Dead Souls.

Okay. A good-without-being-remarkable win, for starters: predictably. But let’s note to the universe that a) there’s very often a New Man In bonus, for clubs at all levels, and b) Mourinho can organise. Plus c) West Ham are genuinely mediocre. So yeh – predictable, as opposed to seminally transforming.

Whether the Special One can organise and inspire to the level he once could – and whether the landscape remains, in which he can do his Strike and Park the Bus thing – we’ll see, soon enough. For now (Saturday, 6p.m.) he can bask a little.

Does this change anything, in terms of how I view his return? No. I see – I saw it, here, below – as another medium-diabolical sign that we’re all doomed. Or similar.

(Following the appointment of José Mourinho as Head Coach at Tottenham Hotspur: some thoughts… 👇🏻)

Where are we at, then, with Mourinho? Not easy to sugar-coat this one. Feels like many of us find him repugnant, never mind kinda reactionary; like some carnivorous dinosaur from the poshest suite in the goddam hotel. Like football’s Trump, emerging from behind the Fake Plastic Trees to eat us, or gorge on the souls of our beloved footie-teams.

Consequently but perhaps weirdly and uniquely, a freedom to judge him on some faintly discernible but nevertheless legitimate scale of goodness has crept in.

And yet also… the phone-ins. There are people simply flying past this fabulous Mourinho stoning-fest: actually (simply) looking forward to trophies, at Tottenham. Men. Women. Calling and talking. “We loved Poch but José will deliver”. “At the end of the day, it’s… about silverware”. “Poch was over”.

All fascinating – gruesomely so – and all received in this particular quarter with a broiling, Armalite-inclined rage.  Because it’s obvious. Mourinho is done, football has scorched past him, the era when he was a god is done and this is good – progressively good, mildly reassuringly good, morally good, even. Anyone ‘making some argument’, any argument for Mourinho at Spurs is an absolute maniac. I am loading up the boom-stick and ready to settle into the sniper-nest.

There are facts, here, of sorts. Fact: Mourinho ain’t remotely interested in the hard yards of building or generating anything. Fact: he was last seen at an academy game the day *he tried to sign Johan Cruyff, aged four.

 (*From the fleeting Conservative Fact-check site, oooh a while back).

Mourinho pretty much sits there, buying the poker-game, bluffing and motivating his galacticos, then buying those who supersede. He sucks up money; he is joyless and crucially declining. He deserves to fail, surely and the recent signs have all pointed that way. Lost dressing-rooms; lost lustre. The smell of money, impenetrable ambivalence and decline.

Ok the guy is not a materialist, in his life – he’s allegedly medium-cultured. So it’s not just about money for him. The drivers are slightly less crass, in the sense of being beyond the bling. However Mourinho does feel devoid of what we might call personal richness, now, his wit having apparently deserted as his sourness grew.

Mourinho pressers have been consistently contemptible over a period of years: directly insulting towards journos in the room and broadly, plainly dishonest regarding what’s actually happening around his football. (Accept that the second of these two phenomena is hardly unique to the man but the sheer acidity and delusional unpleasantness of his defiance has been extraordinary. He has bred hatred in the Media Core and beyond).

So, there is a ‘moral’ consensus (but apparently not unanimity, listening to those phone-ins) around the notion that Mourinho increasingly has crushed artistry and sport, imagining nothing beyond the grind or slash to victory. A sense reinforced, inevitably, by that public sullenness.

Where did all this come from?

Pressure? Pressure over time? Did the essential adversarial nature of elite competition grind him down, eventually – or is he just a Bad Man? If the latter, how come he didn’t seem so bad ‘til about 2015, or so?

Think. How could the man who was under the wing of Bobby Robson – Angel of the North, Heart of the Footie Universe – turn out so palpably bereft of romance? (Mourinho, if you remember, interpreted for the great man at Sporting and at Porto, early doors). How does that work? Where did the narcissism, the sourness, the anti-love for the game sweep in? We’ll never know.

It’s obvious that José is either all-out a spent force or a declining power; that he might only succeed with monstrous money to spend – but almost certainly not in the Prem, in 2019/20 and beyond – because the likes of Klopp and Guardiola have found better, newer ways.

