When José Mourinho joined Manchester United in May of 2016 he was a bit of a wounded individual. His pride was obviously hurting after receiving the sack from Chelsea. Some kind of a reaction was to be expected. What United fans got was both a reaction and response that entailed both on and off the pitch shenanigans, backed up by good results.
The Special One does not disappoint
Mourinho won two trophies and a shield in his first season. Those results have mushroomed into the now growing winning mentality at Old Trafford. United finished sixth in the league last time, but the signs of progress were unmistakable. The foundation was laid.
This season, the progress in terms of results in the Premier League is crystal clear. Besides the hiccup at Huddersfield, the Red Devils look like serious contenders for the league title. 2018 will mark their fifth year without a league title but given their ultra-efficient defending and potential going forward, it is unlikely that they would go down—should they do—without a fight.
A “Mourinho” side
So, it is natural for Mourinho to feel at home in the middle of a campaign when they are doing things one would expect of a Mourinho side. On the field, United are defensively rock-solid and scoring enough goals to win games. Most often they are also executing game plans specifically tailored to counter their opponents.
Last season, the Portuguese was uncharacteristically mellow in most of his press conferences and interviews. He praised the team’s supporters at every opportunity in order to buy himself the time he thought he needed.
Getting everyone onto the bus
One could look on the apologetic gestures he motioned towards the Stretford End crowd—after his side beat Man City in the league cup—for the 4-0 hammering they had suffered at the hands of his former employers. The long interview he gave to the famous United We Stand fanzine (not the official programme) mentioning how he would like to travel on the ‘monkey bus’ back to Manchester with the fervent away supporters on the day they win the league, did not go unnoticed either. Mourinho had clearly anticipated the impact of his words then.
It is important to remember that United were on a bad run at the time. They had drawn a string of games at home. It seemed the Red Devils were simply unable to get out of a rut in the Premier League, one that eventually stifled them until the very end. Mourinho, however, had the fans on his side by then and that allowed him to get away with what was a sub-par season league-wise.
The Special One and only
This season however, José Mourinho is totally being himself, probably for the first time at United. He appears completely in his element. The Portuguese is throwing tantrums left, right and centre weaving narrative after narrative, primarily in a bid to create a false sense of ‘us versus them’. He is better at conflict than any other manager in the league and if there is not a conflict big enough to cause a stir around his club and not within, then he will create one.
And so he has.
His most recent allegations concerning the lack of support for United’s main striker Romelu Lukaku cannot be further from the truth but he has almost made supporters and the media question if it is indeed the case. Mourinho may have made the comment to simply divert attention from the Belgian’s bulging goal-drought. If so that was unnecessary as Lukaku, despite not scoring himself, has been contributing to the side as well as he was in the early weeks of the season. Perhaps more so.
Creating narratives to keep the press away from the actual football is José’s bread and butter. If not the referees then it would be opposition managers who are down. If not the injuries and bad luck then it would be a minor section of fans.
The Mourinho zone
José Mourinho is well aware that the Manchester United fans in general have admired his cocksure attitude sitting well with the results. And throughout his career, the brash management has rubbed players and staff the right way for most of the time. All of which has lead to good results and successful and trophy-laden seasons. The patience towards his often random—yet well-concocted in his own mind—accusations of fans not supporting the team the way they should be, will not wear thin as long as United do well on the pitch.
This is not a deviation from the norm. It was Mourinho’s way at Chelsea, at Real Madrid and now at Manchester United. It is a good thing that he is finally in his zone as that suggests he is comfortable about the direction his side is heading.
There are already reports of influential Manchester United fan groups inviting the manager over for concrete discussions to resolve the lack of atmosphere at Old Trafford. Like every big ground across the country, the 75,000 capacity stadium comes alive only for the very important matches where more than 3 points are at stake.
The issue is widespread and needs to be analysed to arrive at immediate and long-term solution. If the manager himself is initiating the conversation and it will most certainly include the fans then things could only get better from here on.