Jose Mourinho's Manchester United tenure: As it will surely unfold
Jose Mourinho's story arcs at each club he goes to have become eerily similar and repetitive. A first act full of rejuvenation and promise, one that's followed by a title-winning second act and then a third act where it all goes awry and falls apart. And then he moves on to the next stop.
As Mourinho–after a series of stops, stalls, rumors and reported appointments–moves to Manchester United and takes over from the ousted Louis van Gaal at Old Trafford on a three-year deal, we look ahead at how his reign may pan out in great detail, based on the blueprint he has provided over the last decade.
A clean-shaven Mourinho arrives at Old Trafford, looking relaxed in a well-cut suit. He insists that he is a happier, mellower character these days, and claims that at his age he is ready to settle down. He charms and intrigues, insists that his rivalry with the Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has always been overplayed and wishes Antonio Conte well at Chelsea.
There are a number of big-name signings, although Mourinho maintains a plausible deniability as to whether he has actually initiated the moves. He will hint at various junctures that he never really rated those who fail. This is a new squad, he insists, just a poor little horse making its arduous way in the Grand National of the Premier League. United beats Leicester City to win the Community Shield and Mourinho is gracious in victory, congratulating Claudio Ranieri on last season while making it clear that he thinks it was a one-off.
Juan Mata is a fitful presence, occasionally dazzling but never really nailing down a first-team place. He is sold to Everton in January. Daley Blind makes a high-profile mistake at the beginning of September and disappears before resurfacing to be sold to Valencia.
Marcus Rashford, having come off the bench to score the winner in an early league game, slowly drifts from the picture and is loaned to Bolton. Anthony Martial drops deeper and deeper, works harder and harder and eventually, in March, in a game in which he doesn’t score or create a goal but registers five tackles, earns a word of praise from Mourinho. Jesse Lingard, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Timothy Fosu-Mensah are never heard of again.
United finishes the 2016-17 season third, having only ever been on the fringe of the title race. Mourinho is scathing of the Europa League, using it to prove the academy products aren’t up to it, but United still makes it to the quarterfinals where it is beaten by a Sevilla side on its way to a fourth straight title. United wins the League Cup, but goes out of the FA Cup in a ferocious quarterfinal away to Manchester City. The first glint of mischief appears in Mourinho’s eye as he suggests that the best referees should also be appointed in secondary competitions.
The recruitment drive goes on so only Martial, Wayne Rooney and David De Gea remain from Van Gaal’s squad. A lightly stubbled Mourinho expresses wonder that United, now the richest team in the world after another wave of lucrative noodle endorsements, can even be considered title challengers. Even at the end of September, by which time it has won eight league games in a row without conceding a goal, he is insisting that his little horses aren’t really in the race. Why, he asks, is everybody against him? Why is the press focusing on the no goals conceded, rather than the 10 goals scored?
United effectively wraps up the title in February by beating the champion City 1-0 in an apocalyptic derby in which four players are sent off and Pep Guardiola, finally cracking after 18 months of needle, is left so angry that he cannot speak for a week.
Mourinho, relishing his success, speaks with faux-sympathy of the pressures at the top and feigns surprise that Germany has a professional league.
The league season has become a procession, but United looks increasingly weary towards its end. It goes out of the League Cup to Liverpool in the semifinal when goal-line technology in the second leg at Anfield determines that Rooney was behind the line when he punched away a deflected shot from Adam Lallana. Mourinho suggests that machines have always been out to get him and points out that, unlike certain managers, his hair is all his own. There is an inexplicable home defeat in the FA Cup to Oxford United and then a Champions League quarterfinal defeat to Chelsea.
“These are my horses,” Mourinho says. “I trained them too well.”
Mourinho has been strangely prickly on the preseason tour of China and turns up at Wembley for the Community Shield in a sloppy tracksuit and with a full beard. Before the game against the FA Cup-winners Arsenal, he is asked about his rivalry with Arsene Wenger, but insists he’s never heard of him. When Theo Walcott gets the winner, there is much talk of the impact the prospect could make at Euro 2020.
On the opening day of the season, United draws at home against Hull City. Mourinho is furious at the shade of red in United’s new shirts and attacks the kitman, ignoring his arguments that it has nothing to do with him. The kitman is demoted to tying shoelaces with the Under-10s and quits, suing for constructive dismissal.
Odd leaks emerge from the United dressing room. Mourinho makes the players boil their own eggs. He has banned toast as a late-night snack. The players liked the kitman, who used to give them investment advice. When Rooney is substituted at halftime in a draw at West Bromwich Albion, there are rumors that Mourinho has lost the dressing room. Mourinho suggests others at the club pull their weight and hints that he didn't want any of that summer's five £80 million signings.
Defeat follows defeat. United loses to Sunderland, to Leicester and to Everton. It is in the bottom half of the table. As thunder crackles around Salford, United loses 1-0–a disputed penalty–in the Champions League group stage to Barcelona, which has re-appointed Guardiola after his tearful exit from City. After weeks of speculation, Mourinho is directing the ground manager to turn the sprinklers off the celebrating Barca players when he receives a text from his wife telling him there are reports he’s been sacked. Ed Woodward has vanished, changing his phone number.
The appointment of Rafa Benitez as his successor comes as the final indignity. As Mourinho angles for other jobs in the Premier League, Juan Mata begs Everton to stick with Manuel Pellegrini.