Moving to Manchester United, Jose Mourinho had admitted, was a ‘disaster’. He was away from his family, as his children had decided that they would remain in London. Given his fame, he was somewhat locked in the Lowry Hotel. It wasn’t prison, obviously, and it was a luxurious place to be stuck, but it remained a difficult time to be trapped in one place. He couldn’t go out to enjoy a meal in privacy, with Manchester not affording him the privacy that the much bigger London or Madrid had. Perhaps he would move out to the countryside in a few months, when things were settled, but for now he was in the middle of the city, ordering pizza and Nando’s from his iPhone.
It was showing on the pitch, and at work. The strain was obvious for Mourinho, and the world could see it. It was like an exercise in schadenfreude. It was like watching Rafa Benitez being Chelsea manager, absolutely schooled by a celebrating football ruminant, Sam Allardyce, against West Ham. He knew that Roman Abramovich was watching, drawing satisfaction from an exciting 3-4-3, but most of all from the success that he was enjoying while Mourinho was suffering with Luke Shaw jogging pointlessly up and down the wing. He knew that Eden Hazard was doing all the things that he’d taught him in the first two seasons, and defending without being asked, too. He was trying not to let it show. But it was still a disaster.
He’d been censured for goading a referee before the game against Liverpool. He’d been sent off once before, too, so angry that he couldn’t settle in the crowd, and ultimately moved to sit with the directors. Normally confident in his position, he was annoyed at himself for giving a speck of dust like Ed Woodward the chance to admonish him. Woodward was far too cowardly to do anything like that for now - probably ever - but it was needling him that he was already so exposed. He’d made promises that he wouldn’t be the Mourinho that Bobby Charlton was so dismissive and afraid of. He wanted to behave, but he just didn’t have it in him.
On the training pitch, his blood temperature was rising. Carrington was as luxurious as most places could be, perhaps other than down the road where his nemesis “Pep” was installed. But it wasn’t the surroundings, it was the people. He came down to training last week and saw Wayne Rooney, paler than translucence itself, looking older than history and more weather-beaten than a cliff, and screamed internally.
The player he had wanted upon his return to Chelsea was now a complete disgrace - it was too late to rescue from himself. That was annoying in itself, but having to suffer his boozing, and his inability to play acceptably for more than 25 minutes, compounded with the fury at having to keep him around for the rest of the season. Seeing him on the pitch, advising Shaw about something - he didn’t know what exactly, but he was past caring at this point - was too much. He stormed off the training ground, telling the players that Rui Faria would be taking the session for today, and went back to his office.
‘Disaster,’ he kept muttering to himself. He knew it wasn’t really a disaster, but the whole thing felt so unnecessary. He could have taken over after Alex Ferguson and prevented all this. He’d have been happy to take over when Moyes was binned, if he was being honest with himself, and happier still to take over immediately after he got his marching orders from Stamford Bridge.
All this was so avoidable. He could have got the Champions League by the simple virtue of just not being Van Gaal. He could have won the league by the simple virtue of being the Mourinho he used to be. But not now. Now he had to try to behave, to try to build a legacy, when all he saw on the pitch was a reason to kick people’s heads in, but he had to settle for water bottles. All these problems were someone else’s fault, yet he’d been desperate enough to think he could solve them, in a way he’d never done before.
So he decided he’d go back to his hotel room.
The pressure at Carrington was as palpable as the eyes looking, waiting for him to crack under the tense atmosphere. He was going back to relax. He knew that he’d be fine in the end, that when he had a proper defence and a couple more players for midfield and attack, he could win things. He was a chequebook manager, he didn’t care to say otherwise. He had little time or ability to transform the wan into the dominant. He was calm now. He was sure he was calm. He snapped out of his reverie, and wondered when, exactly, he’d dismantled his whole trouser press, the furniture, the bed frame and the inner workings of his watch, and he looked at his phone. Maybe there was an app to put it all back together again.