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José Mourinho’s Last Stand

The Manchester United manager appears increasingly miserable

Soccer Aid for UNICEF Media Access Photo by Henry Browne/Getty Images

It is worrying that at this early stage in the season, the media are pinpointing traits of José Mourinho’s previous managerial reigns that are repeating themselves at Manchester United. Mourinho’s tendency to depart teams around the time of his third season is long established. The problem for Manchester United fans is that he has generally won the league at that stage. Last week, Mourinho summed up the mood in the Manchester United preseason as “everything is really bad.” Mourinho’s early season criticisms of the inactivity in the transfer market, the fixture calendar and the number of players playing in the latter stages of the World Cup have been an embarrassment to a team of Manchester United’s stature.

None of these issues are novel to a club of Manchester United’s standing and it is a concern that Mourinho appears to lack the relevant self-awareness to see history beginning to repeat itself. Part of the surprise inherent is that having worked his way across Europe, Manchester United is likely to be Mourinho’s last “big” job in European football and he currently looks to be going out with a whimper.

In an interview with ESPN this week Paul Scholes said that he felt Mourinho did not look happy at United. Scholes seemed hardly surprised describing how United is “a team that grinds out results rather than really impresses you … If Guardiola was manager of Manchester United, he’d hate what he’s seeing and it would be different.” Scholes went on to criticise Manchester United’s failure to beat “poor side” Sevilla in the Champions League last season.

It was an interesting reference. Mourinho criticised the United fans in the aftermath of that loss, rather than his team’s performance, highlighting “I’ve sat in this chair twice before with Porto, Manchester United out, and Real Madrid, Manchester United out, so I don’t think it’s anything new for the club.” It was a scornful, petty statement to make and one which did not appreciate the great history of Manchester United.

What should have followed from that loss was a galvanised Mourinho, one determined to right the wrongs of last season, but this has not been evident yet. Mourinho has complained bitterly and while we can hope that this is a media strategy, history has often shown that Mourinho acts similarly behind the scenes at his clubs.

Mourinho has managed Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid prior to managing Manchester United. He previously touted for other top jobs in European football. In late 2007, FC Barcelona drew up a shortlist of potential managers to replace Frank Rijkaard the following summer. The list was narrowed down to two names: Mourinho or Pep Guardiola. El Pais journalist Diego Torres described the process:

Joan Laporta was the Barça president who conducted the operation and Txiki Begiristain, ex-Barcelona player and the then technical director, organised the interviews. Txiki met Mourinho in Lisbon and, after hearing his presentation, told him that Johan Cruyff would have the last word.

Cruyff ultimately chose Guardiola without granting Mourinho a meeting he had requested. Mourinho responded by telling Laporta that that club had made a serious mistake. Mourinho proceeded to have a highly fractured relationship with Barcelona and its staff during his tenure as Real Madrid manager, notably poking Tito Vilanova in the eye during a heated exchange in 2011.

It is similarly unlikely that Bayern Munich would open their doors to Mourinho. Franz Beckenbauer has criticised Mourinho as a ‘rude’ man with ‘no education’ while in May of this year, Bayern President Uli Hoeness criticised Mourinho for being too much of a ‘superstar’ manager, more focused on himself than the team.

Damningly, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge has spoken of how Mourinho had not been considered for their manager job in the past: “I believe Mourinho is a very good coach, but I am not convinced he would be the right fit for Bayern.” Having managed top teams in England, Spain and Italy, the German Bundesliga would have been the final frontier for Mourinho but it certainly appears as if the powers that be at Munich would loath to choose the Portuguese.

The José Mourinho that returned to England following his tenure at Real Madrid had changed greatly from the Mourinho that had arrived in Chelsea nine years earlier. That same dynamism and spark that had epitomised his spells at Porto, Chelsea and Inter seemed long removed. It was as if his experience at Real Madrid had utterly drained him. Mark Clattenberg spoke to Talksport in May about when Mourinho arrived in 2004:

“He was special, you could have a conversation about football, about life, but when he came back the second time, things were different…. He was questioning everything…”.

During the preseason this year, Mourinho has appeared devoid of that urgency of old, and Manchester United’s performances have reflected this.

Perhaps what is most surprising is the lack of fight in Mourinho for this one last big hurrah. Maybe Mourinho does not see it that way. However, Manchester United have proven to be a football team willing to back their transfer targets in the market, with a massive fanbase ready to galvanise behind the manager. Mourinho appears disgruntled and disinterested so far in preseason, and as the Sevilla comments demonstrate, this is behaviour dating back to March. Mourinho is now at the club he aspired to become manager of, and it seems shameful that it is not a position which does not appear to fill him with the drive and energy needed to rally either himself or his troops.

José Mourinho’s next managerial position is likely to be either an international position or from the “second tier” of top European teams such as a Valencia or a Roma. In December 2017 Mourinho spoke to the media about the ‘magic’ of Paris, in much the same way he spoke about how ‘the best team lost’ when his Real Madrid team knocked Manchester United out of the Champions League in 2013. Having recently appointed the much-vaunted Thomas Tuchel, an attacking manager in the mold of Jürgen Klopp, it is unlikely that Paris Saint Germain will be knocking on José Mourinho’s door in what would be a huge about-turn.

Manchester United fans can hope that perhaps their Chief Executive Ed Woodward will appease Mourinho in his transfer market demands at least. With this, these fans will hope that Mourinho can begin to see that Manchester United is one of the biggest jobs in world football, possibly his last big job and one that’s definitely worth fighting for.