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Whatever 'it' might be, there is no denying Jose once had it, or that it has long since deserted him

We’re not witnessing the Mourinho of Porto or Inter anymore, writes Eoin Butler.

Yesterday's man: Jose Mourinho oversaw an historically bad result at home to Spurs last night.
Yesterday's man: Jose Mourinho oversaw an historically bad result at home to Spurs last night.
Image: Dave Thompson

IN DANNY BOYLE’s 1996 film Trainspotting, Johnny Lee Miller’s character Sick Boy offers what he bills as his Unifying Theory of Life. “At one point you’ve got it,” he says. “Then you lose it. And it’s gone forever.”

“This happens in all walks of life,” he expounds. “Georgie Best, for example, had it then lost it. David Bowie. Lou Reed… Charlie Nicholas. David Niven. Malcolm McClaren. Elvis Presley.”

His friend Renton, played by Ewan McGregor, isn’t exactly bowled over by this insight. “So we all get old? We cannae hack it anymore? That’s your theory?”

“Yeah,” shrugs Sick Boy. “Beautifully fucking illustrated.”

Sick Boy and Renton are hopeless drug addicts, which may explain the flimsiness of their social commentary. Yet watching Jose Mourinho post-match press conference after his side’s home defeat to Tottenham last night I really couldn’t help but find myself arriving at this same vague, yet overwhelming conclusion.

Whatever indefinable quality “it” might be, there is no denying Jose once had it in spades.

Remember him winning the Champions League with Porto in 2004 and not even bothering to celebrate? Those were the days. His reaction was so nonchalant, he didn’t even crack a smile. He genuinely suckered us into believing that winning the football’s most prestigious club competition with a mediocre team from the Portuguese league really was no biggie for a man of his talents.

He went to England and, in his very first Chelsea press conference, gave himself a nickname, The Special One, which the media immediately adopted and used for many years afterwards. You know how hard it is to give yourself a flattering nickname and have other people use it? It’s virtually impossible. (For years, as a – sort of – joke, I tried to get introduced on radio appearances as “The Amaziiiiing….” No dice. There were no takers. Not even one.)

Mourinho won the league with Chelsea on his first attempt. It was the club’s first title in 50 years. Mourinho didn’t just mastermind that campaign, he correctly predicted the date on which they’d clench the title (with an away win against Bolton on 30 April) before the season even began. This was some Zen magic he had going for him.

For the longest time, it appeared the man could do no wrong. Even his Trumpian attention-seeking and self-aggrandising press conferences, we later rationalised, were simply cunning ruses to relieve pressure from his player in victory or defeat.

Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Final - Bayern Munich v Inter Milan - Santiago BernabeuSource: HENRI SZWARC

His treble-winning season with Inter in 2010 was the apogee of his greatness. To see the likes of Samuel Eto’o and Marco Materazzi perform like men willing to die for their manager marked Mourinho out as an exceptional leader of men. He won later titles in Spain and, again, in England. But Inter was the high water mark of his career. He hasn’t surpassed it since and likely now, never will.

Being honest, I have no idea what the actual attributes required of a top class professional football manager are. So let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that aside from basic competence and knowledge of the game and an ability to strategise the secret is in part, at least, a sort of confidence trick.

You cultivate an aura. You convince yourself you are invincible. This confidence inspires your players. This in turn intimidates your opponents, convinces club owners to back you in the transfer market and persuades top transfer targets to throw in their lot with you.

We called his indefinable quality “it”. Whatever “it” might be, there is no denying Jose once had it, or it has long since deserted him.

Watching his Manchester United side against Spurs last night was a little like looking at a broken down car in the hard shoulder. As a layman, I don’t know how it used to work, so I sure as hell can’t tell how to get it going again. All I can tell you is, we’re not going to be arriving at our preferred destination anytime soon.

It was a miserable night for United, with two second half goals from Spurs’ bald assassin Lucas Moura completing a 3-0 route. According to this morning’s papers, United’s oft maligned right back Luke Shaw was their star performer. And it’s true that Shaw played well, bursting forward, taking frees and generally directing play.

But even that decent individual performance only reminded me a bit of Adnan Januzaj, who performed a similar role on occasion for United under David Moyles in the 2013/14 season. In both cases, one sensed, the youngster’s prominence really only highlighted how anonymous were his senior colleagues and how rudderless was the overall team performance.

“From a strategic point of view, we didn’t lose,” Jose waffled after the heaviest home defeat of his career. “From a tactical point of view, we didn’t lose. But we lost.” He closes the press conference on a Partridge-esque note. “Do you know what 3-0 means?” he asked the assembled hacks. “It means three Premier League titles. More on my own than the 19 other managers combined.”

Even his trash talking skills have deserted him now. Besides not really making any sense, his boast about league titles is lame for any number of reasons. Not least of which is that if you’d asked me, at a guess, I’d have thought he’d probably won more than three. I mean, John O’Shea has won five Premier League titles as a player.

If there were any mind games being played, they were all on the other side. Before the game, Spurs manager Mauricio Ponchettino paid tribute to his opposite number. “For every single manager who is younger than him, [Mourinho] was an inspiration,” Pochettino said. “For everyone. Of course. I took a lot of things from him. So many things.”

It was a comliment, of course. It also sounded like something you would say about yesterday’s man.

Where next for United’s season? It’s hard to know. But one rather suspects that, sooner or later, they may be forced to call for roadside assistance.

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Eoin Butler

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