Jose Mourinho’s aura during his tenure at Manchester United has been unbefitting of his former self and his response to defeat against Arsenal on Sunday was the final straw for me – this guy has changed and it’s most definitely for the worse.
Mourinho has 22 major honours to his name as a football manager. Among those are two Primeira Liga titles, two Serie A titles, one La Liga title, three Premier League titles and two Champions League titles. He hasn’t just won a lot, he’s won the best there is in club football.
Upon his return to Chelsea for the 2013/2014 season I was excited. I have always viewed Mourinho as a massive value-add for the Premier League. And that is saying something considering how strong a product the Premier league is regardless of who joins it or leaves it.
His honesty, his arrogance, his confidence, his flippancy, his tactical genius, his combative attitude, his fighting spirit, his celebrations, his touchline antics, his use of metaphors, his knack of making everything he is saying make exact sense despite his below-par command of English and of course his status as ‘The Special One’ all made for Mourinho being one of the greatest managers of all time in my mind.
In the first season of his second stint at Chelsea he made that famous comparison between his inexperienced squad and “beautiful, young eggs” and how true it rang.
“They are eggs that need a mum or, in this case, a dad to take care of them, to keep them warm during the winter, to bring the blanket and work and improve them,” Mourinho said of his Chelsea players in the 2013/2014 season.
“One day the moment will arrive when the weather changes, the sun rises, you break the eggs and the eggs are ready to go for life at the top level.”
And that moment came the following season when Mourinho lifted the Premier League for the third time. Was he still ‘The Special One’? You bet.
Then, in the 2015/2016 season Mourinho seemingly lost the dressing room at Stamford Bridge and so lost his job. At the time, I deemed ‘The Three Rats’ (Cesc Fabregas, Diego Costa and Eden Hazard) to be the cause of the problem. They struck me as superstars who were as divisive as they were gifted. From the outside, they came across as being extremely hard to manage, especially when times got tough. Consequently, I understood Mourinho’s sacking as the product of these three players’ plot to get rid of him. In hindsight, I was wrong.
Mourinho had changed and there were red flags aplenty. Most notable among those was his public outburst at long serving team doctor, Eva Carneiro, his formulation of a conspiracy theory that Premier League referees were against him, his failure to control himself when speaking to the media, and his belief that he was being “betrayed” by some of his players. But I was blind to these red flags.
And so when Mourinho joined Manchester United at the start of the current season, I was convinced The Reds had finally found Sir Alex Ferguson’s real successor.
However, the red flags have continued to surface in his tenure at Old Trafford and now simply cannot be ignored anymore.
Again, Mourinho has constantly been heard blaming referees for poor results, questioning the playing schedule and lambasting the commitment of some of his squad members – Luke Shaw, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones in particular.
And last weekend I reached tipping point with the Portuguese manager. With Champions League football still an option by virtue of finishing in the top-four in the league, Mourinho picked a weakened starting eleven for a decisive encounter with Arsenal.
He argued that winning the Europa League and gaining entry to the Champions League via the continent was more the “Manchester United” way than finishing fourth.
In his pre-match interview for the game he was calm and almost resigned to defeat. Needless to say Arsenal won 2-0. Mourinho’s reaction to the result was almost as bizarre as his team selection. He said he was surprised by how well his undercooked team performed and joked that he was happy for Arsenal as it was only the second time since he arrived in England in 2004 that the North London club had recorded a victory over him.
His demeanour going into, and after, the Arsenal game are symbolic of the change in Mourinho. Once a fighter willing to put everything on the line all the time and risk leaving with egg on his face, he now cowers behind excuses and seems desperate to defend his reputation as one of the game’s best managers rather than add to it.
Mourinho said that winning a trophy was a more “Manchester United way” of qualifying for the Champions League than finishing fourth was. At a club as big as Manchester United, you should surely aspire to do both? That’s what Ferguson would have done.
Furthermore, regardless of the circumstances, the North-South rivalry between Manchester United and Arsenal is something to be valued and treasured. The disrespect shown to the history of both clubs by fielding an understrength team was alarming.
Part and parcel of being a great in professional sport is having the courage to put yourself out there time and time again and chance being punched in the nose. Mourinho has lost that bravery he once had. Maybe the sacking at Chelsea had more of an impact on him than anyone believed? Maybe the superstars in his Madrid team dented his self-belief?
Whatever the reasons for the changes in Mourinho, success in the final of the Europa League better come otherwise he will have absolutely no defence for his cowardly decisions in recent weeks.
Next season he needs to think long and hard about what has made him successful in the more distant past and unsuccessful in more recent years.
If he can’t find his old self, there is another guy ready to step into the shoes of ‘The Special One’ in England.
Ironically, he currently occupies the Chelsea job and is on the verge of winning the Premier League. Like Mourinho once was, he too is arrogant, confident, flippant, tactically superb, combative, a fighter, celebrates wildly in the dug-out, engages in touchline antics, makes impeccable use of metaphors and has a knack of making everything he is saying make exact sense despite his below-par command of English.
As Blues fans have been heard singing this season: “Antonio Conte. Does it better. Makes me happy. Makes me feel this way.”