By 90Min
May 10, 2018

Love him or loathe him, you can't ignore Manchester United manager José Mourinho. The Portuguese is one of the most successful managers of his generation, with domestic league titles in four different countries and two UEFA Champions Leagues to his name.

Yet few managers inspire quite as much animosity as the self-styled 'Special One'. Partly because he does things like referring to himself as 'the Special One'.

At least no one could accuse him of trying too hard to be liked - and yet, in a weird way, he is actually quite likable.

Look, I'm not denying that Mourinho has his flaws. In fact, let's face it - in some respects, he's pretty awful.

First of all, there's his monumental egotism and tactlessness. Such as when he belittled Manchester United's European pedigree after United's dismal defeat by Sevilla in the Champions League round of 16. He rather smugly pointed out that his own FC Porto and Real Madrid sides had also inflicted early Champions League exits on the Red Devils.

That's right - Mourinho was more interested in preserving his own prestige than in placating his club's justifiably disgruntled fans.

Then there are his snide, mean-spirited little comments about his rivals, such as when he called the great Arsène Wenger a 'specialist in failure'. There's also his lack of magnanimity in defeat, such as when he said 'the best team lost' after losing to Liverpool in the 2005 Champions League semi final.

I'm sure many United fans really don't care about any of these foibles, just as long as Mourinho does a good job for their side. However, it depends what you mean by 'a good job'.

Last season, Mourinho's side won the Europa League - the club's first European trophy in nine years. This season, they're overwhelmingly likely to finish second in the Premier League, plus they've beaten every other side in the top six and have reached the FA Cup final.

Yet the manner of United's victories has left many Red Devils fans deeply uninspired. I recently had an extraordinary conversation with a United fan who wasn't sure how to feel about his side's 2-1 win over Liverpool at Old Trafford, because Mourinho's defensive tactics had taken all the fun out of the win.

Can you believe that? A United fan feeling ambivalent about beating Liverpool! Only Mourinho can alienate his own fans like that. Which brings us to the crux of the Mourinho debate - do the ends justify the means?

Evidently, the powers-that-be at Inter, Real Madrid and Manchester United all said yes - but it's quite likely they did so while holding their noses. I can just imagine being a fly on the wall at United's boardroom before they decided to employ Mourinho:

Suit 1: Sorry, guys. These results just aren't good enough. We're going to have to bring him in.

Suit 2: No... surely you don't mean...

Suit 3: Not the Special One! Nooooooo!

Suit 1 (trying not to cry): I know, but otherwise we'll be stuck in the Europa League forever. Oh, the mediocrity!

Suit 2: But what about Pep? Or Ancelotti?

Suit 1 (openly sobbing): They're not interested.

(The other two suits start crying, too. Eventually, they get their emotions under control.)

Suit 3: He's so obnoxious, though. Urgh! He makes me so angry.

Suit 1: Yes, but he does get results. (Brightens up a bit) Oh, and he'll probably lose interest in three years' time and go somewhere else.

Suit 2: Good point. OK, let's hire him. (Forces a smile) Champions League, here we come!

GLYN KIRK/GettyImages

So yes, in some ways Mourinho is awful - or at least he is in public. And yet - going by what many of his players have said about him, and the loyalty he's inspired in them - it's more than likely he isn't nearly so awful in private.

Also, his reputation for dull, cynical football is only partly deserved - there was nothing tedious about his side's stunning Premier League comeback against Manchester City at the Etihad, which tantalisingly suggested that next season's title race could be a close-run thing.

As for his lack of tact... well, in some ways, it's actually an asset, as his post-match quotes are rarely tedious platitudes. As well as a keen, analytical intelligence, Mourinho has the kind of flair for English turns of phrase which native speakers rarely show - such as when he slammed his own side as 'masters in complication' after their shock defeat by West Brom.


Besides, whether or not you like what he says, it's generally pretty persuasive - as when he defended his preference for Romelu Lukaku in the centre forward position, after Marcus Rashford's ineffectual display in that role in the recent defeat against Brighton.

Some would see Pep Guardiola's rivalry with Mourinho as a kind of battle between football and anti-football, high ideals and cynicism, Mr 'Win With Style' against Mr 'Win at All Costs' - and there is an element of truth to this, although it does possibly give Pep a little too much credit. It seems unlikely that the Catalan could have been so successful without ever resorting to the dark arts of the Beautiful Game.

Even if Pep really is the good guy and José's the villain, surely that's all the more reason to keep Mourinho in the Premier League? We can sit back and enjoy a fascinating battle between two opposites who are at the very pinnacle of their profession, a clash of personalities and styles. It's a bit like the 1970 FIFA World Cup final, between Brazil's masters of attack and Italy's masters of defence - which, by the way, was one of the greatest finals of all time.

Perhaps, rather than being the hero and the villain, Guardiola and Mourinho are more like Yin and Yang, two opposites who complement each other - maybe they even keep each other honest. In any case, if and when either of them leaves the Premier League, it will inevitably be a far duller place.

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