Upfront And Personal With Jose Mourinho: A Winner But At What Cost?

Our man was United Correspondent for the entirety of Mourinho's reign
18:56, 20 Nov 2019

I’ve seen this show before. Jose Mourinho arriving at a club starved of success, needing nothing more than to get back on the winners’ podium come what may.

It was barely three years ago that he swanned into Old Trafford with the expectation that he would get Manchester United winning the big trophies once more.

I sat in the third row of that initial press conference, as he sent out barbs left, right and centre, promising to bring a champion mentality back to the country's biggest club. And I would be there every day for the next two-and-a-half years as a United Correspondent, his aura crumbling and his temperament veering this way and that as the manager strode down an increasingly different path to those who had gone before.

On Wednesday morning, he became Tottenham Hotspur’s new head coach and much the same is being said as it was back in July 2016.

The man he replaces in north London, Mauricio Pochettino, had achieved fantastic things in making Spurs perennial challengers in the Premier League and - most magnificently - taking them to a Champions League final in May. But the one thing the Argentine couldn’t deliver was the kind of silverware Mourinho has earned with regularity during his coaching career.

With Mourinho, though, you have a man whose achievements carry an asterisk. He has won 25 senior trophies, but at what cost? His reign at the Theatre of Dreams led to success of sorts - a Community Shield, League Cup and Europa League all came in his first season - but what he left behind was a poisonous legacy.

JoseMourinhoPaulPogbaManchesterUnitedjpg

Having been one of the members of the press who had daily contact with United throughout Jose’s spell, it is hard to express just how much the club needed to cut loose by the time he was sacked in December 2018.

He bounded into the place talking like a man who would accept nothing but the best. “The last three years are three years to forget,” he said of the Old Trafford period which had seen David Moyes and Louis van Gaal founder in the shadow of Sir Alex Ferguson’s era. “To finish fourth is not the aim.”

His tune changed quickly though. After a 2017-18 season which was meant to see United truly challenge for the first time since Fergie’s days, they finished a distant 19 points behind champions Manchester City. 

What’s more, when they finally clinched second place they did so with a negative display in a 0-0 draw away to West Ham, finishing the match with six defenders on the field as Mourinho reverted to his widely-held stereotype as a pragmatist first and last.

The lack of silky football did little for the atmosphere at Old Trafford, with the dark days of Van Gaal’s ugly style being rivalled by some of the dreariness on display. 

Few people truly enjoyed what they were seeing on the field, and they knew that under the former Chelsea and Real Madrid boss there was no plan for expressive, attractive fare in the future.

Mourinho’s combativeness caused ire beyond the terraces too. As United struggled at the start of last season and tensions within the first-team squad began to reach intolerable levels, the feeling around their Carrington training base fast became toxic.

For every fall-out with a Luke Shaw, Henrikh Mkhitaryan or Paul Pogba there were extra furrows on brows around the AON Training Complex. The friendly smiles which had greeted visitors for so many years suddenly became more strained. Engagements felt more forced. Football talk with staff came in whispers rather than the carefree chat of previous times. Everyone and everything had an edge.

No longer were these the corridors where the manager would greet staff with a smile and a chat about the weather or the family. This instead was a workplace in which there was a level of discomfort unbecoming of Manchester United, a world away from the family atmosphere previously fostered. It was an unwelcoming place to do one’s work.

No wonder, then, that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer should come in and reap immediate dividends in his early days, such was the relief that the Mourinho-shaped cloud had been lifted.

People had had enough of the press conferences becoming little more than pantomimes. Mourinho taking the high ground over his own club after overseeing their exit from the Champions League at the hands of Sevilla in March 2018 was little short of bizarre. 

His diatribe after the 3-0 home loss to Spurs - of all teams - five months later was so typical of his spell in Manchester, full of calls for respect and boasts about trophies he’d won with Chelsea rather than reflections on his Old Trafford record.

So Tottenham fans digesting the departure of a much-loved figure from their club must now confront the reality of Jose Mourinho football. It is not just on the field that his win-at-all-cost attitude exists. He will attempt to be victorious in every game, but moreover he will want to prove himself the winner of every press conference, every meeting, every conversation.

Spurs fans undoubtedly want to add trophies to the cabinet at their sparkling new stadium. But the most sought-after silverware is no longer a guarantee with Mourinho - just ask Manchester United supporters - and the ethos so lovingly crafted by Pochettino is in anything but safe hands.

Sporting Calendar