Wowsers, it’s been a while since I last wrote about football – the game I love. There has been tons I could have written. That Leicester City story. That whole thing at Arsenal again. That Tottenham collapse. That mediocre season by Manchester City. That shambles at Chelsea. That inevitably disappointing season from Liverpool. As for England at the Euros … maybe I will write on that at some point.
Of all the fascinating aspects to write about, however, I was tickled to write about Mourinho at Manchester United. What a story. Oh the things I could write. This crops up particularly in the light of his first press conference recently. I watched it and thoroughly enjoyed it.
For the benefit of this article, let me set the record straight here and now. I am a big fan of Jose Mourinho. I acknowledge the aspects of his character and his career that rub people the wrong way. He is not a saint and I don’t agree with everything he has ever done. I am a fan of his, however, for the same reason I became a fan of Liverpool Football Club. I became a fan because at the time (1986) I was not bothered about local team, I wanted to follow the best team. Liverpool didn’t play the prettiest football or have the most glamorous players, but they did the one thing that attracted me to them – they won.
There have been managers who won before. Brian Clough made a habit of it for a few years. Don Revie gained a reputation for getting Leeds United into the habit for a few years too. However, with the exception of George Graham, the next guy to get greedy for trophies was Sir Alex Ferguson. For obvious reasons I was unlikely to start a fan club to that guy, although I readily acknowledge him to be the best in English football. Now the next contender for being into the trophy winning thing as a manager was Wenger. His football was refreshing, competing with United was great and the winning thing garnered my admiration.
Then came Mourinho. He had done it at Porto, he said he could do it at Chelsea, so he did it at Chelsea, he said he could do it at Inter Milan, so he did it at Inter Milan. By that time he had my attention. However he left Chelsea the first time, he was a winner and established Chelsea as a side that now expected to win. He took the winning mentality to Inter, Real Madrid and then back to Chelsea. Criticise all you like and sometimes justifiably, what is undeniable is that more than most of his peers, the man is a winner. I love that. That’s why I am a big fan of his.
There is no denying either that his second stint at Chelsea ended up worse than his first stint. Yet he still emerged with the reputation of a winner. He is a winner.
Manchester United used to win. They used to win the trophies that mattered. They competed for the trophies that mattered. They were a side that were set up to win like no English club before them. Success was intrinsic to their make up. So when Moyes didn’t get the memo, he was rightfully dismissed. Louis Van Gaal talked a better talk and had the bombast and bravado to suggest he could make the change, but essentially he himself failed. The FA Cup win was a noble gesture that came far too late. The season by United standards in performance and position was just not good enough.
The talk of the manager’s position for the best part of the season highlighted just how far the club had declined from its previous imperious position at the top of English football. They relieved LvG of his duties and looked for his replacement. Guardiola was committed to City. That left them with the man who apparently had been desirous to get the job for years. You can’t blame him either, in many ways they are made for each other. They are both committed to winning. United were stubborn and stupid not to have appointed him when Sir Alex retired, but it’s all turned out the better especially for Mourinho. They need each other, but Mourinho has won something significant in the last three years whereas United can hardly crow over winning the FA Cup even if it is a trophy they had forgotten how to win for the best part of a decade.
Mourinho’s first press conference was just the tonic for a club designed to win. Not for him the talk of making the top four. Not for him the conservative and cautious approach of just doing your best and hoping that was enough. He was clear in his desire to aggressively pursue everything there was to win. That sounded more like the Manchester United way that Ferguson had written into the fabric of the club far greater than even Busby had managed in his time at the club.
The petty types looking for their scraps to feed the feuds of Mourinho can talk about his digs at others. Yet the bigger picture is that the man has set himself the challenge of doing at United what he has consistently done in his career – win.
Whether he can do it is the issue, but I much prefer watching this unfold than the mediocre efforts of his two predecessors. It makes for more compelling viewing of the game I love to watch.
C. L. J. Dryden