Always unpredictable and always riveting
JOSÉ MOURINHO’S “respect, respect, respect” meltdown after Manchester United’s 3-0 loss to Tottenham was bizarre to witness for a reporter who has covered the Portuguese since his first Chelsea tenure began 14 years ago. Mourinho can be curt and abrupt but had never been out of control. That was until the end of the post-game briefing at Old Trafford in August.
He claimed the home support had shown how happy they were with the result by applauding the side to the end. So this correspondent wondered, given that fans were being used as a barometer of contentedness, what the manager might gauge from the many who had left early. Mourinho got angry, quickly.
“I would do the same, losing 3-0, taking two hours from here to the centre of Manchester [it takes 30 minutes]. So keep trying, keep trying, keep trying. Just to finish, do you know what was the result?” he said, indicating the digits he was holding up on his right hand. “3-0, 3-0. Do you know what this is? 3-0. But it also means three Premierships and I won more Premierships alone than the other 19 managers together. So respect man, respect, respect, respect.” Then he stormed out.
Yet if Mourinho remembered who prompted the episode, he never showed it when fielding questions over the next four months: until his sacking last Tuesday he always answered as if nothing had happened.
This was more in keeping with his usually calm style when dealing with the media, though a first insight into why his tenure was troubled came before he was even hired. In April 2016, some within his camp complained off the record to this reporter that United were silent about whether they wanted Mourinho to replace Louis van Gaal.
The tone of indignation in the briefing suggested a sense of entitlement that emanated from a manager who was available because he had been sacked by Chelsea the previous December. Perhaps more revealingly, it hinted that Ed Woodward, the executive vice-chairman, was reluctant to appoint him in the first place.
Mourinho was never a joyous soul to deal with. Instead he was detached in some press conferences, morose and seemingly discontented in others: a puzzle considering his CV.
His moods made him unpopular with players and staff, and he was hardly adored by the media. A nadir came when Mourinho called an 8am conference the Friday before United’s 3-2 win over Newcastle in October. The time was no problem but his abrupt manner told many that this was a man who could be rude and disrespectful, especially as he took questions for only 212 seconds. This is not the image United wish to project of a classy, global entity.
There was a tedious cat-and-mouse episode during the summer tour of the US in 2017 regarding whether Mourinho would grant the “sit-down” traditional for reporters whose companies have paid thousands for them to follow the club around the world. In the end he did, in Washington, and he was polite and gracious, offering access to that morning’s training session; but not for the first time, there was bafflement as to what the original fuss was about.
Last summer Mourinho did refuse the sit-down, which crowned a pre-season tour that began in the oddest way at his opening press conference, in Los Angeles. “Everything is really bad,” he said. Seasoned United correspondents did double-takes and asked each other: “What is he saying and why?” The performance set the tone for United’s poor campaign.
There were lighter moments. In the summer of 2016 a press conference was scheduled in Beijing, in the build-up to the first overseas derby with Manchester City. As ever-growing numbers crammed into a tiny and sweltering box room at a venue next to the National Stadium, a rumour went round that Mourinho was not going to appear because of the heat. Then, word was given he would do the briefing, but outside — which meant the media were now swamped by fans and well-wishers, numbers swelling to a farcical level.
He could be more than accommodating on occasion. When United played a Europa League game at Feyenoord that September, Mourinho spied a group of reporters and stopped for a friendly, urbane chat.
Another off-the-cuff highlight came two months ago, when he left United’s coach to walk to Old Trafford because it was stuck in traffic before the Champions League match against Juventus. Telling here was a United media officer’s reaction when this was put to them for confirmation. “Surely not — even José wouldn’t do that,” came the firm response.
Oh yes he would, and he had. That was covering Mourinho in a nutshell: always unpredictable, always riveting.
Jose Mourinho’s moods made him unpopular with players and staff, and he was hardly adored by the media