▶ Por­tuguese re­turns to Old Traf­ford to face Manch­ester United with his Tot­ten­ham in the as­cen­dancy and his op­po­site num­ber un­der pres­sure

The National - News - - SPORT | FOOTBALL - ANDY MIT­TEN Euro­pean foot­ball cor­re­spon­dent

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.

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