This was an old school unveiling in what remains at heart an old school club. There was no desire to plonk Jose Mourinho on a stool to execute a Q&A before of a live audience at one of the club’s shimmering new edifices, no appetite for him to be interviewed by a pop star from Burnage. If there was any messaging going on, any global projecting, it was pure football.
The Europa Suite in what is now called the South Stand, is typical of the corporate facilities scoped out of the ancient brickwork in this part of Old Trafford. No matter how many polished murals line the walls, how subtle the lighting, there is still something of the Wheeltappers and Shunters working man’s club about this space, a faint whiff of fag smoke to connect us to a bygone era.
Mourinho, happy in his own skin and earnestly thankful to be in this post, appeared from behind the sponsor screen in a black club tracksuit. Minimalist chic. He had with him a list of the players he had promoted from the academies at former clubs (49), correctly anticipating the youth question. He was thus both relaxed and armed to the teeth, at ease with a gun in both hands.
He spoke with reverence about the opportunity to manage Manchester United, a job everybody wants but to which so few ascend. He spoke about the responsibility, the expectation, the history, the legacy of a club that exists, he claimed, in another dimension.
When opportunity arose he dealt sincerely with the Ryan Giggs question, recognising the reality of a young coach who needs to spread his wings but one who would always be welcome in his house. He thrust Wayne Rooney back up the pitch. He may not be a No 9 any more but he can still be a No 9.5 or a ten, never a No 6 or even a No 8. “I can pass it like him 50 metres from goal.”
There were brutal burials of previous regimes. He was not a man who spoke about philosophies, about measuring progress in incremental gains. There was no success to be had in finishing fourth, third or even second. This was Manchester United and he was here to win. So much for Louis van Gaal’s plodding vision and three-year plans. Mourinho is all in from the first whistle.
He arrives, he said, at the right time, having clocked up valuable experience with previous employers yet young enough at 53 to want more, much more and at a club that has the resources to support his ambition.
The spectre of Pep Guardiola was raised and exorcised with the familiar hauteur. He was at the the most decorated club in the UK. It was for others to worry about him. Besides, this was not Spain or Italy where he was negotiating two or three-horse races. If he were to worry only about the neighbours that would be a gift to the others, all of whom, he said, were capable of winning the title.
They are not, of course, despite Leicester’s heroic pricking of egos last term. A pinch of salt is always handy when distilling the essential Mourinho from the rhetoric. He is bringing nothing to United that we have not witnessed at Chelsea, Real Madrid, Inter or Porto. The belief remains absolute, what has changed is the setting and the moment.
There is a slightly softer edge, a peacock less inclined to brandish the feathers. But the feathers are still there and when pressed will be out in full. Consider this a taste. “It would be pragmatic to say let’s work to get back into Champions League, into the top four. Let’s do well in the Europa League. I’m not good at that.
“I prefer to be more aggressive and say I want to win. I want to play well, score more, concede less, to make the fans proud because we are winning things. I don’t want a player to say I need to do better [than last year], I need to finish fourth. What is fourth? I want to win. I want everything.”
Graeme Souness once opined from the top of his Liverpool perch that if the forces of history co-incided in their favour and Manchester United got it right, it would be over for the rest. If ever a look on any face screamed right place right time, it was Mourinho’s at Old Trafford.