A few months ago, there was plenty of speculation surrounding Jose Mourinho’s future at Manchester United.
Reports claimed that the manager was unhappy with Ed Woodward’s lack of ambition in the transfer market and he spoke publicly of his love for Paris, as well as his admiration of what PSG were doing.
Around the same time, he launched a bizarre attack on the fans too, falsely claiming that they weren’t supporting Romelu Lukaku. This lead to plenty of rolled eyes from those inside Old Trafford who had seen this sort of behaviour before, usually just before he got sacked.
Having fallen so far behind Manchester City, there was the suggestion that Mourinho didn’t fancy the challenge of overthrowing Pep Guardiola again, as he did in the Spaniard’s last season at Barcelona, and was ready to put his feet up in France.
However, things have changed considerably since then, with Mourinho putting pen to paper on a contract extension.
We are delighted to announce Jose Mourinho has signed an extension to his contract with #MUFC.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) January 25, 2018
“We made the decision to make it clear to everyone that I am not here for three years, but for four or five, or more,” he said on Thursday.
It was an important gesture from both the club and manager that shows happiness to move forward together from both parties.
With City outspending United in four of the past five transfer windows, Mourinho was understandably frustrated that he was being set up to fail.
Competing with Guardiola is a tough enough task without going in to the battle at a significant disadvantage.
Having signed three of his four priority transfer targets in the summer, the manager played it cool in the press conferences, insisting the club had done all they could, but there was clearly an underlying annoyance. While Guardiola was breaking transfer records to bring in full-backs, United couldn’t even sign the much-needed winger that Mourinho craved in Ivan Perisic, with them unwilling to meet Inter Milan’s demands.
On Boxing Day, Mourinho claimed that United simply hadn’t spent enough to put them in a position to compete, and Ed Woodward clearly took note.
Jose is relishing the opportunity to take #MUFC even further…
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) January 25, 2018
United’s determination to land Alexis Sanchez, at the expense of City, has shown Mourinho that the club are ready to fight back. United are still unlikely to match City’s incredible spending, with them reportedly close to breaking their transfer record for Aymeric Laporte this window, but at least Mourinho is being given the freedom to sign the players he wants.
We have also seen the side of Mourinho that the fans at his club love and rival supporters hate. After Antonio Conte was duped by the media in to believing Mourinho had taken a shot at him, when in fact he was talking about himself, the Italian hit back with the distasteful insult that the United manager had “senile dementia”.
Mourinho’s response was to, as cool as you like, remind the world of Conte’s past of being found guilty of failing to report match-fixing.
Of course, Conte was later cleared of the offence, when his case was pushed through quickly in Italy a few weeks before he led the Italian national team to Euro 2016, but that didn’t stop the Chelsea manager losing the plot like Kevin Keegan and Rafa Benitez had with Sir Alex Ferguson in the past.
He went on a rant calling him a “small man” and a “fake”.
With the fuse lit, Mourinho stepped back and insisted he wouldn’t respond to Conte’s further insults, instead saying he felt nothing but contempt for Conte. In 2018, Chelsea have won once, drawn five and lost once over 90 minutes, although did manage to knock out the 13th ranked side in the Championship, Norwich, on penalties.
By contrast, United have won every game since the spat, suggesting Mourinho gets a new lease of life from beating his opponents off the pitch as much as on it. He’s also uplifted by the players in the squad, claiming this group is his favourite bunch, which says a lot when you consider the great sides he’s managed at Real Madrid, Inter Milan and Chelsea.
“I’m so happy to be the manager of these guys,” he said at the beginning of the season. “During my long career I never had a group that I liked so much, like I like them. I’m really happy to be with them and I’m going to fight with them all the way.”
The supporters are also another reason to keep Mourinho in good spirits, with him insisting he’s never managed a club whose fans have as much passion as United’s.
“Absolutely wonderful fans who I have never seen something like them, in my life,” he said last season. “Because the love that these people have for the club is bigger than the result, is bigger than the success and the trophies. It’s real love, real passion.”
You won’t find many United fans who claim that Mourinho is the perfect fit for the club, but he’s as close as they could get right now. There isn’t anyone better for the job and in the time he’s been in Manchester he’s started to restore some normality.
United are winning trophies, they’re second in the league, they’re back in the Champions League and they’re attracting world-class players. Of course, falling 12 points behind City isn’t the level that any United fan is willing to accept, but at least the club is moving in the right direction again after the disastrous stints of his two predecessors.
If Mourinho wanted an easy life, he wouldn’t be at United and certainly wouldn’t have agreed to stay.
“I am really honoured and proud to be Manchester United manager,” he said on Thursday. “I feel happy. I don’t sign contracts if I’m not happy.”
This buzz is unlikely to last forever, as it never lasts too long with Mourinho, but there is a possibility he’s changed over the years.
Mourinho has the job he’s always wanted and he’s not going to take defeat lying down. Guardiola managed to overturn Conte’s huge 15-point advantage over them from last season, and Mourinho will have his eye on doing the same to City next season.
He’ll have a job on his hands, but that’s what he lives for. He’s a fighter and he’s a winner, and United fans can be glad to have him.