“I understand why he is a bit emotional.
“You would be sad if your team gets as clearly dominated by opponents who have been built on 10% of the budget”
Thus spake Jose Mourinho in the wake of his first managerial encounter with Manchester United.
This typically sharp-tongued quip referred to the aftermath of his FC Porto defeating a 10-man Man United 2-1 in Portugal, during their victorious 2004 UEFA Champions League run.
During said game, Roy Keane had been issued a red card for stamping on Vitor Baia. Sir Alex Ferguson, knowing Keane to be far too lovely to deliberately do such a thing, felt that Baia had made the most of it and made a point of telling Mourinho as much.
To my knowledge, this was my first exposure to Mourinho, though it was far less painful than his gleeful gallop down the Old Trafford touchline during the second leg, as Costinha sealed a last-gasp winner, sending United out and Porto another step closer to their shock acquisition of the European Cup.
Funnily enough, it’s just this kind of goading jab that cultivated in me, a bit of a soft spot for Jose. As well as having great admiration for his status as one of the greatest coaches of his generation, despite his limited career as a professional player, I find his snarky, cantankerous sparring with everyone from the press to rival coaches to his own employers, to be highly entertaining.
I think part of it is that I see a bit of my sarcastic, piss-taking, mischievous, well-hidden dark side in him. In many ways, he’s the prick I dare not be.
Going back to the prior point however, he’s undoubtedly a bloody good manager. The man is a clear natural in his profession. His route to the profession was unorthodox. After a career as a PE teacher, he started training to be a coach and became the late Sir Bobby Robson’s translator at Sporting, Porto and Barca. At Camp Nou, he transitioned into more of a training assistant, remaining to become Louis Van Gaal’s assistant when Robson moved on.
His theories and knowledge were enough to land him the highly prestigious coaching job at Benfica, which despite encouraging results, quickly and prophetically ended amid confrontation with his superiors.
The newly elected Manuel Vilarinho hadn’t made it much of a secret that he had another name in mind for Mourinho’s job and when Jose started proving his worth, he used a thumping of Sporting to force the issue. He demanded an extention, Vilarinho refused and Mourinho got his own back by walking out of the Stadium of Light and into a veritable orgy of success, titles and trophies.
The trophies didn’t come immediately of course. He did have a brief stint between Benfica and Porto, in which he coached unfashionable Uniao de Leiria to the highest finish in their history, flirting with title contention in the process. It’s almost as if he realised that I might one day need a counter to arguments that he’s never succeeded it at a small club, with limited resources.
It wasn’t long before Porto came calling and he was on a frankly silly run of trophy wins, with them, then Chelsea, then Inter, then Real Madrid, bagging three Champions Leagues, hours of snarky soundbites and a trail of falling-outs in the process.
He then of course returned to Chelsea, where in a microcosm of his career so far, he followed up an inevitable Premier League title by disastrously falling out with a number of his players. This led to a near-mutiny, his sacking and eventually a call from Ed “that’s four for the gourd” Woodward, to help Man United avoid missing the Champions League again in 2016-17.
After all, triggering the clause that allows Chevrolet to pay us 30m quid less for two consecutive failures to qualify, might finally put Woody under some scrutiny from our Floridian Overlords.
In any case, even with the squabbles and outlandish persona, I’m clearly a fan. Frankly, we should have hired him after Fergie retired. Though part of me still wonders if David Moyes wasn’t hired as a “Fergie buffer” so that a serious replacement wouldn’t be working under the weight of the moniker, “SAF’s successor”.
Some are voicing concerns. The one most likely to prompt a derisory scoff from me is the declaration that he’s not Josep “Pep” Guardiola. Sure, Pep is a fine coach but he’s managed precisely two well-built, world-class, star-laden squads, for enormous clubs. The first of which (Barcelona obviously) he coached using a system that he himself was trained by Barca to use as both a coach and youth product. Furthermore, he also inherited “The Greatest Player of All Time, Supposedly”, Lionel Messi, along with Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Carles Puyol, all of whom were also trained from youth to play in that self-same system.
Now repeating the feat at a Bayern Munich that had just literally won everything under their retiring coach, washes away some of my Guardoskepticism but I’d still be more nervous about how he might fare when not inheriting Messi or Franck Ribery and instead finding himself looking at Maroune Fellaini’s colossal afro.
Well that was far more than I’d intended to write about Pep. I digress.
The other questions surrounding Mourinho are his alleged disinterest in nurturing or promoting youth and his relationships with clubs resembling Liz Taylor’s marriages.
I share these concerns to a point. I’d hate to see Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial prevented from building on this season, especially as they’re one of the most exciting outcomes of it. Then again, I don’t see Martial as being the typical “youth player” in that he’s already established in the first team and is as primed as anybody to become a key player next term.
Some of the others, like again Rashford, Jesse Lingard, Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, may find themselves getting fewer minutes, especially if Mourinho elects to build and spend, as has been his MO elsewhere.
The relative lack of longevity at clubs might be an issue, though I’m prepared to let the guy just succeed and build a platform if need be. It’s also worth considering that just because Mourinho does his share of the dumping (and some of it acrimoniously), short-term managers and coaches are a fact of life in modern football.
I also wonder if (and this may be the bias in me) the Man United environment might be more conducive to a longer stay. To date, Mourinho has often faced friction from hands-on presidents, meddling owners and unwanted directors-of-football. If anything, United would be looking to Jose to lead the football side of things, while Woodward and Co sit more comfortably on the business side.
While Fergie is still a presence, I get the impression he’s more of a sounding board or adviser than an interferer.
Whatever else happens, it’s bound to be dramatic and I’m cautiously optimistic that it will be successful. However long it lasts, let’s hope that whenever Mourinho and Man United do part ways, there’s an elite outfit awaiting his successor.