Jose Mourinho appeared to have given up before the season had even started, following Manchester United’s failure to sign the players he had identified as being necessary to improve the team’s title chances.
When he got the job at United, he inherited an inferior squad to that of Pep Guardiola’s at Manchester City, and every season since they have invested considerably more money in strengthening their team. This year, United’s capture of fourth-choice goalkeeper Lee Grant tips the balance in United’s favour by a couple of million for the window, which clearly won’t make up the difference that caused the 19-point gap last season.
What Mourinho would have given to inherit a spine of players like Vincent Kompany, Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva and Sergio Aguero, only to outspend his rivals to further improve the more talented group. His only truly world class player at the time of his appointment was goalkeeper David de Gea.
It’s therefore understandable that, after yet another transfer window in which Ed Woodward failed to allow Mourinho to address the problems with the squad, the manager is frustrated.
However, now the season has started, if he’s decided he can’t compete with City on the pitch, he’s going for them off it, and has started by making digs about his rivals’ newly released documentary.
Mourinho features a few times, most notably when the voice-over compares his “park-the-bus” tactics to Guardiola’s attacking brand, showing footage of City fans chanting about it.
“You can have a fantastic movie while respecting others,” he said in an interview with Sky Sports. “You don’t need to be disrespectful to have a fantastic movie. You can be a rich club and buy the best players in the world but you cannot buy class and they showed that clearly, that was really obvious.”
While Mourinho has a point, the fact that he, a person with a long list of prior misdemeanours that would be described as anything but classy, has riled some. Likely Guardiola is among those, who saw Mourinho poke Tito Vilanova on the touchline.
And Mourinho knows it. Everything he says has a purpose and if he can start getting under the skin of Guardiola, he’ll be happy.
In Friday’s press conference ahead of United’s game against Brighton, Mourinho changed the direction of the media’s questions to again address the documentary.
“Because I am in the movie, I could ask for some royalties,” he said with a smile. “But if they sent me one of the shirts in the tunnel they had when we played there, that said ‘we did it on derby day’, if they sent me one of those, I’d give up on the royalties.”
He was referring to United’s 3-2 win over City at the Etihad, when they had installed fireworks on the roof and had t-shirts printed to celebrate what they thought would be a title-winning game. As it turned out, City squandered their 2-0 lead at half-time and went on to lose.
Mourinho didn’t get enough out of his players on the pitch last season to get the better of Guardiola, so this year he is taking a different approach, and attacking in the pressroom instead.
This was the method Mourinho used in the lead up to his success in the 2011-12 season when his Real Madrid side overthrew Guardiola’s Barcelona, with a La Liga record for points and goals scored. Nobody fancied them at the start of the campaign, with Barcelona winning the league for three years on the bounce, as well as claiming two Champions League titles in that time.
Real Madrid had added £50 million worth of talent to the squad in the summer, outspent by Barcelona who brought Alexis Sanchez and Cesc Fabregas to the team that was already the champions of Spain and Europe.
After months of chipping away at Guardiola the previous season, the Barcelona manager finally lost his rag in a press conference before a meeting between the two clubs.
“In this room, he is the chief, the fucking man,” he said. “In here he is the fucking man and I can’t compete with him. If Barcelona want someone who competes with that, then they should look for another manager.”
Guardiola failed to win just four trophies out of a possible 18 when he was Barcelona’s manager, an incredible return, and three of the four were lost to Mourinho.
With Real Madrid set to win the league in 2012, Guardiola announced that he would not only be leaving Barcelona, but football management entirely.
“I’m drained and I need to fill up,” he said. “Time has taken its toll – I rise each day and don’t feel the same.”
Mourinho can’t take all the credit for Guardiola taking a sabbatical though. His relationship with club president Sandro Rosell certainly contributed to his decision, while the manager himself insisted the reason behind his departure was because he had “no new tactical ideas left”. Yet Mourinho’s presence and success certainly added to Guardiola’s weariness.
Real Madrid had greater resources than United do, so to expect history to repeat itself and for Mourinho to again get the better of Guardiola would likely be wishful thinking by United supporters.
There aren’t many predicting United will win the league this season.
But this fighting talk, reminiscent of the Mourinho of old, has certainly cheered them up and given them renewed hope for the campaign ahead.
Mourinho’s final word on the City documentary? “A movie without me doesn’t sell much. I needed to be there.”
The entertainment may not be there are on the pitch for United fans, which is clearly all that really matters. But as a consolation prize, they’re being given some interest off it, as Mourinho once again uses any means necessary to try to give his team the advantage.