The rivalry between José Mourinho and Pep Guardiola is one of modern day football’s great dramas. The duo have crossed swords numerous times, with Mourinho cast as the master of the dark arts, while Guardiola is portrayed as the idealistic purist. It is a story riddled with feuds, tetchy conflicts, and no shortage of bad blood dating back to the time when the pair were in charge of Spanish giants, Barcelona and Real Madrid.
The director of football, or sporting director, may seem like a modern phenomenon, but the role has existed for decades. Fundamentally, the role is an intermediary between the board and the first team manager, with a task of creating continuity: in the long-term direction, playing style, transfers, hiring and firing, and bridging the gap between the academy and the first team. Given that managers and players often focus match-to-match, the former with the intention of keeping his job and the latter with hope of staying in the team, the sporting director is charged with executing a long-term vision.
Yo, naysayers claiming that Paul Pogba is over-rated, too expensive and never turns up! Get. Back. In. Your. Box. Pogba is back. Bigger, stronger, and better than ever before. Boy did United miss him.
José Mourinho’s side never recovered from October’s international break, or more specifically, autumn’s momentum was shattered as the Portuguese sent his high-flying team out to defend at Anfield on 14 October. In the interim Mourinho’s side has failed to convince in any of the six league and cup fixtures since the bore draw on Merseyside. Victory over Tottenham Hotspur was hard-won, but defeats to Huddersfield Town and Chelsea have left United well off the Premier League pace. As November’s break comes to a close, the Reds face 13 fixtures between now and the end of the year. It’s a period that won’t make United’s season, but it could certainly break it.
The tale of the tape for José Mourinho’s Premier League campaign this season reads played 11, won seven, drawn two, and lost two. In that run 23 points have been garnered and United sits joint second in the table alongside Tottenham Hotspur, having scored 23 and conceded just five goals. Mourinho has all but guided his troops to the knock-out stages of the Champions League, winning four out of four, and his side is in the quarter-final of the Carabao Cup.
We’ll always have Wembley and Stockholm. Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s late header, Paul Pogba’s long-range strike, Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s flicked finish. These are the feel-good moments that football fans savour – the stuff from which memories are made. They’ll be more of these moments under José Mourinho. After all, he has spent a career hoovering up trophies. Mourinho has also spent much of the past two decades combusting in the most spectacular fashion. It’s never a good look and the writing for José’s Manchester United future is already on the wall.
“The only thing I can say is that I’m still a coach with ambitions, and desire to do new things,” José Mourinho said on TF1’s Telefoot show. “And I don’t believe… no, I’m sure I won’t end my career here.” “Here” being Manchester United. There may be a whole number of reasons the United manager spoke about his career path. Perhaps he was trying to divert attention from the drab scoreless draw against Liverpool; maybe he was giving Ed Woodward a little nudge during contract negotiations, or it could simply be that “Mourinho is gonna Mourinho”.
When Manchester United run out at the Estádio da Luz on Wednesday travelling supporters may well witness a very different approach from the one that dominated the weekend’s game with Liverpool. On Saturday, with the world watching one of England’s great fixtures, José Mourinho’s side sunk into its shell, hamstrung by a manager who has made a career-long reputation as the “enemy of football.” It was to United’s loss: two points dropped, momentum halted, an opposition there for the taking, given a pass.
“It’s just a match. It’s three points. When you are in a big club, when you are a big player, when you are a big manager, every game is important. Every match is a cup final.” – José Mourinho.
It is an interesting theory, one fitting with Mourinho’s detached managerial demeanour. Yet, when it comes to Liverpool versus United, the Portuguese coach could not be further off base. Mourinho’s assessment may be empirically true – Saturday’s game is worth just three points – but it is as emotionally distant as possible, and an argument with which supporters cannot relate. After all, United’s clash with Liverpool is always more than just a match. It remains England’s greatest game.