In December 2016, after his Manchester United side had won two of their previous 11 league games, by his wood panelled office at Carrington, I asked Jose Mourinho: “Surely you can’t live in a hotel for three years, unless you like dismantling Corby trouser presses or have a big plate scam going on.”
“No, no” he laughed, “But I want to stay here. It’s a club where I can achieve big things, where I need a little bit of time. I think the three years are enough [to bring success]. I’m not asking for more, but I’d like to stay for a long time. Man United will get rid of me when they want, not when I want because I don’t want to leave. I have a three-year contract. I cannot ask for more at the moment. But if I was successful in this moment I would already be asking Ed Woodward to give me another contract because I want to stay.”
A year on and United agreed terms with Mourinho to add another year to his contract. He’s done two of the four contracted years now and while he’s been criticised every single day since he arrived at United, this is his judgement season.
Would you accept the same as last season? Most reasonable United fans – rather than the always angry online ranters – would be very disappointed if United aren’t involved in the title race, fail to win one of the domestic cups and bow out of the Champions League so meekly again. Mourinho has enjoyed time and patience that he wouldn’t have received in Spain, Portugal or Italy. He’s had more financial backing than he could have hoped for at a club that generates its own resources, but, five years after Sir Alex Ferguson stepped down, there’s still a feeling that he’s working at a club in transition. Fans still have substantial lists of players they want to sell and want to sign, seemingly magical names who’ll bridge the massive gap which City opened last term.
The club have been too swayed by these never-sated fan demands in recent years, but even the biggest transfer junkies – and United have thousands – have had the wind taken out of their sails after the relative failure of big names from Angel Di Maria to Bastian Schweinsteiger. There is another way to success as Ferguson showed which goes beyond a never-ending shopping spree.
Mourinho will face serious scrutiny – for his style of football, for the signings he’s brought in. If you pay £30 million for defenders as, Mourinho did with Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof, it’s not unreasonable to ask why they’re not playing. He’ll be scrutinised by the media, whom he continues to keep busy with a string of juicy, occasionally bizarre, quotes. Mourinho remains the main man at United, the one who hasn’t appointed a number two, the one who will go head-to-head with his biggest name players because nobody else will.
The Portuguese manager enjoyed a successful first season at Old Trafford, a slightly disappointing second one despite United finishing second. The league position was reluctantly accepted, the gap to City and the style of football and lack of a serious title challenge wasn’t. The league was all but over last October when Mourinho put the brakes on his United Ferrari at Anfield and lost at Huddersfield.
He can be praised for the way he’s handles players from Wayne Rooney to Jesse Lingard, for his record against the top sides last season, but this is Manchester United, one of the three biggest clubs in the world. United are expected to go beyond the last 16 in Europe, to attack, attack, attack and play exciting football, even if some of the most celebrated teams of yore didn’t do that every week.
Mourinho is holding onto the majority of fans for support, but a backlash isn’t far away if United don’t start the season well. He’s been a fast starter in his first two seasons at United, but he needs to keep on the pace beyond the first corner this time.
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