It seems unthinkable that a) Daniel Levy will free-up the purse-strings to accommodate Mourinho’s customary indulgences and b) that in any case that free spirit thing Tottenham have always had will be brutally-casually disembowelled.

But hey, the phone-in psychos don’t care. They’re dead souls too.

 

My life’s the disease.

Friday 14th December. From a caff in a retail park. Enough.

Mourinho moaning at a presser. God what a yawn! His joylessness, his deathly narcissism. That ever-present, insulting hostility.

He’s been magnificent, of course – back then. When his energy felt irresistible and young. When his players loved him. When he really was a coach and mentor supreme.

Now he just moans. At an ungrateful universe, at fans, at the media. His contempt for everyone, for their lack of appreciation, is extraordinary. It swirls around him – around those pressers – like a virus. More than anything else, these days, it defines him.

It’s a given that contemporary journo’s are pretty much unable to ask Proper Questions of our elite managers but Mourinho’s brutishness marks a depressing low, on this. He’s out to bully all of us – those who dissent, those who query, those who recognise his tapering, diminishing powers. It’s both fascinatingly pathological and appalling.

Once he had a real, positive presence. He could motivate, in those critical, private moments; pitchside at the training-ground; pre-match. He was coruscating and undeniable – the most proactive coach on the planet. Scorching and soaring; at half-time, re-invigorating, re-ordering if need be.

Now the sense is of something – someone – utterly uncoupled from the will and the heft of those days: a man cruelly, manifestly unable to shape outcomes. Yes, he’ll make those subs; yes he’ll mull darkly and tinker… but nobody’s listening. Or worse – nobody believes. United are drifting and flailing and falling in front of the world.

Distantly, some bathos.

It may be that Jose always secretly wanted to lead United; there may be a touch of melancholy around that? He knew, he felt the weight of all that history.

What if he got to them eight years or so, ago? When he was a great. When the club were ripe for another round of their trademark, lungbursting, emoting glory. When he could have shaped it.

Now, he just can’t. Look at Rashford. Look at Pogba. Look at Mata. Lost, in their different ways. Painfully short. Crying out for skilled, sensitive, inspirational man-management. Lost.

We’re drawn into something inescapably moral, here: riled, provoked. Because United-era Mourinho makes many of us strike out towards something freer, better, more generous. (He’s a symbol, after all). You don’t have to be old-school to want football to break out – philosophically and in practice.

Who cares if we sound like romantic old fools? Imagine Rashford under Redknapp, or Klopp, or anyone with the heart, the soul, the essence, the interests of football coursing through their veins. Imagine being unwilling or unable to unweight that fabulous bundle of talent!

Mourinho appears to be both – appears both reluctant and professionally incapable, now, of both. If things were different, we might be sorry for him. But no. His loss – that descent into irrelevance, impotence – feels directly related to his own, sullen withdrawal. In a cruel universe, Jose is suddenly deservedly feeble.

The coach can’t play but he – she – builds the environment,   makes the whole bigger and the individual better. Mourinho’s blunted bravado kids no more: he’s a coach who can’t or doesn’t want to coach, preferring instead to count down the days to salvation – to the next ‘window’.

Things are brutal. United are beyond flawed, beyond what is acceptable. It’s gone.

The manager may get yet another major job – who knows? But this club (and arguably football) don’t need him; not anymore. He should have gone some time ago.

Strange ghosts.

Juventus United; as big as they get?

Yes and no. Yes Juve have a certain megastar and some authentic *players* but United, United are strange, or estranged, or something. There’s a consensus – remarkably, perhaps – that this team has some quality (of course) but few of the qualities we might associate with proper Red Devils.

Go through the side and see how many settle into the kind of glorious-amorphous, universal United of the Ages. Or even the Plainly Fit to Wear the Shirt Eleven.

De Gea, certainly, Pogba potentially. Otherwise, I like the case for Mata as the kind of player United should pick and – strangely? – Luke Shaw for his ambition, his vital surges.

Beyond that, who? Rashford and Lingard plainly not yet. Martial? Good currently but not for me. Young, almost, but like Valencia, more a committed Pro than a truly high-level player. Matic a tremendous foil to theoretically enable the full-on rampant unleashingment of a brilliant attacking midfielder – but merely  a goodish international water-carrier, in himself.

