which ultimately cost him his job, as well the big chances created and shots per game also considerably lower than the other three seasons looked at. Mourinho’s win percentage in his last season is by far the highest since United’s last season under Fergie, where he had a 73.69%-win rate.

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Here, we will look at both managers results against the other ‘Top Six’ sides. We will of course, break down both managers home and away results across the seasons to make it easier to read. The points will be calculated just as they would in football. Win= 3 points, Draw= 1 point, Loss= 0 points

LVG 14/15HOME1-1 W1-1 D3-0 W4-2 W3-0 W13
 AWAY2-1 W0-1 L2-1 W0-1 L0-0 D7
15/16HOME3-2 W0-0 D3-1 W0-0 D1-0 W11
 AWAY0-3 L1-1 D1-0 W1-0 W0-3 L7
JOSE 16/17HOME1-1 D2-0 W1-1 D1-2 L1-0 W8
 AWAY0-2 L0-4 L0-0 D0-0 D1-2 L2
17/18HOME2-1 W2-1 W2-1 W1-2 L1-0 W12
 AWAY3-1 W0-1 L0-0 D3-2 W0-2 L7

Total Points:

Louis van Gaal: 38

Jose Mourinho: 29

The results are clear and van Gaal has a huge nine-point advantage over Mourinho. LVG holds a much superior first season record, where he was unbeaten at home and only suffered losses to ironically Mourinho’s run-away Chelsea side and away in the Manchester Derby where they played with ten men throughout the second half. Mourinho’s first season against the other ‘Top Six’ faired very differently to LVG with him struggling to pick up just ten points from a possible 30 and only scoring once away from home. However, the 3-2 comeback win from 2-0 down, at the Etihad, to stop City winning the league against United, will always be fondly remembered.

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This section is looking at how both managers signings have fared. Each player has a scoring system which is: 1 point if the player is still at the club, 1 point if the player made 50+ league appearances, 2 points will be awarded if they made 100+ league appearances. 1 point will be given to a striker or midfielder who scored or assisted 25+ times in the league, with 1 point going to defenders and goalkeepers who kept 25+ clean sheets. These will be worth 2 points if they have made 50+. Any points the players receive will be doubled if their transfer fee was lower than 30m. The transfer fees were taken from SoccerBase. Appearances and stats from PremierLeague. Stats correct up to 10/11/2020.

Louis van Gaal

SeasonPlayerFee (£)Still at ClubPL AppsPerformance PointsTotal Points
2014/15Ander Herrera29mNo13204
Luke Shaw27mYes1031= 25+ CS8
Marcos Rojo16mYes7604
Angel di Maria59.7mNo2700
Daley Blind13.8mNo901= 25+ CS4
Radamel FalcaoLoan fee: 6.84mNo2600
2015/16Memphis Depay25mNo3300
Matteo Darmian12.7mNo6002
Bastian Schweinsteiger8.1mNo1800
Morgan Schneiderlin25mNo3200
Sergio RomeroFREEYes702
Anthony Martial36mYes1492= 50+ Goals5
Total 259.14m75329

Jose Mourinho

SeasonPlayerFee (£)Still at ClubPL AppsPerformance PointsTotal Points
2016/17Eric Bailly30mYes5602
Zlatan IbrahimovićFREENo3300
Henrikh Mkhitaryan26mNo3900
Paul Pogba89.3mYes1182= 25+ Goals & Assists5
2017/18Victor Lindelöf31mYes8802
Romelu Lukaku75mNo661= 25+ Goals2
Nemanja Matic40mYes8902
Alexis SanchezSWAPNo3200
Total 291.3m52113

It’s another round for the Dutchman, despite being outspent by Mourinho, LVG’s signings have accumulated more points in the scoring system set up. The gap in the end was huge and shows how LVG’s early and cheaper signings in Herrera, Shaw and Blind performed not only for him but for Mourinho. Despite Mourinho spending nearly 300m on players in his two full seasons, LVG has the same number of players still at the club that he brought in.

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Manchester United pride themselves on creating future superstars through their world renown academy. From the Busby Babes to the Class of ’92, United hold an extraordinary record of having at least one academy graduate in their matchday squad since 1938, over 4000 games. Here’s how both managers used and implemented the famous academy in their first team plans.

The points system is as follows: 1 point if the players is still at the club, 1 point if they have made 10+ PL appearances, 2 points for 25+ appearances and 3 points for 50+ appearances. There is also 1 point, based on performances which are 10+ goals, assists or clean sheets. These are only records from Premier League games and not cup competitions. Stats are from the PremierLeague and correct up to 10/11/2020.

Louis van Gaal

SeasonPlayerAge at DebutStill at ClubPL AppsPerformance PointsTotal Points
2014/15Tyler Blackett20No1101
 Paddy McNair19No2401
 Michael Keane21No100
 Andreas Pereira19No*4501
 Jesse Lingard21Yes1332= 10+ Goals and Assists6
2015/16Cameron Borthwick-Jackson18No1001
 Guillermo Varela21No400
 Donald Love22No100
 James Weir21No100
 Marcus Rashford18Yes1492= 10+ Goals and Assists6
 Timothy Fosu-Mensah18Yes1602
Total   39518

*Andreas Pereira classed as not at club due to being on loan with a future fee to buy at Lazio.

Jose Mourinho

SeasonPlayerAge at DebutStill at ClubPL AppsPerformance PointsTotal Points
2016/17Axel Tuanzebe19Yes1102
 Scott McTominay20Yes6404
 Joel Pereira21Yes101
 Demetri Mitchell20No100
 Josh Harrop21No100
 Angel Gomes16No500
2017/18No Debuts     
Total  837

Hugely damming results here in favour of LVG with a significant difference not only in terms of points but in the number of debuts and the subsequent appearances of those youngsters. Van Gaal has always been seen to give youth a chance, but his hand was forced more than Mourinho’s due to United suffering an injury crisis in his second season. However, Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford have remained mainstays under both managers and still feature regularly under the current regime. Mourinho hasn’t got the reputation like LVG for giving youth a chance, with all six debutants making their bows after United’s league position of sixth was confirmed.

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The Verdict:

Now we have broken down Mourinho’s and van Gaal’s tenure at United it’s time to look at the results of our scoring system to see who has triumphed. In total, Louis van Gaal won 109 points, compared to Jose Mourinho’s 99 points, meaning the Dutchman has just edged it. Van Gaal can have his shrewd acquisitions of both Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial to thank as well as the success of Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford in United’s first team. Jose clearly triumphed in the early rounds but his record against the ‘Top Six’ let him down as well as failing to give youth a chance costing him dear. As always, the stats don’t lie and evidently, Louis van Gaal is the best manager in the post-Ferguson era.

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