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Jose Mourinho: A man past his peak?

Jimit Bafna
CONTRIBUTOR
Feature
983   //    14 Nov 2018, 23:51 IST

Chelsea v Manchester City - FA Cup Semi Final
Chelsea v Manchester City - FA Cup Semi Final

"We are winning the league" - that was the reaction from Chelsea fans after Jose Mourinho's appointment was confirmed by Chelsea. Considering the fact that the man had always been a serial winner, he was envied by the Chelsea fans and hated and craved by the fans of other Premier League clubs.

When he left Chelsea in 2007 after his relationship with Roman Abramovich (Chelsea owner and Russian oligarch) turned sour, Mourinho seemed to give off a sense of unfinished business.

He had won everything that was available domestically. The only trophy missing in his Chelsea trophy cabinet was the Champions League title, which was the biggest desire of Roman Abramovich and the Chelsea fans.

Fast forward to 2013, and Mourinho's Real Madrid had lost the Spanish league title to Barcelona and the Copa Del Rey final to their arch-rivals Atletico Madrid. Mourinho himself acknowledged the 2012-13 season as "the worst season" of his career, and considering that he had seemingly lost the dressing room as well, it was expected that a change in managerial position was imminent at Real Madrid.

His contract was terminated by a mutual agreement, and he was immediately appointed as the Chelsea Manager.

Mourinho's Real Madrid stint was still considered a good one; he had stopped a dominant Barcelona side from winning the Spanish League in 2012 and the Copa Del Rey in 2011, which meant that Barcelona's hopes of a second treble in three years were all but over. Again, he had won everything that was domestically available in his three years at Madrid. He had achieved something similar in his two years at the Italian club Inter Milan, where he had also won the first ever treble in the club's history.

In his previous full year stints with Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid, Mourinho had either won the league or finished second. Nothing less than that was considered acceptable by him, and he won at least one trophy every season at each of the clubs (in 2012-13 Mourinho had won Spanish Super Cup, defeating Barcelona).

In his second stint at Chelsea, Mourinho failed to win the league in his first year; he suffered his first home defeat as a Chelsea manager to Sunderland, which all but ended his team's title hopes. Mourinho had previously stated that it was a transitional period and that winning the league would be difficult in the first season itself, but the fact remained that he had gone trophy-less for the first time in his career since his Uniao De Leiria days.

Enter the second season, and the least that was expected from Mourinho was a league title - considering that he had always delivered the league title in his second season at each of his clubs, right from Porto to Real Madrid. And he duly delivered the league title along with the Capital One Cup, defeating Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 in the final.

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Mourinho's team were always built on a strong defense, being pragmatic in their tactical approach and always playing a reactive and defensive game. But things started going awry after that successful 2014-15 season.

In the third season of his second stint Mourinho was sacked before Christmas as Chelsea lost nine out of 16 Premier League games and were knocked out by Stoke City in the League Cup on penalties. He had failed to win everything domestically in his second stint, the way he had in his first.

Chelsea fans felt that certain players had sabotaged the season, and were responsible for the sacking of Mourinho. But there was more to it than that, which was confirmed by his appointment as the manager of Manchester United in 2016.

Manchester United Officially Introduce Jose Mourinho as Their New Manager
Manchester United Officially Introduce Jose Mourinho as Their New Manager

As the United boss, Mourinho brought in players like Eric Bailly, Paul Pogba (a world record transfer at that time) and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. These were the best players in their positions in their respective league, and cost close to £140 million; Mourinho had sell players like Memphis Depay and Morgan Schneiderlin in the process.

He won his first trophy as a Manchester United manager at the Community Shield, defeating Leicester City. In the same season he also won the EFL Cup, becoming the first manager in Manchester United history to win a trophy in the first season itself.

Mourinho also went on to win the Europa League, which maintained his record of never losing a European final. But even though he had won two trophies, it was still not considered a considerable improvement from the previous season under Louis Van Gaal, under whom United had won the FA Cup and finished fifth in the League.

In Mourinho's first season, United finished sixth in the league, 24 points behind the winners Chelsea, his previous club against whom Manchester United had lost 4-0 at Stamford Bridge. He also confronted Antonio Conte, the Chelsea manager at that time, for allegedly winding up the Stamford Bridge crowd - which led to friction with Chelsea fans during his next visits at there.

Watford v Manchester United - Premier League
Watford v Manchester United - Premier League

But the United fans still considered the season as a good one, looking at it as a period of rebuilding. They thought that if certain departments were addressed, they could challenge for the title next season - that would be Mourinho's second season, in which he had always delivered the league title.

In the summer transfer window, United signed players like Romelu Lukaku, with the former Chelsea striker Nemanja Matic arriving from Chelsea and Victor Lindelof arriving from Benfica. The spending in the summer of 2017-18 season was again approximately £140 million.

The season started with a bang with United winning the first three games in the Premier League, scoring 10 goals in the process and conceding none. This was considered as a positive sign; Mourinho bringing in his hallmark defensive stability, which was missing last season, could only be good news.

But United lost their first points in the league away to Stoke City, drawing 2-2, and then lost to Huddersfield away 2-1 which drifted them away from the league leaders Manchester City. After the loss to Manchester City at home, Mourinho all but conceded the title. Even the signing of Alexis Sachez in January was not enough to challenge for the Premier League.

United finished the season second, but a record 19 points behind Manchester City, which again confirmed the difference in class between the two clubs. Even though United had finished second for the first time since the Alex Ferguson Era, the loss to Chelsea in the FA Cup final brought in more criticism about Mourinho's reign at Old Trafford.

This was the first final that he had lost in England, and the first time he had failed to win a trophy in his second season at a club since 2003.

Ed Woodward, the executive vice-chairman and major decision maker at Manchester United, put his faith in Mourinho for the 2018-19 season, insisting on his long term vision for the club. However, no major signings were made other than Fred from Shakhtar Donetsk, unlike the previous season where major cash had been splashed.

This season, after 12 games played so far, United have won six, drawn two and lost four, in the process conceding 21 goals - one more than they have scored. They have failed to keep a clean sheet in 11 of the 12 games, which is not what you would expect of a Jose Mourinho team. They also got knocked out on penalties by Derby County, managed by Frank Lampard.

Even though Mourinho's team have shown glimpses of form, almost winning against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and defeating Juventus away, the recent defeat to Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium highlighted the difference a manager can make with a proper system and process in place.

Juventus v Manchester United - UEFA Champions League Group H
Juventus v Manchester United - UEFA Champions League Group H

Mourinho has never gone beyond a third season at a club, but the performance of his team in November and December will define whether he will be able to complete the third season - let alone the season beyond this. It can be said that unless Mourinho comes out with something extraordinary, his best days in England are past him.


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