In a way, the scenes at the end of Derby County’s Carabao Cup win over Manchester United on Tuesday night were evocative of Jose Mourinho’s first visit to Old Trafford all those years ago. Frank Lampard might not have sprinted down the touchline when Phil Jones’ penalty kick was saved, but there was a similar sort of spirit to his celebrations in front of the thousands of delirious away supporters.
Of course, the buzz felt by Lampard in making the fourth round of the competition didn’t just come from toppling one of the biggest, most illustrious clubs in world football, but from bettering his former master too. The careers of Lampard and Mourinho are intertwined and now their common thread has taken another twist with the result pulled off by the Rams on Tuesday night.
This was the second time in just a few days that a former player of Mourinho’s had left Old Trafford with something to show for their courage. Last Saturday, it was Wolves, coached by former Porto goalkeeper Nuno Espirito Santo, who visited the famous old ground, coming away with a 1-1 draw. It might have been more were it not for the brilliance of David De Gea.
The fact that two former players have come to Old Trafford this past week and left with Mourinho’s dignity in hand won’t sit well with the Man United manager. It’s been apparent for quite some time that Mourinho’s methods are becoming out-dated, edging the Portuguese closer and closer to Arsene Wenger-like status as the Premier League’s elder, but ultimately irrelevant, statesman, but now it appears that even his disciples are leaving him behind.
All great managers have their disciples. The impact of revered coaches can be measured by their rippling influence on the game, not just spawning philosophies, but followers. Johan Cruyff, for instance, still has disciples to this day, with the likes of Louis Van Gaal and Pep Guardiola counted among his apostles. Sir Alex Ferguson was a luminary too. Towards the end of his Man Utd tenure it wasn’t uncommon for him to face a former player of his, now a manager, every second week. A track record of working under Fergie was often enough to get a coach in the door – look at how Steve McClaren became England manager.
Guardiola, in time, will spawn disciples, with Man City assistant Mikel Arteta already being touted for top jobs. Mourinho, a few years Guardiola’s senior, is now coming into competitive contact with his own followers, with Nuno and Lampard in management jobs. Others, like Xabi Alonso and John Terry, will soon follow as they enter the world of coaching.
However, where Mourinho might differ from luminaries who have preceded him is in his longevity. Cruyff went out as the ultimate footballing philosopher, with Ferguson retiring as perhaps the greatest manager of all time, a winner right until the very last moment. Mourinho, on the other hand, is now suffering the pains of his own decline, humiliated by forces he helped create.
There’s still time for Mourinho to reverse the narrative and write a glorious final chapter to what will go down as one of the most comprehensive management volumes. This season will be crucial in determining how the once special one will be remembered by a sport with an acute recency bias. Time is running out with every passing game, every passing draw or defeat.
Lampard and Nuno have struck blows to their former boss, but both coaches will want this just to be the start of their own respective premierships. In football, it’s rare that an original ideology is ever improved on, but might one of Mourinho’s disciples build on his teachings to forge something even bigger and better? These two have at least made a good start on that.