MOURINHO FACES OLD CLUB WITH A POINT TO PROVE
▶ Portuguese returns to Old Trafford to face Manchester United with his Tottenham in the ascendancy and his opposite number under pressure
Acouple of weeks after Jose Mourinho’s stint at Manchester United began, this writer received a message from a club legend who had been in the frame for the job himself.
“We’ll win the league with Jose this year,” he wrote. Mourinho’s men had won their first two league games of 2016/17 and would win a third at Hull City.
He was brought in to go headto-head with Pep Guardiola at Manchester City and he was doing just that.
The global media interest around September’s 2016 derby game was like no other.
City won at Old Trafford and United lost their next two games too. Mourinho’s title challenge ended before it had started. United haven’t mounted one since last winning the Premier League in 2013.
Mourinho, the man brought in as a guarantor of trophies, delivered two – three if you include the Community Shield in his first season and finished second in the league in his second, but a title race never materialised before his stock plummeted in 2018.
Champions League elimination after a limp display to Sevilla, a wretched end to the league season as Manchester City cantered off with the title, a poor FA Cup final, an even poorer start to the 2018/19 season and an increasingly unhappy, curmudgeonly manager did little to lift the mood.
United fans wanted him gone and they got their wish a year ago.
Mourinho himself admitted that United were probably right to dismiss him – he was in a cul-de-sac last December and had cut back on communicating with those around him. He felt several players were letting him down. They were.
United were poor in the league a year ago, yet they were four points better off than they are now.
United have won four of their 14 games, an appalling win rate and their worst league start since 1988/89 when they eventually finished 11th. Their next two games are at home to a Tottenham side managed by Mourinho and away to Manchester City on Saturday.
Mourinho has done at Spurs what he did at United: winning games immediately.
Spurs have shot up the table which, given the inconsistency of so many teams, allows for that. They have qualified for the Champions League knockout stages too, and Dele Alli – a player who wanted to join United when Mourinho was there – has found form again. Mourinho has delivered to Spurs what Solskjaer did for United when he replaced the Portuguese.
After a year out, Mourinho now at his smiling and charming best, joking with journalists, inviting a bright young Spurs ball boy to the pre-match meal and winning football matches. He is brilliant when he is like this, a charismatic showman enchanting everyone around him.
Will it last? History says no, but he has the chance to get revenge against United at Old Trafford tomorrow.
Spurs defeated United 3-0 in the equivalent fixture last season, one which angered Mourinho and saw him storm out of the post-match press conference shouting “Respect, respect, respect!” reminding journalists that he had won three Premier League titles to a combined total of two from every other manager in England’s top flight.
His position at United was unravelling and he never got back that bank of credit earned previously – not with the fans or his bosses.