Mourinho & United: A Tale Of Two Wounded Animals


Ego can be referred to as ‘Your idea or opinion of yourself, especially your feeling of your own importance and ability’.

When Jose Mourinho announced himself to the British Press as the ‘Special One’ in 2004, he truly believed it. Soon after, so did everyone else. Mourinho’s Chelsea side between 2004 and 2006 displayed a dominance that sent shockwaves through English football. Record points totals were amassed, a Champions League win seemed inevitable and most Sport headlines featured a film star looking Mourinho with a witty remark, or even players proclaiming their love for ‘The Special One’. In essence, the collective feel in summer 2006 was that Mourinho possessed a Midas touch, and that other mere-mortal managers, Sir Alex Ferguson included, weren’t fit to tie his shoe laces.

Between the summers of 2006 and 2016, something fundamentally changed, and the Mourinho that arrived at Old Trafford in June 2016 was a completely different animal. Although externally, the football world still believed, and widely referred to Mourinho as the ‘Special One’, internally it seems he started to have serious doubts. The film star looks had waned, with the effects of the previous 10 years clearly taking their toll. Equally, the witty remarks and rapport with the Press turned on its head completely. Nobody knows how Mourinho was with the players internally, but there hasn’t seemed to have been many tears shed since his departure.

The struggles at Madrid have been widely documented, and it does seem that this segment of Mourinho’s life caused significant strain on the ‘Special One’ ego. The eventual second sacking at Chelsea wounded the animal further. Thus, the Mourinho that arrived at Old Trafford was one of self-doubt, rather than gusto.

United in many ways, had a lot in common with the Mourinho that arrived. The club itself had become a wounded animal, keen to revive the glory days, but each passing year presented more doubts rather than reasons for optimism.

The problem for United, was that in 2016, the club needed the Mourinho of 2004-2006 and the lift that the ‘Special One’ would have brought. The problem for Mourinho was that his 2016 version needed a club that would revive him and re-awaken this ‘Special One’ persona himself.

As has been played out, the two needed a lot more from each other and ultimately the marriage was a volatile and unsuccessful one in the end.

Where to next for both?

Mourinho certainly needs a spell out of football to get some zest for life back. It is crucial he gets his next appointment right and hopefully he finds a club or country that will renew some of the swagger of old, because ultimately nobody wants to see the man reduced to what he has become.

For United, Solskjaer’s temporary appointment has provided the desired lift thus far. Solskjaer’s primary role for the next 6 months is to re-instil some positivity and life back to the club, while promoting a style of football that gets United supporters excited about watching their team again.

Mauricio Pochettino is the obvious choice to take over next summer and hopefully the recent reports of his interest in the role prove to be true. I do believe that a coach like Pochettino with a progressive system would do wonders with this group. A lot of the anger vented at the current squad is warranted, however with some defensive upgrades, I believe that there is plenty to work with going forward, particularly when you factor in some of the young talents on the periphery of the first team.

What Jurgen Klopp and Marcelo Bielsa have achieved in a short space of time at Liverpool and Leeds is a good reference point as to how progressive coaches and systems can get a lot more out of a group of players in a short space of time. Yes, Klopp has spent heavily, but he has also sold heavily. His usual starting midfield trio of Henderson, Milner and Wijnaldum doesn’t look like much on paper, and they would have likely looked like Sunday League Players under Mourinho’s United, however at Liverpool, within Klopp’s progressive system, they look like world beaters. Let’s see what a progressive coach and system does to a midfield trio of Herrera, Fred and Pogba (with Angel Gomes and James Garner breathing down their necks).

Equally, Bielsa at Leeds has transformed a mid-table Championship side to suddenly resemble Brazil sides of old in his system, storming the League and debunking the myth that it was ‘difficult to play good football in the lower leagues’.

Let’s hope Pochettino does end up in the Old Trafford dugout next season as it would be the sort of appointment that would reignite the dying flame at the club. Equally, let’s hope that Mourinho’s next marriage is more suitable and he can reignite his own flame, so that the world can get a glimpse at the ‘Special One’ once more.

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