“There are lots of poets in football, but they don’t win many titles.”
For a man so rooted in results, in success, in the number of trophies he can hold in his hands, Jose Mourinho has become the very thing he once mocked; a sporting bard.
It was only a few weeks ago that Mourinho stood defiantly in front of the national press and declared he must be given more respect for what he has achieved in his career. Not his tenure at Manchester United nor the qualities of his current team; he demanded reverence for what he accomplished nearly 15 years ago.
Iconic photographs of Mourinho depict a man who once removed his Champions League winners medal just moments after he guided to Porto to victory in 2004. A man so focused on what was to come next, he could barely stand still to enjoy what had just gone before.
Like the photographs, that version of Mourinho is fading. Now he is a man who appears to be looking backwards.
In May 2017, Jose Mourinho delivered his greatest moment as the manager of Manchester United. By winning the Europa League he had guided United back to the Champions League and to their rightful seat at the top table of European football. In winning that final, Mourinho demonstrated to the world he still had it in him. He had recovered from that disastrous third season at Chelsea and had delivered immediate, meaningful success at an elite club.
It was impressive how he did so, too. He dispatched Ajax with surgical efficiency. In classic Mou style, he set about finding his opponent’s weaknesses and preyed upon them, mercilessly. It was cold, calculated brilliance from a manager who had a point to prove to the rest of the world. A point he made clear in his post-match comments:
“If you want to press the ball all the time, you don’t play short. If you are dominant in the air, you build long. There are many poets in football, but poets don’t win many titles.
We knew where they were better than us, we knew where we were better than them. We tried to kill their good qualities, we tried to explore their weaknesses. We did that very, very well since the first minute and we totally deserve the trophy.”
He’s right, poets don’t win many titles. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem as if Mourinho can either. That soundbite was the Portuguese at his best, rubbing salt in the wounds as he collected yet another prize. It was supposed to usher in a new era at Manchester United. That new era has become progressively toxic, from bust-ups with players to pantomime performances in his press conferences. Please welcome to the main stage, part-time football manager, part-time (un)motivational speaker; Mr Jose Mourinho.
An untenable position?
For many, his position at Manchester United became untenable in March of this year. After losing at home to Sevilla and being knocked out of the Champions League at the last-16 stage of the tournament, Mourinho seemingly had nowhere to go. Except, he was never going to just humbly accept this humiliation. In an almost Shakespearian manner, Mourinho delivered a 12-minute soliloquy on United’s ‘football heritage’.
With his speech, Mourinho set about deconstructing United’s European history. They haven’t won it all that often. They’ve not been doing well in Europe recently. The players have little to no European experience. This is football heritage.
“I say to the fans that the fans are the fans and have the right to their opinions and reactions but there is something that I used to call 'football heritage'. I don't know if, I try to translate from my Portuguese, which is almost perfect, to my English, which is far from perfect - 'football heritage', what a manager inherits…
“…In 2013, out at Old Trafford in the last 16, I was on the other bench. In 2014, out in the quarter-final. In 2015, no European football. In 2016, comes back to European football, out in the group phase, goes to Europa League and on the second knockout out of the Europa League. In 2017, play Europa League, win Europa League - with me - and goes back to Champions League.”
He went on to criticise the previous manager and the squad he inherited, but still found time to compliment himself for knocking United out of the Champions League and even for taking the United job on in the first place. He could have opted for a job that guaranteed himself another league title but he chose to test himself at the richest (and arguably biggest) club in the world, where he could spend over £300m without even coming close to winning the title in two (almost certainly three) seasons. All the while being paid £15million a season. Bless you, Jose.
It doesn’t matter that a lot of what Mourinho said was correct, his demeanour in criticising everyone and everything but himself for a humiliating and utterly avoidable defeat was unacceptable. He lost many of the fans that night.
Mourinho trying to steal the show
When the new season came around, optimism was renewed. Right up until United’s second home game of the season, against Tottenham Hotspur, where a disastrous night at Old Trafford ended in a crushing 0-3 defeat. Like a court jester, it was Mourinho’s performance that stole the show. Instead of winning the fans round with quality performances and inspiring football, he was trying to win them round with calculated, pre-meditated moments away from the pitch. As he stood on the touchline applauding the fans with a club scarf draped across him, you felt as if it were the end of the enigmatic manager he all once knew. It felt poignant.
In the press conference afterwards, he gave in to yet more self-adulation. After witnessing his team’s alarming collapse, he only had words for his own impressive history.
“Just to finish, do you know what was the result? [Whilst holding out three fingers] 3-0, 3-0. Do you know what this is? 3-0. But it also means three Premierships and I won more Premierships alone than the other 19 managers together. Three for me and two for them two [Pep Guardiola and Manuel Pellegrini]. So respect man, respect, respect, respect.”
Football is moving away from Mourinho. In the three seasons since he last won the title, it has been won by three different managers. Two of those men arrived in this country, won the league and then departed these shores since Mourinho last tasted Premier League success. The other, Pep Guardiola, is busy building a dynasty just miles from Mourinho’s door. He must stop regaling us with tales of the past and instead look to the future.
For football waits for no man.