On Tuesday evening, the Mourinho blues continued with a goalless draw at Old Trafford with Valencia in the European Champions League, a performance which has forced me to write.
I can still remember him, the young Jose Mourinho. He who once was the “Special One,” a self-styled name. The brash, impetuous football coach who reminded one of Mohammed Ali, the boxing legend who called himself “The Greatest” and forced the world to accept his claim through his fistic flair, through his boxing prowess — he who “stings like a bee and floats like a butterfly.”
Like Mohammed Ali, Jose Mourinho had the good looks of a movie star, the bravado, the wit, the poetic instincts of Ali, the ability to produce sound bites at press conferences backed by the ability to deliver the goods. Who can forget his first Chelsea press conference when he was brought from Porto where he had done the unthinkable by taking an underdog team to win the European Champions League title in 2004 and shocking the British media with this: “Please don’t say I’m arrogant, because what I say is true. I am European champion… I think I’m a special one.”
He came out of nowhere to turn football coaching on its head, winning the Premiership for Chelsea back to back. Everybody knows the Jose Mourinho story. How he was sacked from Chelsea and from there went to win laurels in Italy, Spain, came back to Chelsea and won the premiership one more time. No coach has surpassed his achievement in winning the league championship in four different countries.
Fired a second time from Chelsea, he came to Manchester United to step in the big shoes of the legendary Alex Ferguson. Before him, two other coaches had tried to prove their mettle in Old Trafford but they never succeeded. From the Special One that he was, Mourinho has not been able to find his Midas touch. Today, Mourinho is almost at the point he found himself in Chelsea where he had lost control of the dressing room, where morale is down, where things have fallen apart and the centre can no longer hold in Man U. He has bought all the players that money can buy, from Pogba to Lukaku to whoever, but Manchester United is not the stellar team it used to be. Who has not beaten Man U this year? Let’s start from Sunday, August 19, when Brighton and Hove Albion, a lower division club beat Man United 3-2 in the Quarterfinals of the FA Cup at the Amex Stadium. Then came the 3-0 defeat at home by Tottenham Hotspurs on August 27. Then the 1-1 draw at Old Trafford with Wolverhampton Wanderers. Then 2-2 draw with Derby County coached by Frank Lampard, an old Chelsea midfielder coached by Jose Mourinho. Then the disgraceful 3-1 defeat by West Ham United. The catalogue of defeats and below-par performances go on and on, piling up pressure on Jose Mourinho who has become clueless and waiting to be sacked once again as he was sacked in Chelsea and other clubs.
On Tuesday evening, the Mourinho blues continued with a goalless draw at Old Trafford with Valencia in the European Champions League, a performance which has forced me to write. It was the night Mourinho’s players all failed him once again. A night of embarrassment watching “the biggest club” in the world today struggling against Valencia that was defeated 2-0 by a 10-man Juventus after Cristiano Ronaldo, the Champions League all-time leading scorer with 120 goals had been shown the red card.
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I was watching the match with my son Taiwo. In the recesses of my mind was 2Baba singing his latest hit: “Amaka disappoints me.” For many distraught Man U fans, the song should have been “Mourinho disappoints me…Iyeneke disappointment.”
I thought of writing a column on Jose Mourinho and Manchester United. I started with my football-savvy son Taiwo who remarked that Mourinho is no longer the Mourinho of old. “The industry has moved on,” the young man said, “but Mourinho has not moved with the changing times. He is still living in the past whereas the train has moved on. With the big money they spent on players, they have no excuse not to win. But Mourinho is clueless. He has lost touch. Sanchez bought from Arsenal is the biggest disappointment. He is not Sanchez that we know. All he does is to earn a cool 500,000 pounds a week. Pogba and Lukaku are not helping matters. They look static. They look confused. Morale is down. Football is a game of the mind. These guys have lost the spirit to win. The only person committed now is Rashford who is carrying the fight on. He nearly scored but for the fact that the ball hit the bar. The others are not playing for their coach anymore. This is not the Man U we used to know under Sir Alex Ferguson.”
To give my story the Nigerian angle, I went back to the interviews I had with two prominent Nigerians, all Manchester United big fans: Bola Tinubu, the former governor of Lagos State and his successor Babatunde Raji Fashola. I conducted the interviews while writing with Dimgba Igwe, my late friend, the biography of Fashola as the then Lagos State governor. Tinubu, an incurable Man U fan told me how as governor everything would grind to a halt each time Manchester United was playing. It was hell for him each time his team lost and heaven when they won.
I asked Fashola, a footballer who plays attack: How is Mourinho faring as Man U coach? “I think football generally has changed,” he replied. “It has become a more technical game in which I think coaches are doing too much over-coaching the players and in that sense inhibiting the instinctive expression of talent, flair and skill. There is too much orchestration that is pre-planned. You must play the ball this way, you must play it that way. That is not how I learnt how to play football. That is a big issue. Over-coaching them limits expression of talent, flair and verve. For those who want to see entertainment and flair of yesterday, Mourinho hasn’t succeeded… Man U didn’t win any trophy since Ferguson left. Under Mourinho, they have won a major trophy, certainly not the trophy they want they won. UEFA Cup is a big trophy. They’ve won the FA Cup before Mourinho came under Van Gaal. So if you measure them by their success over 25 years of Ferguson, then there is still a hill to climb.
“Rashford is an amazing talent that needs to be nurtured. What they should do more is to allow him to play with the freedom of youth, and with his talent help him to become the player that the potential suggests he can be. As for Pogba, he is overrated, overpaid. For me, he hasn’t fulfilled his talent. So for me, his talent remains as a potential. He has to be the driver of Man U rather than the showman that he wants to be.”
While researching my book on 50 Nigerian Boardroom Leaders which will soon be out, I spoke with Arnold Ekpe, the former group chief executive of Ecobank, an avid Man U fan.
“I have been a big supporter of Man U since the era of George Best,” he revealed. “Alex Ferguson was the best manager ever. Since he left it has been disaster. We had one guy, they fired him after nine months. They had another guy, he stayed one year. Meanwhile, he spent too much money buying all these players. Then we have Jose Mourinho now who looks like he has passed his sell-by date because he is no longer winning like he used to win. We are not winning. We are not even sure we will be in the top 4 for the season.”
Today, as Manchester United face Newcastle at Old Trafford, the sword of Damocles is dangling over Jose Mourinho’s head with the image of Zinedine Zidane looming as his possible successor.