More than this lack of quality, United lack direction, sustained energy – lack soul.

This feels like a betrayal and is understood that way by many – inside and out of the club support. The manager’s Trumpian darknesses – utter self-obsession, cynicism – have robbed the Mighty Reds of their romance and, frankly, much of their enduring appeal.

That Mourinho doesn’t, when it comes to it, give a toss about energy and style, is self-evident. That he really is past his sell-by-date, as well as past the moment where he deserves our respect, may be more a matter of opinion – but one I am untroubled by sharing. His team have sunk generally into the muddle of dourness and bad faith – or faithlessness – characteristic, apparently of the man. They are not United.

So this enormous occasion is strangely haunted, before we start, rather than brimful of evocation and memory.

Bung on the telly, half seven. Maybe half-hoping to see Roy Keane or Giggs or something which might light up that hope, that symbol, that reflex. Something lungbursty or flying-forwardy.

Nope. It may come, I suppose but BT, ludicrously, have Rio, Scholesy and Hargreaves on the settee; i.e wall-to-wall Proper United Blokes talking *realistic* shop. United ‘aren’t seeing the pictures’. There’s ‘no pattern’. We’re counting down to Juve v MU and it’s sounding quite dispiriting. Understandably.

Then The Mourinho Tunnel Interview. He’s not actually hostile on this occasion – merely typically ungiving. Hey but things could happen. Let’s watch.

De Gea’s birthday. 28. Won’t be here for his 29th, you’d think. Mata and Fred dropped, Lingard back, Herrera starts.

Moral victory for United as Szczesny flares a shockingly nervy strike out, about ten yards up the park. Pogba may be playing an advanced, central midfield role.

Lingard breaks out but the counter fizzles out. Cuadrado – right up there, for me as an over-rated player – gifts the ball to United in midfield but again no joy. However, after ten minutes, the visitors are looking decent.

First whiff of a chance falls to Juve, as Betancur is allowed a yard or two in the box – the shot deflected wide. Juventus now have a period of possession and some thrust, high up the pitch. Notable that the arch-stopper Bonucci ventures deep into the United box in open play.

United have predictably gone with Matic and Herrera central and deepish; 18 minutes gone and it’s working. The team shape seems good: Pogba freer. Positive energy around the pitch.

Dybala creates some minor fluttering at the heart of the United defence, following a beautiful first touch. In the aftermath Chiellini clunks Sanchez to offer the respite of a free-kick, thirty yards in front of De Gea. It’s alarm-less, in a good way, for MU.

I’m just thinking United look like a stronger side than they have done for months – a quality side – but then Matic swings a shockingly lazy pass to nobody, whilst trying to be the Cool Maestro in midfield. Embarrassing and possibly revealing in the moment, but no damage done.

Mourinho (if he does thrilled) will be quietly thrilled, on the half-hour. 0-0.

Out of nothing, Cuadrado beats Shaw too easily and his shot – deflected across Matic – is pawed into the six yard box by De Gea. Cleared.

First really poor moment from United follows. Smalling and Lindelof go missing as Khedira has time to turn and manufacture something, twelve yards out. His shot is scuffed, weakish, against the outside of the right-hand post. An escape – the first.

38 minutes. United beat away a series of corners and medium-threatening attacks. Dybala a central influence for Juve; Ronaldo peripheral, as is Pogba. (In fact Ronaldo is positive but peripheral, whereas Pogba is poor and the same. A concern).

As is the ease with which a further cross comes in from Shaw’s left flank. The young defender a tad befuddled, this time by some typically extravagant trickery from Ronaldo. Must apply himself – will get an earful during the break, I suspect.

The half closes with a corner for Juve, who have latterly been on top, without really opening up the opposition. The ball curls in but two clearing headers bring relief and the whistle.

Still no score; a good but not sparkling performance from Mourinho’s side. He will want more of that effective defensive shape, plus more involvement and more effect from the attacking midfielders in particular, second half. Juve are clearly strong but have not looked yaknow, *immortal*.

Dybala (not Ronaldo) looks to be their star. Early after the break he finds space in the box before arcing, turning and  swirling a shot. De Gea has no chance. It doinks against the top of the bar. It’s both a) the night’s finest moment so far b) the harbinger of a barrage from the United bench, aimed (I think) at Lindelof. Criminal to be ‘on it’ all over the field then sloppy in your own box.

