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Jose Mourinho is on the rebound from Chelsea but the Special One at Manchester United makes for a match made in heaven

July 5, 2016 11:12 PM
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It looked such a perfect fit, the only question was why it hadn’t happened earlier. Mourinho and Man U. Man U and Mourinho. Yet there is the irony.

By the time this heavenly match was made, both parties were on the rebound.

We know where Jose Mourinho would be, ideally, this week. At Chelsea’s Cobham training ground, preparing to defend a second successive title.

And Manchester United really didn’t want to sack another manager after David Moyes’ departure. Had Louis van Gaal finished a single place higher in the Premier League, he would probably still be in the job.

It was only a second season out of the Champions League in three years that made his position untenable.

Still, here they were, the happy couple, locked in a warm embrace and smiling as if this was the plan all along.

They are lucky to have found each other really; lucky to have such a great club in need of revival, lucky to have a great manager inexplicably available. It is absolutely the right move for them both; but there is no escaping the strange circumstances.

Beyonce was playing at the cricket ground down the road, so Mourinho wasn’t even the biggest draw in Old Trafford, let alone Manchester, on Tuesday.

On Sunday, Manchester City unveiled Pep Guardiola at an open day in front of 8,000 fans. There was a big stage and a carnival atmosphere, a new strip, a new badge, a new beginning.

Shortly before Mourinho arrived, a hearse pulled into United’s main car park, coffin and all.

This, presumably, was the final journey of one of those ardent fans, whose last wish is for his ashes to be scattered on the hallowed turf. Even so, not the best timing.

Awaiting Mourinho, a gathering of 13 diehards huddled behind a barrier bearing a yellow sign that read EXIT.

It was not the most auspicious opening for a man who is traditionally greeted like a Messiah. Maybe after Chelsea in 2013 he simply tired of second comings.

Mourinho was certainly in no mood to dwell on the past. He has been too good for too long to be defined by whatever the hell it was — ego, complacency, withering talent — that infested Chelsea’s dressing room last season.

The question of whether he now had a point to prove elicited his most bullish response, a hint of the swagger Manchester United hope he will bring to their campaign this season.

‘There are some managers that last won a title 10 years ago,’ he said, and any reference to persons living, dead or Arsene Wenger may have been entirely intentional.

‘Some of them, the last time they won a title was never. The last time I won a title was one year ago, not 10 or 15.

'So if I have a lot to prove, imagine the others. But the reality is I play against myself. That is my feeling. I have to prove not to the others but to me. It’s my nature.

‘I would never be able to work without success. Yes, I could approach this job from a defensive point of view, saying the last three years the best Manchester United did was fourth, the best Manchester United did was an FA Cup. I could go to that side — but I can’t.

‘For many years at Manchester United success was just routine but the last three years are to forget. I don’t want the players to think we start the season and have to do better.

‘What is doing better? To do better is to finish fourth. To finish fourth is not the aim. If I have the approach of not going for big challenges, I am in trouble.

Mourinho knows what constitutes a disaster at Manchester United. Disaster is what cost Van Gaal his job; disaster is this summer, waiting for the group stage draw of the Europa League.

Of course, the club has principles and doctrines that must be maintained: a certain way of playing, a tradition of encouraging youth players. Yet dull football didn’t get Van Gaal the sack. Thursday night football did.

Mourinho’s manifesto was designed to resonate with those who believe Manchester United have, not just a philosophy, but a rightful place in the English game.

‘I was never very good playing with words or hiding behind words and hiding behind philosophies,’ he said.

‘I was always much more aggressive. It would be easy and pragmatic to focus on the last three years, on the fact that we don’t qualify for the Champions League and say “let’s try to be back to the top four, try and do well in the Europa League”.

'I’m not good at that and I don’t want to be good. I prefer to say we want to win. I can anticipate a question: what comes first, result or style of play?

'I say you can win a couple of matches without playing well, but you cannot win big competitions.

‘And what is playing well? It is scoring more goals than the opponents, conceding less than the opponents, making your fans proud because you give absolutely everything, making them proud because you win.

Yet for all his assurance — and in a summer when the absence of identity in the England team has again been a major talking point it is worth remembering this is a manager who has always known how he wants to play — Mourinho does need to convince some sceptics.

The accusation pervades that he is not interested in, does not favour and does not promote young players.

It is unfair. Few managers, however, would have gone to the lengths that Mourinho did to make his case.

Asked about youth and his record, he settled in his seat with the air of a man who had been waiting for this moment.

‘How long have we got?’ he asked his press minder. ‘About five minutes,’ he was told. ‘Then I haven’t time to answer the question,’ Mourinho teased, as if there was any chance he could resist. A gagging order could not have silenced him by then.

‘Forty-nine. Forty-nine. Do you want to know who they are?’ He would have read them out, too, had the room not been agitated at the news the press conference was prematurely being wound up.

The list had not been typed by an assistant, but was written, in his hand, and colour coded, club to club. Red, green, black, for Real Madrid, for Chelsea, for Porto and Inter Milan.

And there are decent names on this list: Alvaro Morata, Jese Rodriguez, Nacho, Casemiro. Equally, Mourinho wanted to clarify his motives.

Mourinho began, with perhaps a reference to Marcus Rashford, a battlefield promotion at United under Van Gaal.

‘Sometimes, when you are not playing for big targets, it is also easier to bring them up outside of the pressure. But my record of injuries is very, very low. So I never promote players because of need, but because of conviction and decision.

‘Last year was the only season of my career when I was not fighting for the title until the last moment, so it was never a situation of stability and no pressure around promoting players.

'And I did 49. That is a lot. And some today are Champions League winners, some are in the Euros, playing for national teams.

He had made his point. He would respect Manchester United’s traditions and they, in turn, would respect him.

He was not setting himself up as the special one, or the happy one — his persona on his return to Chelsea — but nor was he a needy one.

A marriage of convenience it may be, but they can be highly successful, too. Vote Leave was a marriage of convenience, never forget.


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