Jose Mourinho is a man I love and also hate. I’ve always had a begrudging respect for people in football who manage to boil piss and Mourinho does this better than most. As Manchester United fans, we’ve experienced this fairly acutely over the years.
When he first was drawn to our attention, he was the Porto manager, knee sliding on the Old Trafford touchline. We had lost 2-1 away from home in the first leg of our round of 16 Champions League tie, yet everything looked to be going our way at Old Trafford.
Paul Scholes put us 1-0 up with half an hour played and just before half-time scored the goal that should have seen us through the next round. Despite being a couple of yards onside, the linesman raised his flag, and the goal was disallowed. In injury time, Porto equalised and they booked their place in the quarter-finals.
Mourinho went on to win the Champions League that season and as a result was named the next manager of Chelsea. Roman Abramovich wanted to turn the west London club in to a European giant. They had won the league title just once before and with the money he made available, dwarfing the transfer funds of every other team in a way never seen before, it looked like their dominance under Mourinho was indefinite.
Had we known then what we know now, that Mourinho is a manager who hits the self-destruct button with any club he spends more than two seasons with, we wouldn’t have worried.
In his third season, Sir Alex Ferguson proved beyond doubt that he is the best manager this country has ever seen. With every year that passes since his retirement, his legacy grows, as we become all the more aware of how difficult it is to win the title in consecutive seasons, let alone building title winning team after title winning team at the same club.
Mourinho threw his toys out of the pram in his third year at Chelsea though. He repeatedly claimed United had the referees to thank for their superior position and started a nasty war of words with a young Cristiano Ronaldo, pointing to his poor background, with “no education”, for the reason why our former no.7 correctly claimed Mourinho didn’t know how to admit his own failings.
Mourinho has had a whole host of misdemeanours on his record since then which meant many United fans, including myself, didn’t want him anywhere near our club. Sticking his thumb in Tito Vilanova’s eye socket, the disgraceful sexism which lead to the sacking of Eva Carneiro, not giving young players a chance in the team, lying about then Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard supposed visit to Anders Frisk’s dressing room which lead to death threats for the referee and his premature retirement, and so on.
But he’s a confusing man. A few months ago he set himself up for the embarrassment of being a goalkeeper in the charity game that raised money for the victims of Grenfell, as the most high profile person to feature in the match. He showed up at a press conference following Claudio Ranieri’s sacking with the manager’s initials on his shirt and said Leicester should name the stadium after him. After suffering an embarrassing 4-2 defeat against Bradford in the FA Cup with Chelsea he visited the opposition dressing room and shook every players’ hand, congratulating them on their win.
Mourinho is supposed to be the bad guy, the pantomime villain, but every now and again he shows glimpses of being a really good guy, who is compassionate and magnanimous, but these moments are usually fleeting.
The occasion that probably stands out more in the memory of United fans than any other is his reaction to Real Madrid knocking us out of the Champions League in 2013. United were in total control before the ridiculous decision to send off Nani. Ferguson was described as “distraught” after the game and wouldn’t fulfil his media obligations. Hindsight tells us this was down to the fact he knew this was his last involvement in the competition as he would retire at the end of the season.
“Independent of the decision, the best team lost. We didn’t deserve to win but football is like this,” Mourinho said after the game. “I know Manchester United are giants, not just physically but mentally. I know they have a manager who can motivate them.”
It was in this moment that Mourinho confirmed what many United fans had thought all along; he wanted the job as our manager.
There were claims he cried when he learnt that Ferguson had chosen David Moyes over him, leading him to take up the job at Chelsea instead. Yet in 2016, United finally appointed him. He claimed there had always been a “connection” between him and the club and that he got a feeling at Old Trafford he never had elsewhere.
Mourinho’s first game in charge was a friendly at Wigan. United took a whole stand and this was the beginning of Mourinho understanding what his new club’s support was like.
“What I found was unbelievable for the first time in my career,” he said. “The support for a friendly like this was like it was a crucial Premier League match. Unbelievable.”
His first year at United was filled with similar comments. He has repeatedly talked of how he’s never experienced fans as dedicated as ours.
“I’ve managed several clubs and I have never seen such unrivalled passion,” he said in March. “The stadium is full every time we play and the support the players receive is special.”
Whenever he plays Chelsea, he taps the United badge on his chest, and winds them up by reminding them he is their best ever. “Judas is number one,” he told them last season following the boos and jeers he suffered in the cup game at Stamford Bridge.
United fans are in a fortunate position though. It doesn’t matter who takes charge of the club as nobody will ever rival the success of Ferguson. Mourinho is Chelsea’s greatest ever manager, winning half of the league titles they’ve achieved in their entire history, and he breaks their heart every time he points to United’s crest.
Our fans will never have the same dilemma though. We are both using each other. It doesn’t matter much who he goes on to manage or what he has to say about their supporters in comparison to ours. He can rock up at PSG and talk about it being the best “project” of his life but it doesn’t mean anything.
Mourinho’s ego is satisfied by managing the country’s biggest club and being in a position to add to his trophy tally. United supporters are looking for anyone who can restore some pride in the club and salvage the damage after the dismal years of Moyes and Louis van Gaal.
He can make up nonsense about the fans not supporting Lukaku, make snide digs in the programme notes and flirt with PSG. This irritates our fans but it’s not the be all and end all. He’s a means to an end. We can enjoy him pissing everyone else off, we can celebrate the trophies he wins, but we’re fully aware it’s only transient. We just have to hope we can get a league title or European Cup out of him before he self destructs.
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