Spe­cial One needs to grow up

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS -

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. –

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