False Prophet Mourinho's ''Football Heritage'' Rant Was Just Self-Serving Deflection

Mourinho's 2018 rant about "football heritage" has gone viral in the wake of United's elimination from Europe
15:01, 16 Mar 2022

In the aftermath of Manchester United’s 1-0 elimination from the Champions League at the hands of Atletico Madrid, the name Jose Mourinho trended on Twitter. The reasons were varied, but had the same basic aim. Each tweet, whether it was calling the Portuguese the best post-Alex Ferguson United manager, outlining a decline since Jose left or using footage of old press conferences to prove a point, was meant to send a message. That edict is simply summed up as “Jose was right”.

The emotionally-charged timing was unsurprising. A high-profile defeat for United will always draw a cacophony of voices. There’s raging fans, know-it-alls who could have told you this would happen but waited until the final whistle to do so, and opportunistic journalists, like one senior scribe whose article on United’s structural failings went out one minute after the game concluded. There is no feeding frenzy in football quite like a big disappointment at Old Trafford. 

But why Mourinho and why now? The current AS Roma manager was sacked by United in 2018. A whole era has come and gone in that time, as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer offered a feel-good return to the lost values of Ferguson, that ended up resembling the post-Busby hinterland of 1980s under-achievement at Old Trafford. Part of the reason Solskjaer’s tenure took hold initially, and provided some refreshment before imploding at the start of this season, was the scorched earth that Mourinho left behind.

Time heals all wounds it seems though, and United fans and pundits alike seemed to agree Mourinho had not been appreciated sufficiently for his achievements. That the rollercoaster Solskjaer years and the flat, intermittently effective Ralf Rangnick interim reign had vindicated him. After all, United have not won a single major trophy since Mourinho’s Europa League/Carabao Cup double in 2017. The former Chelsea boss also secured the club’s joint-best finish since Ferguson retired, securing the runner’s up spot in 2017/18. The realities behind these achievements do shed a harsh light over the deification of Mourinho however.

The brace of major trophies arrived during a season in which United, complete with record-signing Paul Pogba, finished sixth in the Premier League. The much-vaunted second place finish, which Mourinho somewhat derisively called “one of the best jobs of my career”, saw United finish 19 points below champions Manchester City. For all the Mourinho bluster, and the attractiveness of his achievements on paper, his tenure was not the roaring success he nor his apologists would have you believe.

So why is Mourinho still considered both an authority on United affairs and a missed opportunity at greatness? Part of it is what he had done before joining. Mourinho is one of the greatest managers in modern history, having won eight league titles, two Champions Leagues and a king’s bounty of domestic silverware. Notably, he has not won a trophy since departing the Lowry Hotel in Salford, his home while managing United. 

The other reason is the engaging and inflammatory statements he gives to the media. Part of the reason for his ubiquity in the wake of last night’s Champions League defeat was the fact it arrived one day shy of four years after a viral rant he gave while still United coach. 

Sevilla had just knocked his side out of the Champions League, and Mourinho read from a sheet of paper listing all the other times United had been knocked out of Europe since Ferguson’s departure. It was the exact sort of theatrics that have made Mourinho a near-constant talking point through his two decades in management. Jose punctuated the rant by snarkily using the phrase “football heritage”. His message was clear; this club is on the slide and it isn’t my fault. 

But in the wake of Rangnick’s failure at the same stage of the competition, Mourinho’s words have been reframed. What was patently hand-washing from a manager abdicating responsibility for his own failings has become a “prophetic” rant. This was never Mourinho’s motivation, but by no shortage of coincidence it matches the current state of affairs.

In truth, the reading of a self-serving prepared statement to deflect from a defeat is an apt demonstration of why United do not need a manager in the mould of Jose Mourinho. The same is true of Antonio Conte, who the club have been chided for ‘missing out on’, despite the fact the Italian has spent the majority of his spell at Spurs threatening to leave. The fact Mourinho’s first thought in the wake of disappointment was to pick up a pen and paper and write down things his predecessors have done wrong demonstrates how the ex-Porto boss viewed the club. Manchester United was but a vehicle for his ambitions, to be cast aside with its “heritage” mocked when those ambitions came under threat.

Mourinho did some creditable things at United. He did brilliantly to bring two trophies to the club, and was one game away from a third in the following year’s FA Cup. The second-placed finish came without a title challenge, but United still had to be better than 18 other teams to do it. However, a combination of poor style of play giving way to poor results, the press conference histrionics and harsh public treatment of players rightfully ended his tenure. Now, Mourinho’s most important function in a United context is not as some sort of false prophet. It is as a guide to the sort of manager Manchester United do not want as they look to replace Rangnick at the end of the season.

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