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'His behaviour has reflected a weariness for the fight and a frantic realisation that he's being left behind'

Jose Mourinho has veered so far away from the quintessential ‘Special One’ persona and is desperately struggling to reinvent himself.

“I WANT TO make it clear:

One, I don’t run away.

Two, if the club wants to sack me, they have to sack me because I’m not running away from my responsibility and my team. To be champions will obviously be very, very difficult because the distance is considerable, but I am more than convinced that we will finish in the top four. And, when the season is so bad, if you finish top four, it is ok.

Three, even more important than the first and the second, I think this is a crucial moment in the history of this club. Do you know why? Because if the club sacks me, they sack the best manager that this club has, and secondly, the message is again: bad results and the manager is guilty.”I have a big self esteem and a big ego, I consider myself the best.”

Jose Mourinho File Photo Source: Gareth Fuller

That was Jose Mourinho speaking to the BBC in October 2015 after his Chelsea side had lost 3-1 to Southampton. But the quotes could just as easily have been taken from either of his last two Manchester United press conferences.

There’s certainly a pattern and it shows that he’s veered so far away from the quintessential and finely-crafted ‘Special One’ persona and desperately struggling to reinvent himself.

Between 2002 and 2010, Mourinho won two Champions League titles, back-to-back Portuguese championships, back-to-back Premier Leagues, back-to-back scudetti, a Uefa Cup, a Coppa Italia, an FA Cup, a Taca de Portugal.

A relentless haul.

Between 2011 and 2018, Mourinho won a Premier League, a La Liga, a Europa League and a Copa del Rey.

Still quite a collection but nowhere near the same volume of trophies. Perhaps most worryingly, Mourinho has also had to come to terms with a radical new development in his professional life: being forced from fractious jobs. It happened at Real Madrid and Chelsea and it seems inevitable that a similar parting will occur in Manchester. As bad as things were in Spain, the return to the Premier League and to Stamford Bridge was supposed to be a comfort blanket. A tranquil, zen space. Reassuring and familiar. Instead, it descended into turbulence and toxicity and Mourinho found himself evicted from the house he’d essentially built himself.

Over the last number of years, even Jose Mourinho has become disposable and his recent behaviour has reflected – at different times – both a weariness for the fight and a frantic, fearful realisation that he’s being left behind.

Jose Mourinho File Photo Source: Nick Potts

His last two press conferences were perfect examples of the latter. When he started reeling off how many league titles he won and asking for respect, it wasn’t done with a knowing smirk and a clever quip. There was no reassuring calmness or restraint. Instead, it was a frenzied, desperate plea: ‘Please remember me’. Storming out – the epitome of infantile behaviour – was the sign of a man who is unable to confront the realities staring him in the face.

One would’ve expected that after some sober reflection, Mourinho would try and change the narrative and appear less frazzled. Instead, on Friday, he defended his record again and threw shade at Jurgen Klopp and Tottenham supporters while doubling down on his previous statements regarding how last season – when United finished 19 points behind Manchester City – had somehow been triumphant.

“My second place last season was one of my greatest achievements in football”, he offered.

That type of self-congratulatory delusion has been there since he tried to rewrite his own history at the Bernabeu but it was properly fine-tuned later in his second spell at Chelsea, where he extolled the virtues of a potential top-four finish for the reigning champions.

It was a seismic change. The complete u-turn in attitude came after Mourinho previously rubbished other managers who fell short in trying to win titles.

“Second place is just the first loser,” he told reporters in Spain as he prepared to take on Malaga and Manuel Pellegrini, a man who had racked up a record points tally as Mourinho’s predecessor but still failed to catch Barcelona in the La Liga race.

Later, as his chaotic spell in Madrid was drawing to a close, Mourinho tried to talk up his achievements of reaching three Champions League semi-finals in a row but quickly acknowledged the absurdity of the statement and remembered his own previous zero-tolerance approach to failure.

“Almost is not enough for me or for Madrid”, he said.

But that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. ‘Almost’ is now being celebrated by Mourinho.

Already this season, United have seemed the mirror image of him. Against Brighton, they were empty – slow, disinterested and, above all else, boring. But the Tottenham game was chaotic and confused. United, desperate for anything, were shapeless and lacked any sort of poise. And that’s been Mourinho too – bouncing between moods and completely unpredictable.

It’s what happened in Madrid when he became obsessed with ‘traitors’, ‘pseudo-Madridistas’, dressing-room leaks and conspiracy theories. At Chelsea, that final season started in bizarre fashion – the unsavoury and uncalled for clash with his medical staff that turned into a long and bitter saga – and with every new defeat there followed varying degrees of press conference silliness.

So, the main concern surrounding Mourinho’s current issues at United is that this isn’t new. Going by his recent history, we know how the story ends.

There are those who remain hopeful of a dramatic turnaround. That he can flick a switch and become something else. But, while the first incarnation was steady, spectacular and seductive, we are still to see Mourinho Version 2.0. He’s struggled so badly to exert himself against the new wave: Pep Guardiola, Diego Simeone, Jurgen Klopp, Mauricio Pochettino, Zinedine Zidane but, perhaps most damningly, he shows no real desire to adapt.

Even his most loyal servants have felt the allure of change and acted upon it. Rui Faria – his assistant since the early days at Uniao Leiria in 2001 – left in the summer, desperate to break free.

It seemed a symbolic moment. A new era. Time for something fresh and unique. Could Mourinho switch it up and transition?  But there was no different appointment. There was no new face, new opinion, new input, new challenge.

It brought to mind Sir Alex Ferguson in 2002. United had just finished third in the Premier League and he was without a full-time assistant. Steve McClaren had left at the start of the season to take charge of Middlesbrough and the role needed filling. Ferguson too had a pattern – Archie Knox, Brian Kidd, McClaren – all familiar personalities. But he ultimately appointed Carlos Quieroz, the Portuguese who would prove crucial in Ferguson’s ‘second act’ and remarkable rebirth.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Portsmouth v Manchester United - Fratton Park Source: Daniel Hambury

Ferguson acknowledged that the game was changing, that repeating the same things would only get him so far. Quieroz had the tactical acumen and excellent coaching know-how but he was also a linguist, an eloquent and debonair figure and with the cut of a high-flying businessman. His presence seemed to reignite Ferguson’s fire. Quieroz was a radical hire and a risk but Ferguson stepped up to the challenge and enjoyed it so much that he welcomed Quieroz back with open arms after his unsuccessful stint in charge at Real.

Ferguson leaned into reinvention and didn’t fear it.

The older he gets, Mourinho – once that radical, revolutionary figure – seems unwilling to try different things. And because his behaviour is oft-repeated, it means it doesn’t carry the same degree of surprise or shock anymore. And because his recent diatribes have completely gone against the principles he bandied about years ago, there’s a sizeable degree of hypocrisy that taints so much of what he says.     

As a result, he’s in danger of sliding into irrelevance.

And it all feeds into a wider identity crisis. Does Mourinho even know what type of manager he is anymore? Does he have a blueprint, a style, a doctrine? Or does he even care?

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About the author:

Eoin O'Callaghan

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