The last time I saw Jose Mourinho face to face while he was still Manchester United coach it was at close range.
he had the air of a guy who was about to have Christmas off with his family accompanied by a distinctly fatter bank balance.
It was in the player tunnel at Valencia following United’s flat, dull, passionless defeat to Los Che last week when Marcelino’s side, who this season have looked confused about how it is you win games, “coincidentally” surged to by far their best football of the season.
Player tunnels are fascinating places. They come in all shapes and sizes. The kind with a vast reception area where teams can mingle before a short trot down on to the pitch. The kind where a long downward stairs leads then to a short burst of five or six steps up on to the playing surface – the stairs often split down the middle by wire mesh so that when testosterone spills over, the worst that can happen is the flinging of insults and the jabbing of fingers rather than the flinging of punches and jabs to the ribs.
Mestalla’s player exit to the pitch is extremely tight, only just room for the two sides to stand shoulder to shoulder and, post-match, it’s jam-packed with “stalls” where cameras and reporters from TV stations, who’ve paid hundreds of millions to be there, wait apprehensively to ensure that they get their post-match fill of “flash” interviews.
I’m friendly with Michael Carrick, Ander Herrera and Juan Mata – the two Spaniards spotted me and greeted me, respectively, by name and by affectionate nickname (“Cazador!” is Hunter in Spanish). Michael walked past me, in a distraught daze, deeply affected not only by the defeat but by the abject quality of United’s play and the cavalier loss of a chance to top the group and, theoretically, an easier draw for the next round.
When he spotted me, now 30 feet behind him in my interview position, he did a double take, said “Sorry, sorry!” and marched back down the tunnel to shake hands. But he was patently deeply affected. Mourinho? He was, I think in retrospect, not so bothered.
Hands in pockets, in decent humour, apparently not affected by what he’d just seen – an evening when, uncharacteristically, he’d not been much for leaping off his team’s bench, yelling at his players or remonstrating with the officials. Very un-Mourinho-like.
That evening, several staff, one famous ex-player and my friend Andy Mitten, editor of the United We Stand fanzine, all asked me my opinion of the Portuguese.
I used one or two words I can’t repeat here but, without demur, warned them that they’d lose by a couple of goals at Liverpool and that it was long, long overdue that Mourinho be paid some severance and told to take his bile elsewhere.
There’s more to say about this guy, so much more – something I’ll do this and next week.