I have fucking had it. Usually try and craft a more delicate introduction, but quite honestly I just don’t care: José Mourinho is the devil. Different voices are telling me to hold back and show loyalty, others are egging me on. I’m not going crazy by the way… At least I don’t think I am. It’s hard to identify an exact tipping point sometimes, but this anger has been swelling for some time, and these voices need a, well, voice.
Manchester, 19:43 Saturday 30 December:
One of those voices belonged to deranged, drunk Mancunian man at a dark station, but worryingly it’s one I started to agree with.
Now I’m not one for jumping on bandwagons. I despise people who are incapable of forming their own opinions and yet wade into debates as if they actually know something (see my first column). If the common consensus mirrors your genuine opinions though, there shouldn’t be any shame in expressing them.
“I’ve had enough of the Portuguese mafia running this place,” slurred Joe. I didn’t actually find out the name of inebriated nutter stumbling loudly onto the metrolink platform after Manchester United’s dreadful 0-0 draw against Southampton last weekend, but he looked like a Joe. Trust me, if you had seen him, you wouldn’t have engaged in social discourse with him either. “Someone should put a bloody bullet in his head.”*
*DISCLAIMER: I do not literally advocate shooting or violence. To borrow from the words of Stewie Griffin however, it’s not that I want to kill Mourinho, it’s just that I don’t want him to be around here any more…*
Joe had been rambling on for 10 minutes or so more loudly than anyone within earshot cared for. Above the dreary gloom, another less intoxicated bloke even inquired if he wouldn’t mind using the firearm on himself. A few titters of amusement were drowned out by the silent depression that hung in the air, and Joe babbled on.
20:17 Friday 29 December:
For some unknown but irrefutable reason, football fans seem to feel their presence lends them an element of control over the outcome of a match. Or perhaps that’s just me. Either way, when I spotted a ticket going spare for United v Southampton on social media, my heart leapt. He’ll pick a pacey, fearless attacking side and go for the jugular with exhilarating hedonism.
It had been a decade since my last competitive home game at Old Trafford – the commute from Siberia is a tad tricky and expensive – and the thrill of finally returning leant an entirely skewed view of how the game would go. Mourinho had even said although he felt he couldn’t, he wanted to rest Romelu Lukaku. Nothing against the big man, but it’s safe to say his form has been less than electrifying. A forward line of Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford looked a very real possibility.
With delivery of tickets sorted, it was a joyous and peaceful night’s sleep.
Old Trafford, 17:10, Saturday, 30 December:
After a prayer said to Duncan Edwards, a wander around the ground and an obligatory over-priced burger, it was time. There is nothing like the throng of 70,000 people flowing ever more steadily towards the same place. Pre-match rituals done, the turnstiles beckoned. Even traditional old clanking metal gates were strangely satisfying.
What was that nagging feeling though? Ah yes, the team sheet – no Rashford or Martial, an over-worked and out-of-form Lukaku, and bizarrely the out-of-favour Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Slipping into the role of armchair manager is a dangerous an unhealthy habit that we would all do well to avoid. Sometimes, however, decisions twist your gut instinct too much. Despite the reservations over personnel, there were 90 minutes ahead to prove me wrong.
19:27, Saturday 30 December
Christ, where to start? That was bloody awful. Off days when teams try but fail are commonplace, and can be forgiven. This was different – and depressingly familiar. Mkhitaryan has been ruined. Once one of Europe’s most lethal midfielders, he can’t find a pass for love nor money. Juan Mata’s crosses looped innocuously over everyone’s heads time and again. Rashford was inexplicably dire.
Individual performances couldn’t explain how dreadful the performance was. The instinct to express creativity and the boldness to attack had been worn down over time. Old Trafford has suffered in recent years from a poor atmosphere, but this took the piss. Sideways passes, no width, no imagination, no threat to the opposition whatsoever.
As I trudged out to get the tram home, it wasn’t powerful, gut-wrenching utter despair that I felt. It was a sinking feeling that had become all too familiar. When The Special One arrived back in 2016, I had been an ardent supporter of his appointment due to the ego he brought with him; David Moyes has the charisma and confidence of a squashed fly, and unsurprisingly the scale of the job swallowed him whole. Louis van Gaal was just a self-absorbed miserable git.
No, Mourinho had the bloodthirsty winner’s attitude required. How could it all have gone so wrong?…
Don’t get me wrong, I love arrogance. Éric Cantona was part player, part performer, part ridiculous myth, but it was all bound together by his self-confidence. For every angry, driven machine like Roy Keane, you need an egocentric maverick to complete a team. The key is that the brooding intensity must be backed up with substance.
This is not sour grapes. So my club have enjoyed unprecedented modern success; that doesn’t preclude me from demanding the best. The best most certainly does not include scowling like a slapped schoolboy, constantly whining about everybody else. Oh Sir Alex Ferguson did it too? Do one. If you found Fergie’s badmouthing distasteful, at least he did it to create his famous fortress mentality. Mourinho on the other hand has built sod all respect from his squad, and is creating nervous players.
The demeaning treatment of Schweinsteiger and Mkhitaryan is bad enough, but what pains me the most is his destruction of the finest youngsters. Luke Shaw may well have been overweight, but don’t fucking hang him out in public. Make him work for his place, sure. Don’t treat him like a little schoolboy in front of the world’s cameras.
Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford are sublimely gifted players who offer incredible potential, and yet are rarely played for extended periods in their best positions. Martial had to wait until late November to start more than two league games in a row. In my humble opinion, Rashford is most effective leading the line, or at the very least cutting in from out wide, and yet he is shunted across the forward line with seemingly little regard for how the extract the best from him.
Flair players need their egos massaged to a degree, especially when they have the genuine class to back it up. Mourinho is so self-absorbed he cannot seem to stomach anyone being bigger than he is. The arrogant, sexy bluster he swept into England with over a decade ago has been replaced with moody old age.
Talk of a contract extension in recent days has made my stomach churn. Maybe this is karma – after such perfect symbiosis under Ferguson, this is the trade-off. You almost can smell the glee from all other fans. It doesn’t mean United’s board must indulge the idiot though; enough is enough. Piss off to some miserable backwater and give me my club back – and I’ll promise not to let Joe near you.