Jose Mourinho: From the bizarre to the ridiculous in 36 crazy hours

Jose Mourinho

Even in the tumultuous world of Manchester United, the 36 hours between 08:00 BST on Friday and 20:00 on Saturday were bordering on the unbelievable.

Manager Jose Mourinho went from surly and monosyllabic, straight through the centre of a whirlwind of rumour, speculation and denial, and came out the other side victorious and vindicated.

Quite how long the euphoria lasts, given the next set of fixtures between international breaks includes visits to Chelsea and Manchester City, plus back-to-back Champions League encounters with Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus, is open to debate.

But for now, Mourinho appears to have turned a forlorn Friday turned into a super Saturday.

The stench of defeat on Friday morning

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No official explanation was offered as to why Mourinho decided to hold Friday’s pre-match news conference before facing Newcastle at the unusually early hour of 08:00 BST.

Later in the day, a rumour began to circulate that he had done so because he had to fit in a trip to London where he was going to meet United’s executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, together with his agent Jorge Mendes.

The rumour, it turned out, was false. Mourinho remained in Manchester.

Whatever the reasoning for his early date with the media, there was no positivity in his mood.

Asked two questions about why his team were underperforming after a run of four games without a win, the combined answers totalled four words. Asked whether the run was good enough, he reduced that to three.

And, when quizzed on whether United fans could be assured he was working hard to turn the situation around, he stared straight ahead and said nothing.

There was a stench of defeat about the whole sorry three-and-a-half minutes.

Sacked ‘come what may’

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When a newspaper report emerged late on Friday saying Mourinho was to be sacked over the weekend, no matter what the outcome of the Newcastle fixture, only the timing came as a surprise.

Although United had consistently indicated a preference to stick with the 55-year-old in private, numerous sources had described the atmosphere around the club as “toxic”.

The news vacuum created by the absence of an immediate response from Old Trafford was filled by former Red Devils captain Gary Neville who, qualifying his comments by saying “if the story is true”, then waded in, saying his old club was “rotten to the core” and laying the blame squarely at the feet of executive vice-chairman Woodward.

Others, who have long-standing associations with United, were stunned at how the club appeared to be descending headlong into a mess of its own making.

It was not until early on Saturday that the robust denials filtered out, turning the newspaper’s own words back at them to state that no matter what happened against Newcastle, Mourinho was not going to be ejected.

Singing his name on Saturday

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A bit like a pair of brothers who bicker constantly in private but defend each other to the death against outsiders, United fans traditionally respond to crisis by adopting a siege mentality.

At a pub that stands within the shadow of the Sir Bobby Charlton Stand, beery songs float out constantly from three hours before kick-off. I waited there 15 minutes and after songs celebrating Anthony Martial, Robin van Persie, Georgie Best and Eric Cantona amongst others, I heard Mourinho’s name sung.

It was anticipated that would set the tone for the evening – but Newcastle had other ideas.

Their fast start rocked Old Trafford to its core as the Magpies took a 2-0 lead in at the break. The response from the stands was sporadic, until United’s second-half comeback changed all that.

As Alexis Sanchez raced away to celebrate his 90th-minute winner, Mourinho’s name was sung once more. Loudly. By the whole stadium. He could not have missed it.

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Neither could have executive vice-chairman Woodward, sat in the directors box some way above the manager’s technical area.

It is Woodward who would have to swing the axe should Mourinho’s time as manager be brought to an end.

Mourinho in the raw, kicking every ball

In contrast to recent games, when he looked impotent and out of touch, it was impossible to ignore Mourinho’s behaviour on the sideline.

With his side two goals down, he became almost manic – maybe not Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola manic but, for him, wildly expressive.

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Watching his behaviour – hugging Eric Bailly after he substituted the Ivorian after 18 minutes, waving, urging, complaining – it was impossible to know that much earlier in the day he had received a text from the United hierarchy, telling him to ignore all the speculation around him.

A double fist pump to celebrate Anthony Martial’s equaliser, a hand slammed into the turf when the Frenchman failed to chase back as demanded later on. This was Mourinho in the raw, kicking every single ball.

His reaction to Sanchez’s winner was understated. He needed to scream at Nemanja Matic to come over and get some instruction about how to navigate the five minutes injury time. It was emotion and message at every turn.

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At the final whistle, Mourinho walked towards the tunnel, stopping briefly to shake the hand of old rival Rafael Benitez, before taking the acclaim of the fans, fist clenching and unclenching, occasional wave, occasional applause.

He said: “This is not about me. It is about the football club the fans love. In a match that was very important for us to win, they were absolutely amazing.”

Impossible to pick fact from fiction

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So much has been written about Mourinho and his players over the past few days, it is impossible to pick apart fact from fiction.

Paul Pogba, Martial and Sanchez have been identified as three of the players who have major issues with their manager.

Pogba was outstanding, especially in the second half when he played so deep a reporter referred to him in a post-match question as being part of a back three.

Martial terrorised the Newcastle defence after half-time, dragging United level by finishing off a brilliant interchange with Pogba.

And Sanchez, the £400,000-a-week man, whose performances have been so far short of expectation he started the game on the bench and was the last substitute Mourinho used, headed home the winner to send Old Trafford into raptures.

Did these performances come as payback to the man they have let down? Were they for the fans who help pay their wages? Were they from a sense of personal pride?

Again, it is impossible to know the answer.

Mourinho – and United – can only be grateful they delivered.

He said: “I go to London tonight, if it rains in London tomorrow, it’s my fault. If there is a problem with Brexit, it’s my fault.”

What happens now?

It would be easy to say the pressure on Mourinho has eased but that is not quite the case.

More accurately, he now has some breathing space.

He has a two-week international break to gather his thoughts and come up with a plan for what will be an even more testing period than the one that has just gone.

He faces a three-week spell that starts with a visit to Chelsea and an Old Trafford date with Juventus, and ends with the return trip to Turin and a Manchester derby at City’s Etihad Stadium.

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Should results go badly, the heat will be back on, turned up even higher than it has been before.

Should they go well, Mourinho’s status will be reinforced, underlining why, as he pointed out afterwards, United agreed a contract extension in January with no gun against their head.

Not that he expects even that will bring him respite from the personal criticism he tends to face.

So what would? What would stop the “manhunt” he referred to in a post-match TV interview.

“Nothing,” was the curt reply.

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