Jose Mourinho and the art of riling up
There are fewer sights in world football that are more annoying than watching Jose Mourinho flash that smug grin of his, that cold, brooding smile that says "I'm better than you." in a way words can never quite come together. But as annoying as it is, there are fewer things that are more satisfying than it when you are not on the receiving end of it.
A little while past the beginning of the season, it seemed like Mourinho's antics had caught up with him. Manchester United, so used to their glory days under Sir Alex Ferguson that they cannot be pried off their dead hands, long having forgotten their misery under a certain Dutchman and a Scot, were through a bad spell, and all hands pointed to Jose as the culprit.
In a way, it was true.
With Chelsea reinventing themselves under Sarri and Liverpool gegenpressing their way into the hearts of the neutrals, Arsenal gaining some pity from the departure of Arsene Wenger and Manchester City sticking to the Guardiola method of dominating football, Tottenham surprising everyone with an utter lack of new players and still taking United to the cleaners, it was only natural that the Red Devils became the team to be disliked. And one of Mourinho's specialities is his knack for getting the blame.
It happened with Chelsea when the players turned on him. Twice. It happened with Real when he ostracized fan-favorites from the team. It happened once again with United when Paul Pogba, the conquering hero from the WC was made to look like a spoiled brat, given the armband one moment and riding the bench the next, the team looking like Sunday league players one minute and less deserving the other.
A loss against Derby, despite coming off penalties, certainly stung. So did a draw against Wolves. Unlikely losses against Brighton and West Ham did not make things any easier. A drab draw against Valencia, reminiscent of the same tactics against Sevilla last year in the CL that invited the fury of the fans.
Rumours of Zinedine Zidane being handed the job floated up. Jardim's name hit the papers. Even Antonio Conte, fellow Chelsea outcast joined the now-defunct list of names propped up as successors. Fans came out against the Portuguese's style of play or lack thereof. A result-oriented approach to the game looks rather stupid when the results stop coming.
A late resurgence against Newcastle in the league was not enough, even if the second half of the game was the best football United had played all year. A 2-2 draw against Chelsea, more dropping of points, leaving United tottering at places they never want to find themselves in. Then came the loss against Juventus in the CL, a 0-1 loss at home, no biggie.
But what caught the eye of the reporters was Jose Mourinho on the sidelines, his right arm propped up and 3 fingers outstretched at the travelling fans, playing the part of a Katniss Everdeen look-alike, taunting them with all he could.
A throwback to his Internazionale days, resuming old rivalries, lauding the Treble he accomplished with them, goading over Juventus' recent lack of CL trophies. That was Mourinho at his imperial best. The Mourinho who became a sensation in his Chelsea days. The Mourinho that held nothing back, even when he should have.
Two wins in the PL later, United look back on track to set their courses right by the end of the season. They might have started poorly, but recent coming to form of Anthony Martial and Juan Mata - former Mourinho victims who have turned his saviors now.
Yesterday night, Manchester United did the unthinkable.
In the last minute, they turned down a 0-1 deficit against Juventus in their own backyard, following a rowdy and raunchy celebration from Cristiano Ronaldo and turned the tables on the Serie A toppers. And to top it all off, Mourinho did it again.
This time, it was not the three-fingered salute but the hand to an ear, an age-old tradition of asking the crowd to be louder because he couldn't hear them; riling them up with the sign lingo of "Is that all you got?"
It was a scene of delight for the United fans, who have not become accustomed to scenes like this, and to the Inter fans at watching one of their own mock the club they would have mocked.
Amidst all this talk of a gentleman's game, football needs its bad boys too. The strikers who aren't afraid of embellishing contact in pursuit of the next 3 points. The defenders who tow the line between a shoulder push and assault. The holding midfielders who jump into tackles they have no right to. Managers standing on the touchlines and yelling their faces off at referees.
Above all, it needs Mourinho riling up the opposition fans in the way only he can, just because he can. It needs Mourinho smiling smugly at the camera after a victory no one thought he deserved. It needs Mourinho shushing the crowd after being written off.
Because, why not?