In football, Jose Mourinho is the definitive griefer.
While “griefing” is term recently coined for online gaming, the act itself – sabotaging a game by using aspects of it in unintended ways to anger other competitors – is nothing new. There have always been those who sought to poke holes in any set of rules, either to gain an advantage, or to ensure others don’t succeed, or just to show their cleverness.
While Mourinho’s signature achievements have been with Porto and Inter as European underdogs, the prime example of his griefing credentials is his Chelsea side’s victory at Anfield in 2014.
Mourinho’s Blues turned the league title race upside down with a coolly efficient performance in that white-hot Merseyside atmosphere, despite having little to play for.
Jose revelled in the role of spoiler, celebrating shamelessly as Liverpool saw the Premier League trophy slip (yes, slip) from their grasp.
Media distractions, touchline confrontations, gaming referees and opponents, these are not unique to Mourinho, but he deploys them so well that he outstrips other managers in the dark arts.
The risk is when this destructive brilliance turns inward at the clubs Mourinho manages.
Alex Ferguson passed on the Portuguese coach when choosing his successor, but Ed Woodward and the Glazers chose to ignore any concerns when approaching Mourinho to replace Louis Van Gaal.
They calculated that Mourinho, for all his flaws, is a winner, and Manchester United’s brand is winning. Under David Moyes and Van Gaal, United could’ve been found in breach of the Trade Descriptions Act on that count.
Almost two years later, Mourinho has been given the resources to make a league title challenge and a run in the Champions League. Neither hasn’t happened, however, with rivals City strolling to the league title, while United have crashed out of Europe, lacking fluency up front and conceding ridiculous goals.
The worry now is Mourinho’s ability to prod and irritate opponents turns towards those he sees as responsible for poor results: his players.
We’ve already endured the spectacle of Luke Shaw, returning from a brutal leg-break, being scapegoated last season.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Bundesliga player of the year in 2015/16, was mishandled after his signing for United. Trading him for Alexis Sanchez has softened the criticism Mourinho deserves for the Armenian’s failure, but Sanchez is yet to perform since the move.
At Chelsea and Real Madrid, Mourinho used the likes of Juan Mata and Pedro Leon as pawns in his power struggles within both clubs.
Now, he has taken aim at United’s record signing Paul Pogba, whose deployment as a defensive midfielder raises more questions about the manager than it does the player.
The Frenchman has never looked like Mourinho’s player, and doubts linger as to whether he was a Jose or Ed signing.
Substituted and dropped in recent months, and not playing at the level fans would’ve expected following his move from Juventus, Pogba’s future at United looks uncertain just 18 months after rejoining the club.
The pattern of mismanagement around these players raises questions about the future for United.
Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial are two bright spots in Mourinho’s uninspiring tenure. Sanchez is electrifying and cause for hope as well.
These talents may count for little if not supported by a manager who often leaves destruction in his path.
Financially, United can handle any fallout, but, in football terms, they could suffer lasting damage as their rivals grow.