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'Jose, Rafa and Rodgers face the same challenge: to make slightly lost clubs feel good again'

Which is the better way to hire a manager, asks Tommy Martin.

Manchester United v Chelsea - Barclays Premier League - Old Trafford Mourinho: hacked down the Old Trafford door until they let him in. Source: PA Wire/Press Association Images

WHICH IS THE better way to hire a manager of a football club?

To waft him in on a magic carpet of adulation like Brendan Rodgers at Celtic?

Love-bomb him like Rafa Benitez at Newcastle?

Or what about Manchester United, who’ve finally appointed Jose Mourinho after he’d hacked maniacally at their door for months, like Jack Nicholson in The Shining?

It hardly matters in the long run. Even the most warmly-welcomed manager is a dud after three defeats — but manager-hiring always ends up being a bit of an inventory stage, when clubs say: this guy is where we’re at right now.

Appointing Rodgers says that Celtic want to dream big again. Keeping Benitez says that Newcastle want to get their shit together. Hiring Mourinho says… well no-one is quite sure what it says, other than United are terrified of what might happen if they don’t.

The wrangle over Mourinho’s image rights was a fitting final stage to a courtship that was undignified from the off. United relented after a sustained assault by Jose’s camp on Old Trafford right from his sacking by Chelsea. They seemed weary with the whole thing: the drudgery of Louis van Gaal’s stewardship on the inside, the incessant howling of the Mourinho faction on the outside.

“Go on then,” they now seem to be saying, “you might as well have a go.”

While Van Gaal was being defenestrated at United, Rodgers’ reign at Celtic began. His performance at the introductory press conference was like his teeth: polished, too polished. He stamped every box in New Celtic Manager bingo. Lisbon Lions! Attacking football! Passion! European nights! Those familiar with his Liverpool ouevre sensed the Rodgers word cloud looming on the horizon: character, hope, quests.

Brendan Rodgers Unveiling Press Conference - Celtic Park Rodgers: a guy who gets it. Source: PA Wire/Press Association Images

But in a separate briefing with a number of fan groups he seemed more genuine, talking about his personal friendship with Tommy Burns, his admiration for Paul McStay, recalling visits to Parkhead as a fan complete with a namecheck for a well-known Celtic pub. It gave plausible life to the notion that Rodgers had followed his heart. One group tweeted an audio link to the chat, remarking “This is a guy who ‘gets it’”.

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If Benitez didn’t ‘get’ Newcastle when he arrived 10 weeks ago, he does now. “The love I could feel from the fans was a big influence in my decision [to stay on],” he said, acknowledging the desire of the club’s fed up fanbase to have somebody vaguely competent in a position of authority. Along with love, he’s also got control over football matters, Mike Ashley’s zero-hour approach to running the club having finally hit the wall.

All three clubs are looking for their new men to fix broken cultures. ‘Culture’ is a word that businesses use to pretend that they’re about something other than simply making profits. It helps stressed out executives destroying their family lives by working long hours to feel that there is some point to it all. It helps us differentiate between airlines: one treats customers like cattle, the other treats them like cattle with free hot towels.

Similarly for football clubs: culture is the thing that separates them, aside from wearing different coloured shirts. So when things go wrong clubs look to their culture for guidance.

Celtic hired Rodgers to correct the noble failure of Ronny Deila. His appointment was a progressive move – a young, idealistic manager with refreshing ideas about pressing and not eating Mars bars. But he turned out to be small time, and the club seemed — to paraphrase one of Jock Stein’s most famous lines — to shrink to fit an inferior manager. Rodgers must restore Celtic’s culture of shooting for the stars, and sometimes landing on the moon.

Benitez came into a situation which was anything but a noble failure. The culture of the Ashley regime came straight from modern capitalism’s greedy playbook, demeaning Newcastle and making its supporters look foolish for their unending loyalty. That those supporters now have a manager of serious pedigree and undoubted dignity is deserved and long overdue.

Rafael Benitez File Photo Benitez: “The love I could feel from the fans was a big influence in my decision." Source: Nigel French

And then there’s United. The mood music to the whole tedious Mourinho saga has been the notion that he would be bad, bad, bad for the club. Mourinho is perceived as being incompatible with United’s culture – attacking football, young players, dynastic leadership – and likely to further the ongoing obliteration of the Ferguson legacy.

That’s a pretty dark tapestry to drape behind your new manager, and it’s a matter for debate. You could just as easily say United’s culture is defined by excitement, success and having a brilliant bastard in charge. And it’s very possible Mourinho will provide all three.

This week’s triumvirate of appointees got different welcomes and face challenges at different levels but all fundamentally have the same task. Make big, slightly lost clubs feel good about themselves again, ideally by reminding everyone of what made them great in the first place. Do that and they might even end up as part of the club’s culture themselves.

That’s if a statue outside Old Trafford doesn’t infringe on Jose’s image rights, of course.

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Expert view: ‘Jose Mourinho walking into a situation like this is perfect… for him’

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Tommy Martin

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