Football news - Why it's time to start taking mischievous Jose Mourinho seriously again
As he cupped his ear in Turin on Wednesday night, Jose Mourinho gave a reminder of why we once loved him. But can his recent conversion be sustained with the Manchester derby coming on Sunday?
Jose Mourinho is back. Maybe not for long, maybe not in any significant sense, but Jose Mourinho is back. Jose Mourinho as we used to know him. The Jose Mourinho who feeds off antagonism not with a scowl on his face but with a glint in his eye. A Mourinho motivated by mischief, not malice.
After his cheeky gesture towards the Juventus fans came gentle digs at the Football Association and Greater Manchester Police during his post-match media duties. His reference, on Swedish TV, to the FA’s bungled attempts to hit him with a misconduct charge based on inaudible comments he made in Portuguese were followed by a cackle as he slid off screen.
Mourinho has been wrapped up in this kind of delirious state far too rarely in recent years. He is always on a permanent war footing of course, always seeking out aggravation to fuel the fire inside him, but rarely does he give the impression that he is enjoying it quite like he used to. On Wednesday, we got the sense that he did again.
This was the Mourinho we grew to love the first time around. Well before his difficult second season at United, before the fractious return to Chelsea, before his spell at Real Madrid when the brutality and intensity of the war he waged to bring down Pep Guardiola seemed to change something inside him, eroding his trademark charm to a withering stump. As it turns out, when he isn’t taking pot shots at female physios or players on paternity leave, he can still be quite likeable. When he isn't finding enemies within his own dressing room, but taking the fight to his enemies outside it, everything makes a lot more sense.
Jose Mourinho reacts during the UEFA Champions League group H football match Juventus vs Manchester United at the Allianz stadium in Turin on November 7, 2018.Eurosport
Mourinho’s stay in Manchester has largely been a story of misery – exuded by Mourinho himself and inflicted on United fans via some turgid football. But in Turin, we had a hint that the story may yet change. As well as the grin splashed across Mourinho’s face, United played with no little enterprise and the manager bent the game to his will with decisive tactical substitutions: Juan Mata came on to score the equaliser and Maroaune Fellaini came on to wreak havoc for the winner.
Manchester United's Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho gestures towards the publicGetty Images
Mourinho, Dybala - Juventus-Manchester United - Champions League 2018/2019 - Getty ImagesGetty Images
That would be a gross exaggeration, but recent improvements cannot be ignored either. Even if Juventus would have been deserved winners on Wednesday night, United produced one of their best performances under Mourinho – certainly one of the most determined and resourceful. Reintegrating Anthony Martial has served as a catalyst for a stylistic upgrade and, remarkably, Mourinho is now speaking as though he has transformed into Arsene Wenger: the rival who was once the antithesis of everything he stood for.
After the win against Juventus, Mourinho seemed to abandon his lifetime mantra that results must always take priority over performance. Now, apparently, he is happy to accept the possibility of defeat if it means his teams are more expressive and entertaining. Yes, really.
“We want to play well, we want to go to every stadium, and it doesn't matter the team, and we play,” he said.
" Then if they are better than us they win, if they have more potential than us, they win, if we make mistakes and pay for the mistakes we lose, but I want the feeling, it doesn't matter where we go, we go to compete. And this is the feeling the Manchester United supporters around the world wants - to have that feeling; switch on the television, and it doesn't matter where we play, they know we are going to compete. We will lose matches, today we could lose, but that feeling of we go to play, we go to try to win."
It was an address which could have been plagiarised from a Pep Guardiola press conference. Which is handy, as Sunday’s Manchester derby against City offers an immediate test of the authenticity of Mourinho’s Damascene conversion. A trip to the Etihad to take on a City side which has scored 12 goals in four days invites a conservative approach, but if Mourinho is true to his word, and tries to recapture the best parts of United’s mythology as he has done his own, then maybe we really should start to take him seriously again.
Tom Adams @tomadams83