After what feels like an eternity (par for the course with any lousy international break) the Premier League finally returns this weekend.
And what a cracker we have in store to kick things off. Chelsea host Manchester United at Stamford Bridge in Saturday’s early game, in a match that is laced with subplots: Can Chelsea emphatically prove why they are one of the title favourites? Will Manchester United demonstrate the same fighting spirit they had in their comeback win against Newcastle? Who will win the battle between the scintillating Eden Hazard and… erm… Victor Lindelof?
But of course, the overarching narrative of the game is predictably fixed around Red Devils boss Jose Mourinho. To say the Portuguese has had a somewhat troubled season thus far would be the biggest understatement since someone said, “Those ‘football’s coming home’ memes are getting a bit annoying, aren’t they?”
Indeed, rumours remain that Jose could be in line for the chop if his charges fall to defeat at his former club – and the pre-match statistics don’t make comfortable reading for him in that regard.
United have not won any of their last eight visits to Chelsea, losing seven of those.
And it’s even uglier for Mourinho, who has lost all three of his Stamford Bridge returns as United manager by an aggregate scoreline of 6-0.
So how did it come to this for Jose, the man who single-handedly changed the face of English football (for the smugger) when he arrived at Chelsea in the summer of 2004?
We’ve dusted off the Paddy Power microscope and put Mourinho’s career under it to break down his journey, trophy by trophy and sacking by sacking…
Stage One: The Special One
The Portuguese breezed into Chelsea with a swagger never before seen in a Premier League manager and uttered those famous words, I am a Special One, simultaneously branding himself and making a football-shaped rod for his own back.
As much as he sounded like a complete bellend, he had a point. Having won the UEFA Cup and Champions League in consecutive years with Porto, his run of success continued in West London.
His Chelsea team broke the record for most wins in a season as they cruised to the Premier League title in his debut season, and they retained it the following year.
He also scooped the FA Cup, two League Cups and a Community Shield during his three-and-a-half years there.
But Mourinho’s inimitable style of going out of his way to play mind games / make enemies / be a total pr*ck (delete as appropriate) garnered him just as many headlines – most notably accusing his nemesis Arsene Wenger of being a “voyeur”.
That attitude stretched to the Chelsea boardroom too and, following a series of disagreements with owner Roman Abramovich amid a faltering start to the season, Mourinho was sacked by Chelsea in September 2007.
Stage Two: The Difficult Champion
Mourinho was back in work the following summer, this time in charge of Italian giants Inter Milan, and he brought some of that “special” quality with him.
He won Serie A and the Italian Super Cup in his maiden season, while his second and final campaign in Italy brought yet more major success. Securing Serie A, the Coppa Italia and the Champions League ensured Mourinho made Inter the first Italian team in history to win the treble.
Despite another packed trophy cabinet, his reputation as a troublemaker perhaps grew even more than his ability to win trophies – albeit terribly boringly. In his two years at Inter, he developed major feuds with Carlo Ancelotti, Luciano Spaletti, Claudio Ranieri, Marcelo Lippi, Fabio Cannavaro, the entirety of the Italian press, the Italian Football Federation, all the country’s referees, and probably even his dog walker and kids’ nannies.
Mourinho’s antagonistic “qualities” – which were to become an increasingly blatant problem in his career – were sharpened up as he joined Real Madrid in summer 2010. It was here things started to change for the worse.
Stage Three: The Eye Gouger
“If you don’t coach Real Madrid, you will always have a gap in your career,” stated Mourinho ahead of his move to the Bernabeu. In hindsight, he must sometimes wonder if he should’ve bothered at all. Yes, he may have won another three trophies – La Liga, the Copa del Rey and the Super Cup – but the general public’s outlook to the Portuguese really started to change during his time in Spain.
Beforehand, people could just about get on with his negative style of play and incendiary management schtick as it was delivering results. But Real Madrid fans are famously demanding and used to blistering attacking football from galacticos, and Mourinho’s inherently negative approach went against that. Despite the occasional heavy scoreline, they simply weren’t winning with enough style. The Spanish press also had no time for Jose’s increasingly erratic outbursts.
But when Mourinho gouged Barcelona assistant manager Tito Vilanova in the eye during his team’s Super Cup defeat against their old rivals, Jose crossed had crossed a line. “He firmly believes he was defending the interests of Real Madrid,” explained his spokesman as he ruled out any apology.
Did Madrid really want someone who goes around poking eyeballs as the figurehead of their club? Not for longer than 12 months, anyway, after which he was sent packing with a very healthy pay-off.
Stage Four: The Physio Botherer
It’s here we see Mourinho really speed up his decline. In his first season back at Stamford Bridge, he spent the first few months picking on two-time Chelsea player of the season Juan Mata to stamp his authority on the squad, criticising the Spaniard for not working hard enough.
Luke Shaw, if you’re reading this – sound familiar? After guiding the Blues to another title in 2014/15, Jose was rewarded with a bumper new four-year contract. Cue Operation Bumper Payout being initiated instantly.
In the opening game of their title defence, Mourinho had a blazing row with the club’s physio team – notably Eva Carneiro – after they raced on to the pitch to treat Eden Hazard for a suspected head injury. Mourinho, who appeared to be prioritising points over player safety, was furious as this wasted time as Chelsea sought a winning goal.
Following the game, the match-day medical team were relieved of their duties, causing a split between the dressing room and manager. It led to a series of dismal performances, with Chelsea languishing around the relegation zone in December having lost nine of their 16 league games.
Jose was dismissed and sent on his way with an £8m compensation package, which must have been given to him in the form of those novelty over-sized lottery cheques.
Stage Five: The Outdated One
Presumably to prevent him breaking down in tears again, Mourinho was finally given the Manchester United job he so desperately craved in 2016.
In many ways, this stage has encompassed the best and worst of all the preceding ones. In his first season, he had an awkward reunion with Juan Mata, singled out Henrikh Mkhitaryan as his player to victimise, was charged by the FA for his comments about referees and won both the League Cup and Europa League. In his second season, United had nothing to show under the Portuguese other than growing discontent of the team’s style of play.
Ticked all of those boxes on your Mourinho bingo card yet?
So, that brings us right up to speed to this season. We’re just a couple of months into it and we already find ourselves in peak Mourinho third-season syndrome. His outdated approach on and off the field has led to fan discontent, a major falling out with United’s star man (and shortest ever serving vice captain) Paul Pogba, and a seemingly unmotivated squad.
Unsurprisingly, this has led to one of the club’s worst ever starts to a league season, with three defeats in their opening eight games. Had it not been for a remarkable comeback against Newcastle before the international break, Mourinho would probably have still be counting his latest payout.
It marks a significant reversal in fortunes for the man who altered English football’s landscape – for better or worse – 14 years ago. In that intervening period, the world of football has moved on: players need to be cared for, teams’ playing style must be attractive, the media and fans should be respected and assistant managers shouldn’t need to wear safety goggles in the dugout.
But Mourinho is clearly set in his ways and won’t ever change.
So, will we see Stage Six: The Sacked One (Again) unfold this weekend before United face into a crucial Champions League tie with Juventus on Tuesday
It’s worth a bet if you ask us…