But we’re not talking about all those rumours regarding Mourinho’s agent, Jorge Mendes, meeting with PSG‘s sports director Antero Henrique to discuss the prospect of a move to Paris next summer. It was the little chat Mourinho had with Benfica officials in Manchester that should be concerning everyone connected to United.
As we’ve mentioned in this column, the PSG speculation is a flyer, built on Mourinho being misquoted – or mistranslated to be precise – when talking about life in Paris. Conflating the United manager enthusing about the spirit of Paris and it’s lifestyle with claims of PSG being the subject of that description are simply wide of the mark. Even those putting two and two together and getting 36 acknowledge that their individual sources at Old Trafford are unconcerned about any apparentPSG interest in the manager.
Where the alarm should be focused was this week’s revelation of Mourinho expressing his frustration about “state-owned” clubs.
The story goes, in the week of United’s Champions League victory over Benfica, Mourinho spent plenty of time with opposition officials at the Lowry Hotel. It was there, during one conversation, that he complained about having to compete “against a state”. Though no names were mentioned, it’s clear the Portuguese was moaning about the spending power of Manchester City.
It was a big story. Certainly the biggest for the week on Tribalfootball. But from the usual suspects, the silence in response has been baffling. You’d expect some push back. These aren’t the words of a Manchester United manager. At least, they’re not the words of Sir Alex Ferguson.
Fergie saw off three such challenges over his 27 years in charge. Jack Walker’s money at Blackburn Rovers. Roman Abramovich and Chelsea – including doing battle with Mourinho. And Sheikh Mansour’s billions with Manchester City.
There were protests, even outrage, sure. But never a hint of throwing in the towel. Never even a hint of resentment. The Scot, by his own admission, simply saw it as a challenge. And backed by a board willing to be patient, in all three bouts, Fergie emerged the winner.
Even when Chelsea were nicking John Obi Mikel and Michael Essien, two Africans who’d actually trained at Carrington, away from United, Ferguson didn’t throw up his hands in despair. He simply put his head down and worked out another way to overcome the sudden influx of rubles into the English game.
Reflecting on the Abramovich era, Ferguson once stated: “We didn’t have the spending power so we had to look at our club differently. We did it in the right way because United has always been associated with young players over the years and we try to retain that as best as we can.
“It was the sensible way. We identified younger players who would become top players in the club.”
The question to emanate with this week’s quotes from the Lowry is: does Mourinho have the same fortitude?
This isn’t about United. Nor the board. He will be given everything he needs to get it right. And that’s including the one thing he’s never been granted elsewhere: time.
Again, Fergie on facing down Chelsea: “The difference between Chelsea and ourselves is that they have changed their management structure three times (Claudio Ranieri, Mourinho, Avram Grant and Phil Scolari) in that period – so there is a big difference.
“I can look three or four years ahead whereas maybe a manager coming into other clubs doesn’t have that time.”
Mourinho never had that at Chelsea. Nor under Florentino Perez with Real Madrid. Even the charismatic Massimo Moratti couldn’t keep the toxic relationship between his manager and the local press from forcing a split at Inter Milan. But inside Old Trafford, that simply won’t be the case. If Mourinho wants it, he will be given the opportunity to look long-term.
But does he want that?
On the face of it, from this week’s news, it appears he does. In a PR exercise for Jaguar, Mourinho spoke enthusiastically about Scott McTominay, United’s academy traditions and his hopes for the team he is building. And across the Channel, in Portugal, it was emerging Mourinho had tapped Jose Boto on the shoulder about leaving his scouting director’s post with Benfica and moving to Old Trafford over Christmas. Not exactly the actions of a manager with one eye on the exit door.
But it’s still what can make it’s way to the public when discussed privately which is often the most informative. And Mourinho’s ‘state-club’ complaints weren’t of a man relishing a David v Goliath challenge.
When Sheikh Mansour bought Manchester City, Sir Alex had turned 66… 66! And he still had the hunger and enthusiasm to face them down.
Like Fergie, Mourinho will be offered everything he needs to meet this career challenge. The question is: does he have that same hunger inside him?