Loved and loathed in almost equal measure, Jose Mourinho’s arrival at Old Trafford was viewed by the Manchester United hierarchy as the man to once again bring the glory days back to the Theatre of Dreams, which has not enjoyed much happiness since the departure of their long-serving manager, Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013.
The Scotsman, who revived a fallen giant during his 27-year reign as United supremo, also struggled in his early years at the Theatre of Dreams with reports suggesting that Red Devils’ bigwigs had lost faith in him and were going to sack him when he got his lucky break in 1990 landing his first trophy – the FA Cup.
Of course as they say the rest is history as Sir Alex went on to amass 38 major trophies giving United faithful an almost constant yearly dose of glory. However, since his retirement the Red Devils has tried three managers with none yet able to recapture those giddy heights.
And an indication of how high the now 75-year-old Scotsman had raised the bar, even Louis van Gaal’s FA Cup triumph in 2016, (the club’s first silverware since Sir Alex left) was still not enough to save his job – he was sacked 48 hours later and in his place came the self-styled ‘Special One’.
Of course the decision to turn to the Portuguese tactician was quite understandable by the Old Trafford bigwigs – he has a very impressive track record having won domestic titles in four countries: Portugal, England, Italy and Spain.
He has also handled some of the biggest clubs in world football, including Inter Milan, Real Madrid and Chelsea, which meant he will not be fazed in handling the massive egos most players in big clubs usually have. But perhaps most tellingly – he was not a novice to the demanding nature of the English Premier League having won the diadem three times with Chelsea.
In fact he even made history when as a young 41-old he arrived Stamford Bridge in 2004 and at his very first press conference said: “Please don’t call me arrogant, but I’m European champion and I think I’m a special one,” which resulted in the media dubbing him “The Special One”.
He then went on to immediately confound the so called pundits, who predicted that he would struggle in England by winning the title in his very first attempt. And in ensuring Chelsea secured their first top-flight domestic title in 50 years, Mourinho also set a string of English football records in the process, including the most points ever achieved in the Premier League (95) and the fewest goals conceded (15).
For good measure he then followed it up by successfully defending his title the following season before a falling out with Chelsea owner, Roman Abramovich saw him leaving the Blues before the end of his three-year contract on September 20, 2007 “by mutual consent”.
He left as the most successful manager in Chelsea history. He then popped up at Inter in June 2008 and immediately won the Supercoppa Italiana, beating Roma on penalties and finished top of Serie A. However, he had a disappointing outing in the Champions League losing to Manchester United in the first knock-out round.
However, the following season he retained the Serie A title but still fell short in the Champions League. But in his third season he made history when his Inter not only swept the domestic trophies – league and cup; but also finally triumphed in the Champions League. After achieving this impressive feat, Mourinho then headed for undoubtedly his biggest challenge – to Spain to manage Real Madrid, which was desperate to end Barcelona’s dominance. And the task he faced became clearer when on November 29 2010 he was hammered 5-0 in his first Clasico encounter against Barcelona.
Afterwards Real Madrid director Florentino Perez said it was the worst game in the history of Real Madrid. By his second season the Portuguese had come to grips with his task and went on to set records for most games won in a La Liga season (32), most away wins (16), most points obtained in any of the top European leagues (100), improving the most goals scored record they already had set earlier (121) and finishing the season with the highest goal difference (+89). Real Madrid topped the league nine points clear of runners-up Barcelona.
However, despite signing a four-year contract extension in 2012, Mourinho’s increasing fractional relationship with the media and his failure to get Madrid to do well in Europe meant that he again left another club by “mutual agreement”, a year after signing a contract extension to 2016. Mourinho surprised many by returning to Stamford Bridge in June 2013, signing a four-year contract, promising to once again bring back the glory days to the Bridge.
He, however, fell short in his first season as his Chelsea went on to finish third in the 2013–14 Premier League, four points behind champions Manchester City. By the second season he made good his promise by ensuring Chelsea were crowned Premier League champions after beating Crystal Palace with three games to spare. Mourinho was subsequently named as Premier League Manager of the Season, with Chelsea losing just three matches all season. Unfortunately the wheels fell off in dramatic fashion the third year into his fouryear contract when the team that had won the title in imperious fashion the previous year was now flirting with relegation! On December 17, 2015, after losing nine of 16 Premier League matches, Chelsea announced that they had parted company with Mourinho “by mutual consent”.
Mourinho finally landed one of his agelong ambitions when Manchester United appointed him manager in May last year finally drawing the curtains on one of football’s worst kept secrets. But he has not had the same impact many had thought he would at the Theatre of Dreams with United finishing outside the four Champions League spot in the league and now relying on victory in Wednesday’s Europa Cup final against Ajax to save his season.
For many, including this writer, Mourinho is yet to prove that he is the right man for the Red Devils and beyond winning in Stockholm (where the Europa final is taking place), he still needs to get United playing the attractive attacking football we expect from those wearing the famous red jerseys.
And until he is able to achieve that he will never really win over Manchester United fans after all the man he replaced finished fifth in his last season, while Mourinho’s side will finish a place below this. However, the hurt of this lowly finish will be somewhat mitigated should his Stockholm gamble pay off – millions of United fans are also waiting!