Special One needs to grow up
WHEN Jose Mourinho retired to the solitude of his suite at Manchester’s Lowry hotel on Sunday night, six months to the day after snaring his ‘dream job’, he could have been forgiven for wondering: is it me?
Seventy-two hours after his most encouraging night of the season, he had experienced his most excruciating. Yet another home draw that should have been a win, slipping further behind the leaders and the club’s worst start in Premier League history. But Manchester United were not the story: he was.
Red carded for the second time in a month and for the third in 13, he now faces a touchline ban of two matches or possibly more. Ex-referee Graham Poll thinks he deserves six - after all, he does have history in this department: his career total of fines standing just shy of £300,000.
But it is not the cost to his wallet that will worry him: it is the damage to his reputation. Including his final disastrous season at Chelsea, he has lost 13 of his previous 30 league games in charge – an alarming number for one whose previous 13 losses took 119 games.
The notion that he’s lost his Midas touch is not confined to gloating opposition fans who provided another lusty rendition of ‘You’re not special any more’. No, it has been noted by all and sundry – not least commentators before, during and after the game.
When asked if things had been “bouncing” since last Thursday’s impressive 4-0 win over Feyenoord, Mourinho’s demeanour confirmed that they hadn’t, being more like that of a manager for whom the vote of confidence was imminent.
It certainly contrasted with his post-Feyenoord claim that United could still win the title. That might have been pushing it but since that performance, there was a feeling around the game that for United and their beleaguered manager, the worst might just be over.
Wayne Rooney and Henrikh Mkhitaryan had played and shone against the Dutch side, Rooney having come back from a traumatic week to prove he is far from finished. Mkhitaryan, meanwhile, had finally been allowed to display some of the skills that made him Bundesliga Player of the Year for the past two seasons.
Although those two were named on the subs’ bench on Sunday, the appearance alongside them of Bastian Schweinsteiger – another on Old Trafford’s missing persons list – underlined a sense of a belated coming together of the squad. It was also an acknowledgment that the banishment – for whatever reason - had been enough. Either that or Human Rights Watch had had a word.
So for Mourinho to be wearing his grim mask even before the kickoff against West Ham was a surprise. If it was designed to mean business, it didn’t have the desired effect – United falling to an early sucker punch for the third time in recent memory.
But they did recover with a sumptuous goal made and scored by the principal scapegoats for the dismal campaign so far. A laser-like lofted ball from Paul Pogba and a deft header from Zlatan Ibrahimovic restored the equilibrium and feelgood factor.
It was a first assist for the world’s most expensive player in 15 games – another positive sign. There was also more than an hour to play when Mourinho had his tantrum that would have shamed a three-year-old at play school.
As Bobby Charlton would no doubt have said under his breath: “That is not a Man United manager.” There was a manic turn and gesticulation followed by a clean strike of a water bottle that Dimitri Payet couldn’t have bettered.
Referee Jon Moss’s back was turned but it didn’t escape the attention of fourth official Anthony Taylor – and off Mourinho trudged. Moss and Taylor both have history with the manager and although technically it was a sending off offence, you can’t imagine them sending off Fergie. More pertinently, you can’t imagine Fergie being so petulant.
What prompted it was not a disallowed goal or a denied penalty - merely a deserved yellow card. Pogba had just shown a bit of magic then dived over the in-rushing Mark Noble. It was a Hollywood enough to have appealed to the watching Julia Roberts. But it came after Pogba himself had been denied a freekick. In other words, for Mourinho it was an accumulation – of an entire season.
He watched “from a secret room in a private box”, we were told, as United were held to a fourth successive home draw, slipped 11 points behind leaders Chelsea and eight off Arsenal, in the last of the Champions League places. So what would he have made of it from his lofty perch?
They did not play badly, hit the woodwork, got the rough end of refereeing decisions and came up against an unheralded keeper playing a blinder. He would have had it confirmed that Michael Carrick is indispensable even if Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones are making a fist of an unlikely central defensive partnership without the 35-year-old’s protective shield.
He would have seen that the weakness is the lack of cutting edge. Marcus Rashford is having one of those droughts that strikers have, while Ibrahimovic, despite his goal, is not the fox in the box needed to make the most of the promptings of Pogba, Mkhitaryan and Juan Mata.
Luck hasn’t been going for them but for a manager of his stature, to be taking refuge in misfortune hints that he may indeed be losing the plot just as his own ill-discipline undermines his demands for it from his players.
Armchair Freuds have also suggested there may be something else bugging him. In his first sensational coming at Chelsea, he wasn’t just the Special One, he was the Only One. No other young manager had his charisma but now there’s Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Antonio Conte and all are leaving him behind – both on and off the field. He couldn’t be jealous, could he?
He has the Hammers again in the League Cup tomorrow night but will be without Pogba. He also has a long, cold trip to Ukraine to secure a Europa League place. These are second-rate competitions but the only ones he has any chance of winning.
The job was too big for David Moyes and Louis van Gaal’s ego, but we never thought it would be too big for the Special One.
His behaviour suggests he still has a lot of growing up to do to before he can handle it.
Jose Mourinho kicks a water bottle in anger during their English Premier League match against West Ham United at Old Trafford yesterday. –