Manchester United boss lost his way but the fire in his belly – and clever mind-games – are promising signs for next season
IT was the sight many Manchester United fans had been longing for since he arrived last summer.
On Sunday, Jose Mourinho patted his badge in front of the Stretford End and disappeared up the tunnel following United’s 2-0 Premier League win against Chelsea.
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This was after spending the best part of the week before moaning about the Europa League and the impact some of the travelling had on his players.
It was like April 2014 all over again, when in charge of Chelsea and preparing his side for a trip to Anfield against title chasing Liverpool.
Then, Mourinho spent much of the build-up complaining about a congested fixture list and tired players. In the end, he left with a 2-0 win.
You know what to expect when you hire the Portuguese.
Dogmatic, problematic, tactical, arrogant, and, above everything else, a manager who is prepared to win at almost any cost.
Even if that means draining the flair from his team along the way, and replacing it with a “us against the world” approach.
And with his track record, it shouldn’t really have come as a surprise when he delivered a late twist in the title race at the expense of his old club – all served up in vintage Mourinho style.
It was Ander Herrera who set the tone for United’s dominance, creating the opener with a beautifully weighted pass into the path of Marcus Rashford, before scoring the decisive second after the break.
Herrera carried out his managers’ instructions to the letter all afternoon and man marked the Belgian into submission. The Chelsea playmaker didn’t get a kick, never mind a sight of goal.
There were further examples of Mourinho executing his tactics perfectly elsewhere; Pedro was stifled by Matteo Darmian, Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford stretched the defence, and Marcos Rojo went toe-to-toe to unsettle Diego Costa.
Was this a sign that the Special One was back then? Or, was it just a break from being a draw specialist?
Sure, he got it spot on against Chelsea – and boy did he let us know afterwards when he met the media.
But, it’s the least you’d expect after being outmanoeuvred and outwitted by his former club on two previous occasions already this season.
While Mourinho won the battle against Antonio Conte’s side, United are still a huge 15 points behind them and the war was lost some time ago.
All too often this season at Old Trafford, United have huffed and puffed but failed to blow their way through games, and nine home draws point to a glaring problem rather than an unfortunate coincidence.
What you can’t be critical of though is Mourinho’s performance in front of the cameras.
United supporters spend most of their time in between games talking about his criticism of players, rather than the poor league position they find themselves in.
It’s also a particularly clever smokescreen because despite being unbeaten in the league for 22 games, he did spend over £150million on new players last summer.
Yet he is still on course to finish in the same position or perhaps even lower than under previous manager Louis van Gaal, who was sacked.
Mourinho won’t be going anywhere, we know that, and the time to judge him will be in 12 months.
United fans should be mindful, that although the result and performance against Chelsea was promising and provided hope for next season, they might need to be prepared to sacrifice the swashbuckling style they were accustomed to under Sir Alex Ferguson, in favour of a more mechanical path towards trophies.
Twitter : @MrTomMcDermott