A little over a year ago I wrote an article on here where I spent the better part of 2000 words calling Jose Mourinho an asshole. I was pretty unapologetic about it. However, there was this one particular paragraph that filled me with dread as I typed it, where I contemplated the potential future destinations for Mourinho should/when his second Chelsea spell come to its inevitable conclusion. I postulated that he was rapidly running out of options when it came to big clubs, but I couldn’t help shake, nor rule out, the feeling that he would end up at Man United.
It seemed logical enough. Mourinho was struggling at Chelsea, United were struggling under van Gaal, many United fans felt like he should have been the man to replace Ferguson only a few years earlier. It felt like it would be a case of better late than never. We all know it came to pass, and the United fans who loved and always wanted The Special One were rapturously delighted with themselves, while the ones who never liked Mourinho were left feeling…..confused.
Clearly, you’re not going to stop supporting your team just because of one managerial appointment – especially one who is historically a very short term manager anyway. But you do end up trying to re-evaluate your previously established opinions, or at least try your best to focus on the positives instead.
Even if he is arguably the most unlikable personality in football over the last decade or so, he clearly has to have some positives, right? Clearly, Jose Mourinho is “Big Time”, he is a main event, a special attraction and manager who is genuinely in the elite bracket of managers in the world. You ask someone to name the top 5, or even maybe top 3 managers in the world, and you will almost certainly hear Mourinho’s name being mentioned. That matters.
It matters because being one of the elite managers in the world gives you an extra kind of pull in the transfer market. An extra kind of pull that money and big wages alone just doesn’t quite provide. Top players want to play for top clubs, they want to earn top dollar and they want to play for the top managers. Despite both managers having a seemingly bottomless pit of money, you only have to look at the caliber of player that van Gaal was acquiring, and then look at Mourinho’s shopping list this summer to get an idea of what I’m on about.
Managers like Mourinho want to shop off the top shelf. While he won’t turn his nose up at a bargain, he isn’t actively looking for them either. He will identify the player he wants for a specific position, and then he’ll do (pay) whatever it takes to get his target. United needed that this summer. We all love developing academy products and investing in youth – and Rashford, Martial, Lingard and Shaw is a good collection of young players who have been either invested in or promoted – but after the last couple of years, United need to be just as interested in addressing the here and now as they are in what’s coming down the line.
And Mourinho is the perfect man if you’re interested in the addressing the here and now. Mourinho, along with players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba are the kind of presences and personalities that help a team create a winning mentality. They’re all winners, and while some may justifiably call them arrogant or cocky, its important to remember that cockiness will often breed confidence, and confidence creates a certain swagger, which in turn can lead to winning things and the whole process just creates a self fulfilling prophecy. Stuff people like Connor McGregor would call The Law of Attraction.
Everything seemed to be going pretty smoothly; interviews and press conferences were filled to the brim with honest, direct and positive answers and sound bites. United had won their first 3 games of the season, and while they weren’t Earth shatteringly good, they are at least looking a bit more like United again. Maybe Mourinho has matured? Maybe the last few months of his Chelsea career humbled him a little. Maybe he isn’t interested in the short term, scorched Earth methods of winning, and is more interested in finally settling down, sowing some roots and building a legacy. I mean, he didn’t just turn up to his first training session and start pulling Juan Mata’s hair and then sell him within a week, that counts towards at least some kind of new maturity, right?
Focusing on the positives can be a good thing; but by its very nature, if you’re focused on one aspect, you can be inadvertently turning a blind eye to something else, and just as I was starting to acclimatize to the new surroundings, he goes and gives the kind of post match interview and press conference that just gives arise to that feeling of unease I had been suppressing these last few months.
The Manchester derby at the weekend was extra interesting this season for a multitude of reasons; not least the first Premier League clash of two of footballs most heated rivals, Guardiola v Mourinho. Footballs answer to Stone Cold v The Rock. United lost, and my eyebrows inched further and further up my forehead as I listened to Jose deflect a lot of blame and attention away from him, and onto his players. Questioning players bottle, their character and their ability to carry out tactical instructions were the words of a man who maybe didn’t learn the harsh lesson of alienating the last two dressing rooms he was in charge of. He did say that ultimately he is the manager, so it’s his fault……for picking the players not able to follow instruction. Technically, he did take some of the blame, but there were enough caveats to it for us all to know who he really thought to blame was.
It was clear United got something wrong in the first half on Saturday, and whether that was down to the wrong tactical set up, or the players not getting the tactical set up, figuratively throwing the players under the bus, instead of just saying “we got it wrong, and then we fixed it” seems an odd approach to take this early into your managerial reign.
It would be lovely to be able to say that the players should be able to just the comments on the chin and move on. They’re professionals, they’re adults, they’re handsomely paid, and if they have a stinker, they should be able to accept it when the manager says they had a stinker. Unfortunately, footballers can be hyper sensitive, delicate flowers at the best of times, where confidence can be a fragile mistress; and Mkhitaryan and Lingard could be forgiven if they feel a little singled out, with the finger of blamed pointing squarely at them.
If you were putting together a 2 disc Greatest Hits compilation of Mourinho’s controversial moments and comments, then what was said at the weekend wouldn’t even be close to making the cut. Nobody is up in arms (least of all me) and campaigning for someone to please, for the love of God, think of the children, but the comments do serve as a timely reminder for United fans of just who they have gotten into bed with. The unease that comes from thinking that a meltdown or bust up is just around the corner may come and go, but it’s always there. That’s just the price you have to pay to have Jose Mourinho being the guy who is charged with returning the club back to winning ways.