It seems a long time since a youthful Mourinho announced himself by sliding down the Old Trafford touchline, yet his pre and post-match demeanour in Tuesday’s fixture between Manchester United and Real Madrid suggested someone determined to skid by unnoticed.
In a most uncharacteristic, demurring performance, a solemn Mourinho paid curt respects to Ferguson, shying away from his trademark braggadocio. Even after the game, he told ITV cameras that “the best team lost” and stormed off before he was asked to elaborate.
Mourinho’s deference to Sir Alex bordered on the incredulous. On the Welbeck decision, he claimed:
“I think Sir Alex has won the right to have every decision acknowledged as correct and every decision should have no question mark. He is the best, he has created history.
“You are nobody and I am nobody to put a question mark in front of him. His team was very well organised.”
Mourinho was effectively parading in damp clothes for fear of burning bridges, just in case the United job becomes available – at least, so the contention goes. After a nomadic existence, he’s ready to settle down to emulate, or better, the legacy of his best frenemy Ferguson. It’s a theme picked up – and tickled – in Barney’s Ronay’s excellent take on Mourinho’s deliberately-dour performance in The Guardian.
An interesting take would be to consider Mourinho’s uber-deference in the context of previous comments from Sir Bobby Charlton.
“Mourinho is a really good coach but that’s as far as I would go really… He pontificates too much for my liking,” he said.
At Old Trafford, Mourinho gave the least pontiff-icational performance since Pope Benedict, metaphorically thumbing his hat and ogling the world with the wide-eyed innocence of Puss-in-Boots. “Who me? Offensive? I wouldn’t lick the cream off a saucer!”.
In Mourinho’s world, that might be less a job application than a stage-managed ‘F*ck you’ – a twilight zone Baz Luhrmman production of meticulous self-deprecation and crumpled ennui.
Mourinho’s comments to Paddy Crerand on MUTV were equally cryptic, the implication being that he wouldn’t be on United’s payroll anytime soon.
The truth? It’s honestly hard to tell as will be Mourinho’s intention – ruling nothing out, batting the odd suggestive eyelid but making it abundantly clear he won’t be a cheap date. It sends messages to not only his current employer but his prospectives, notably Chelsea and PSG (note how he boasted of being able to speak fluent French in one post-match interview, unlikely an incidental detail), while bidding United a form of time-capsule affection that if, one day, should they need him, he might be there.