Addressing members of the press after Manchester United’s impressive 4-0 win against West Ham United, José Mourinho chose to be more Daedalus than Icarus when responding to questions about his side’s thumping win. If anyone knows about flying too close to the sun it is Mourinho after experiencing a rough departure at Real Madrid and, more painfully, a ruthless sacking during his second tenure at Chelsea.
“For me, years and years of experience and experience in the Premier League, my feet are on the ground and I am calm, Last season we were also top of the league in the first match and we finished sixth so this means nothing. It just means we played well and confidence levels will be high and now our challenge is to keep this confidence level.”
All the talk centers on José and his second season record; from Porto onwards the 54-year old has won the domestic title in his sophomore campaign. It’s a remarkable statistic. That said, it feels a bit different this time around as Mourinho still needs to attend a somewhat dented reputation.
The scars from his second stint at Chelsea still linger. After all, It was his first real spectacular failure. While Mourinho’s time at Real Madrid may have come to a difficult end, he was allowed to see the season out before departing the Bernabéu.
Mourinho ahead of United’s Premier League opener said
“I want to play West Ham a difficult match, then go to Swansea for another difficult match. I want the Champions League to start. I want, I want, I’m on fire. But I will behave on the touchline, even if the goals are offside,”
The water bottles were the main beneficiaries of Mourinho’s Zen as he gently repositioned them on the sideline, but that competitive fire won’t be far from the surface and for good reason too. If the stars align this season could be the one that helps rehabilitate his reputation.
“Rehabilitation” may seem like an odd description to use given Mourinho’s trophy-laden CV – and that his first season at Old Trafford saw him bring back two pieces of major silverware – but every achievement does seem to come with a caveat. For example, winning the League Cup and Europa League was all well and good, but celebrations were kept to the bare minimum.
Indeed, prior to the Europa League final United refused to contemplate holding an open-top bus parade in the event of victory. Completing the European collection was nice, but the club is in the business of competing for the top domestic and continental prizes not those of a lesser stature. That’s not to mention United’s sixth place finish in the Premier League last season, playing some frustrating football in the process.
There were also whispers about whether Mourinho is passing his sell-by-date, that somehow his methods, though not quite outdated, were being slowly confined to the past, while more progressive coaches emerged. This kind of talk doesn’t sit well with Mourinho, who is far more comfortable setting the agenda for himself. If he has his way at Old Trafford he’ll enjoy a 15-year tenure at the club.
Sunday’s match against West Ham was the first of what he hopes are many ripostes. United swept aside the Hammers with ease. Last season Mourinho may have chosen to protect his side’s one-goal lead, but this time around the intent was there to kill the game off and not to hold what he had. It was a display of speed, verve and skill of which the Old Trafford crowd has craved.
It would not have escaped Jose’s attention that Arsenal displayed familiar frailties despite beating Leicester City on Friday. Nor that Liverpool once again looks vulnerable at the back, not to mention experiencing frustrations in the market, and perhaps most pertinently that Chelsea looks threadbare after a curious summer window.
The Champions opening day defeat to Burnley at Stamford Bridge was a shock, but arguably one of the club’s doing. If Antonio Conte feels constrained by the sporting structure at Chelsea, he probably won’t receive any sympathy from his Portuguese counterpart.
If one were to extrapolate the results of the opening weekend, a dangerous exercise at the best of times, then the main challenges to Mourinho will come from Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur.
This isn’t just a season for the United boss to reunite the Premier League title with the Old Trafford trophy cabinet though. It’s an opportunity to re-write the narrative. Mourinho can still prove his way is effective, while instilling a sense of adventure that United’s traditions demand. There’s the chance to show that at the very least he’s the equal of Pep Guardiola, from a purely coaching sense, Mauricio Pochettino. If, and it is a big IF, Chelsea disappoints, leading to the departure of Antonio Conte, the United boss can point to the sporting structure at Stamford Bridge and claim that there’s a systemic problem at his old club.
In a sense this season is tailor-made for Mourinho as it provides a platform to prove his doubters wrong. It’s a scenario he’ll relish and if there’s a trait the Portuguese shares with Sir Alex Ferguson it’s the desire to stick two fingers up at his detractors.
United’s aim this season is to challenge for the league. The result against West Ham was a statement of intent and should José maintain his second season record then the title will be back at Old Trafford for the first time since the Sir Alex’ halcyon days.
If the stars do align for the United boss then come the middle of May he’ll be lifting the Premier League trophy in front of Old Trafford, winning it for the club he always wanted to manage while restoring his reputation in no uncertain terms.
He could well view the title as his most satisfying in his coaching career. This could be José’s season of redemption.