Oh to be able to spend a few minutes in Jose Mourinho’s brain, and to discover what he’s really thinking.
Manchester United have made their worst start to a season in 26 years, following their opening day win against Leicester with a pitiful defeat away to Brighton, followed by a 3-0 humbling at home to Spurs - the first time in Mourinho’s entire managerial career that he had lost two of his opening three games.
While they recovered to win 2-0 away to Burnley on Sunday, the pressure is still very much on for Mourinho, with the Portuguese currently the bookies’ favourite to be the next to leave.
It all looks to be a familiar case of third season blowout, with Mourinho leaving his previous two jobs, at Real Madrid and Chelsea, following disastrous third years in charge, after previously presiding over successful campaigns. In fact, the longest he has ever stayed in one job was during his first spell at Chelsea between 2004 and 2008, where he oversaw 185 games, winning 124 of them, in just over three seasons.
What is remarkable about this particular time, however, is that it seems so self-inflicted: despite United finishing second last year - their best position since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013 - and with a defensive record only a single goal worse than runaway champions Manchester City, Mourinho spent the whole summer seemingly complaining about his players, particularly his centre-backs. With their confidence undermined by the fact that their manager clearly wanted them replaced, they have duly struggled. He also fined Anthony Martial two weeks’ wages after the French striker failed to return to training immediately after the birth of his child which most onlookers viewed as an unduly harsh measure.
After United failed to buy any new centre-backs before the transfer window closed, there was a huge air of negativity around the club, which their opening performances, as well as Mourinho’s increasingly bizarre behaviour in press conferences, have done little to dispel.
Some have speculated that Mourinho wants to be fired, citing the huge pay-off that he would receive - although he can hardly need the money, given the fact that he has been in charge at top clubs, with the wages that commands, for over a decade.
He signed a new two year contract worth around £15m a year towards the end of last season, and pundits such as Gary Neville have urged the club, who have fired David Moyes and Louis van Gaal since Ferguson left, to stick with him until that deal expires.
Now Mourinho himself has referred to that contract as the reason why he is unafraid of the Old Trafford hierarchy wielding the axe.
Speaking to journalists from Italian publications La Repubblica and La Gazzetta dello Sport over the weekend, Mourinho joked that United would be reluctant to dismiss him because of the sheer cost it would involve.
“They say I’m in danger, but I don’t think so,” he said. “If they sent me away, do you have any idea how much money they would have to give me?!”
Which is a bold joke to make when it’s also true, Mourinho currently earns in the region of £15 million per year so he’s probably not exaggerating about how heavy his severance fee would cost Manchester United.
He also took time to praise the United fans after the win at Burnley, saying:
“The manager is not important. The manager doesn’t play. I have enough miles on the touchline to cope. I want to say thanks to the fans because the way they reacted [after the Spurs defeat] was the biggest factor in our week and our response.”
Indeed, while Mourinho seems to have gone out of his way to undermine the confidence of his own players and clash with the board, he also seems to have gone out of his way to endear himself to the fans.
So what, exactly, is Mourinho’s endgame? Does he really want to be fired - and if so, where would he go from here? Or was he trying to goad his players into a response, in a typical triumph-or-disaster fashion? But if so, did he really think it would work?
As ever, no one really knows except the man himself, which is why he remains such a fascinating figure.
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