Manchester United’s new manager could well have had a very contrasting career had events panned out a little differently. That early March evening back in 2004 saw Jose Mourinho’s first ever match at Old Trafford and if truth be told, it could well have been his last had Paul Scholes’ second goal not been incorrectly ruled out for offside. Mourinho, who was a youthful 41 years old at the time, hurled himself out of the dugout in joyful celebration and headed to the away fans following Costinha’s late equaliser.
He has done it all his career; going to an away ground, setting up his side up to counteract the opposition and get a result. With United travelling to in form Liverpool tomorrow night, the Portuguese will need to rely on his years of experience to leave Anfield with all three points and send out a marker to the rest of the league, Europe and – most importantly of all for Mourinho – his doubters.
Make no mistakes, Jose Mourinho is under pressure this season at United – not just to deliver silverware at a club still in recovery following the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, but to prove to all in football that he still has what it takes to be considered a world class manager. The United boss has left his previous two club under controversial circumstances. Real Madrid should have been his dream job following his second European Cup win with Inter Milan in 2010, but it turned into a nightmare – with open clashes with players, a public loathing for Pep Guardiola and Barcelona whilst winning a solitary league title (he also won the Copa del Rey and the Supercopa).
History shows us that Mourinho isn’t used to picking up a single league title in three years at a club, but was of course up against what is generally considered the greatest club side of all time. His time at Chelsea was abruptly cut short following a horrendous defence of the 2015 league title and off field conduct, which ultimately resulted in his dismissal. He was quite lucky in the 2013/14 season as Chelsea were way off the leaders Liverpool and eventual winners Manchester City, however – the two times European Cup winner was given that additional time to challenge the following season. Chelsea were by far the best team in 2014/15 and in Eden Hazard had a player capable of winning any game by himself. Fast-forward six months and the Portuguese was sacked in an unbelievable turnaround of events.
There is no question Mourinho has it all to prove at Old Trafford, not just for the the club that have hired him for his services, but to strengthen his place in history amongst the managerial greats. Mourinho is one of only a few managers to have lifted the European Cup with two different clubs, no manager in history of the game has lifted the trophy with three different clubs. Of course, Manchester United are a long way off any sort of suggestion the club could compete for top European honours, however – it is an accolade that Mourinho will no doubt be yearning for. Only Bob Paisley and more recently Carlo Ancelotti have won the title three times in their careers. It was once a question of “when” the Portuguese would lift another European Cup – but his powers have waned in comparison to that of pre-Madrid.
With this in mind, Mourinho is still the master of picking up a result when it would appear everything is against him. Jurgen Klopp has instilled a high pressing energetic strategy at Liverpool, reminiscent of the style he enforced as Borussia Dortmund’s commander and chief. They picked up some big wins already this season and with United’s patchy form, the home side will fancy closing the gap on league leaders Manchester City by picking up all three points. Of course, United won at Liverpool last season, which was more of a smash and grab than a victory for the tactical nous of Louis van Gaal. Mourinho has taken his sides to some of the biggest European cauldrons of hate and has come out victorious.
His defensive setup in the 3-2 aggregate win over Barcelona in the second leg at the Nou Camp, bordered on the age old catenaccio but got the result that put the Nerazzurri in the final of the Champions League. The iconic celebration, which no doubt is one of the reason many fans loathe Mourinho, was a message to the world (and no doubt his former employers who decided to opt for Pep Guardiola instead of him in 2008) about the achievement we had all just witnessed. Inter easily dismantled Bayern Munich in the final and (post final) there is footage of Mourinho emotionally embracing a crying Marco Materazzi at the treble they’d just won hours earlier. Mourinho is tactically astute to go an get result anywhere in the world, but that respect he receives from his players is down to the leadership he instils as the boss. Players, including Zlatan Ibrahimovic, put their bodies on the line for the Portuguese and his man management is crucial to whether his side will be victorious. There is no doubt he lost the changing rooms at Real Madrid and Chelsea at the end.
The United boss will remember the 2-0 victory over Monday’s opposition in April 2014 as manager of Chelsea. This in turn dented Liverpool’s title hopes and Manchester City went on to win the league. Earlier in the season, Mourinho went to City and did a number on Manuel Pellegrini’s men – winning 1-0, when the home side were clear favourites. If there is any manager capable of picking up a big victory at an arch rival’s ground, it is Mourinho and although his stint is only beginning at Manchester United – he will be well aware that the trophies that flowed so easily in the first half of his managerial career haven’t been quite so free flowing post 2010.