Not spe­cial – just hu­mil­i­ated

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS -

IFA week is a long time in pol­i­tics, half a minute could change a dy­nasty in foot­ball. Jose Mour­inho had gone back to his spir­i­tual home to stink the place out: he ended up coated in the smelly stuff and leav­ing a bad taste in the mouth.

A draw at Stam­ford Bridge and he would have re­turned to his mil­lion-pound man­sion in nearby Bel­gravia, opened a bot­tle of Barca Velha and re­flected on a palat­able week: two of his ti­tle ri­vals ef­fec­tively smoth­ered in their own back­yards.

The bus had been suc­cess­fully parked at An­field, there was a con­sum­mate win in Europe but the bus was still be­ing ma­noeu­vred into po­si­tion again on Sun­day when it was am­bushed. Twenty min­utes later it was 2-0 and there was no es­cape.

So, in­stead of laud­ing the Spe­cial One for grad­u­ally get­ting his mes­sage across at United, a harsher as­sess­ment is that he was lucky to scrape a dire draw with an off-key Liver­pool, pushed over a weak Fener­bahce and got hor­ri­bly mugged in his for­mer fortress.

The up­shot is that his worst ever de­feat in the Pre­mier League - “a hu­mil­i­a­tion” in­deed – leaves him look­ing a sore loser at the very least and has made an en­emy of a new man­ager who may just have stolen his im­pe­rial clothes.

An­to­nio Conte would have ap­pre­ci­ated him speak­ing Ital­ian but not the pitch-side lec­ture – the Chelsea boss is en­ti­tled to en­cour­age his own crowd at a time United fans were mak­ing noise, and won’t take kindly to the way it was very pub­licly done. It may have been a clas­sic di­ver­sion­ary tac­tic but Mour­inho bet­ter watch out if he ever does it to Diego Sime­one.

In a packed ti­tle race, United are al­ready off the pace and five points worse off than they were this time last sea­son un­der Louis van Gaal. They have won only one of their last six league matches.

Next up are Manch­ester City in the League Cup and with City also stut­ter­ing, it was look­ing the per­fect time to put one over his neme­sis Pep Guardi­ola and have United on a roll. Now, at least in the im­me­di­ate scheme of things, it be­comes a must-win game.

Such, then, is the fickle fin­ger when one op­por­tunist strike by a player Mour­inho signed com­bined with what he called “in­cred­i­ble” de­fen­sive mis­takes in­clud­ing David de Gea im­per­son­at­ing Clau­dio Bravo and Chris Smalling im­per­son­at­ing a statue – can pro­duce a speed bump in Oc­to­ber and raise doubts about the man­ager him­self.

Pre-match he ad­mit­ted he was not spe­cial yet in Manch­ester – but left open the pos­si­bil­ity. He also vowed that he was “100% United” and that Chelsea was in the past. But on the ev­i­dence so far – a sum­mer spend­ing spree in which the bulk of the money went on one player and a fledg­ling sea­son when United have only fleet­ingly clicked as a unit – he is still floun­der­ing with the big­gest chal­lenge of his ca­reer.

Buy­ing Paul Pogba was al­ways more about the Glaz­ers and Ed Wood­ward want­ing to make a bold state­ment to con­cerned share­hold­ers than a typ­i­cal Mour­inho sign­ing. And so far, it can be safely said that be­ing able to boast of the world’s most ex­pen­sive player has pleased the New York Stock Ex­change more than the Stret­ford End.

Fans are sick of hear­ing that Pogba is tal­ented – they can see that but want to see him show it more of­ten than fleet­ing, decorative touches at 20-minute in­ter­vals in a game. Where United needed a new engine, it looks very much as if they’ve blown the bud­get on a paint job and up­hol­stery.

French jour­nal­ist Philippe Au­clair, who has watched Pogba scores of times, claims this is how he is no mat­ter who he plays for and the no­tion of his be­ing a tra­di­tional box-to-box dy­namo who takes charge of a game is wish­ful think­ing.

A player more cut out for that role is Hen­rikh Mkhi­taryan, a £27m sign­ing from Borus­sia Dort­mund and Player of the Year in the Bun­desliga last sea­son, but who has been mys­te­ri­ously os­tracised. Even Eric Bailly, who made an early im­pres­sion, has faded and now could be out for sev­eral weeks with knee lig­a­ments dam­aged in foul­ing Eden Haz­ard. Po­etic jus­tice at its harsh­est.

The fourth - and free - sign­ing Mour­inho made, Zla­tan Ibrahi­movic, made a favourable early im­pact but has been fad­ing for a while and is with­out a goal since Septem­ber 10. As many pre­dicted, the gi­ant Swede could be find­ing the pace and rigour of the Pre­mier League a shock to the sys­tem af­ter the more leisurely Ligue Un.

It is still early doors and Mour­inho has the con­fi­dence of his bosses, but he has done lit­tle to dis­pel doubts first raised in last sea­son’s melt­down at Chelsea. The Stam­ford Bridge faith­ful kept re­mind­ing him “You’re not spe­cial any more”, and he has hardly re­futed that – his inim­itable sulks and colour­ful quotes aside.

No longer animated on the bench, he was as emo­tion­less as he was help­less as the rout un­folded. And those United fans who were scep­ti­cal about him in the first place now have a lot more am­mu­ni­tion. Mar­cus Rashford apart, he does not play young­sters, he has fash­ioned no dis­cernible style of play and doesn’t yet know his best team. He hasn’t even sorted out Wayne Rooney.

The watch­ing Fergie would not have been im­pressed but at least Van Gaal may have per­mit­ted him­self a rare chuckle. This job is big­ger than any­one can imag­ine and his only con­so­la­tion is that Pep is find­ing it’s no cinch on the other side of town ei­ther.

It is a mea­sure of their re­spec­tive dif­fi­cul­ties that the two most hyped man­agers in mod­ern foot­ball are both badly in need of a win to­mor­row in the hum­ble League Cup.


Manch­ester United man­ager Jose Mour­inho (left) shakes hands with Chelsea head coach An­to­nio Conte af­ter the fi­nal whis­tle of the English Pre­mier League match at Stam­ford Bridge in Lon­don yes­ter­day.

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