58 minutes. The first sequence of play (or ‘plays’) for United for some time. Lingard and Martial involved – after a period of drift. Matic again flips a weird, lazy pass wide to no-one. No chance is fashioned but good.

Juve respond, Ronaldo curling in a cross from the left which Shaws attacks courageously before Cuadrado can strike.

Wow. A stunner. Bonucci drives an innocous but decently-weighted ball beyond United’s defenders. Ronaldo reads the path of the ball as it drops from over his shoulder. He volleys it, majestically, past the keeper. It’s godlike.

Drawing breath (and watching the re-run) we can certainly criticise the United defence – it was too easy. But bollocks to that. It was magnificent, it was Roy-of-the-Rocers, it was Top, Top Level.

Within two minutes the score might be two, as United shake off the shock unconvincingly. Juve, you sense, might blow most teams away after that; why would United be any different?

Sure enough, Ronaldo puts one on a plate for Cuadrado… who hoiks over from ten yards, max. It’s opened up and there is real danger, here: Lindelof not alone now, looking lost in space.

Rashford is in for Lingard. There looks no way back, for Mourinho’s men, despite an improved performance. Mata and Fellaini on – somehow the reds need to get from likely losers to unlikely winners. A second for Juve seems more likely.

It really does… but United hang in there… and Mata curls in a beauty to make it 1-1!

Ridiculous, but resulting from some sharp, skilful play by Martial, who had played wall pass ping-pong to create the opportunity.

88 minutes and Young lifts and curls another free-kick from out wide on the left. The keeper flaps, Bonucci fumbles and the ball is in the home net again. Unreal.

Gets more so. Two minutes later and Rashford is absolutely in but blazes against the keeper. Poor miss, in truth.

Doesn’t matter. As the ‘surefire cruise’ to a Juventus victory from woah, fifteen minutes ago doesn’t matter. United have only gone and won it.

Almost hilariously (but not quite) Mourinho stokes the anger of the home crowd, provocatively posturing on the pitch. Predictable perhaps, that even this fabulous finale is not simply a moment for joy for him – that it needs to be about him.

He will and should take some credit, mind. Despite a ver-ry mixed performance from Pogba and lightweight or perhaps more exactly uninfluential contributions from the likes of Lingard and Sanchez, United scored a famous and important win, built on good team shape and application.

They were competitive, they defended well as a team and when United’s central defenders were exposed, they scurried around and recovered. Juve deserved to be 2-up after about 75 minutes but United pegged them back: then they nicked it.

As a purist and sucker for that romance we talked of earlier, I’m chuffed for Mata. His free-kick was a waving of the wand, a delight. He can do this *from nowhere* – he can twinkle. ‘Course he can; he’s United.

United.

Unscientific poll. How many of us wondered about watching United on telly but were then partly entrapped by Football Focus… and partly repelled by how poor and under-charged Mourinho’s Listless Posse were, in the first half hour, at Bournemouth?

In scooting past, let me say I really did enjoy FF: it felt engaging and bright and kinda warm; unlike United. Nice features and Alex Scott and Dion Dublin – okaaay, despite not being strikingly inventive or original, maybe – were again genuinely good company. Unlike, we may be tempted to add, United… or Mourinho.

Okay, as I write MU have replied to Bournemouth’s deserved but nonetheless shockingly poorly-defended strike, making it 1-1at half-time. So they’re ‘in it’. In fact they could be metaphorically buried, already, and possibly their manager too, had the entirely possible scoreline of Bournemouth 3 Manchester United 0 been realised.

The fascinatingly authentic, raw and yet intuitively smack-on pairing of Redknapp Snr and Scholesy are currently unpicking United’s performance – presumably before an irate Gary Neville bursts into the studio, wielding a meat-cleaver.

Second Half. A whiff of urgency, following (surely?) another tirade from Jose the Furious. Luke Shaw bursts forward, collecting a decent return from Martial – should score but for a slightly heavy touch. But, as both Fred (who had pitifully thrown himself, earlier, feeling hands on his back) and Mata are unceremoniously hoiked around 55 minutes, the game has utterly changed.

Logic twists around this. It’s plainly true that United are suddenly a force – meaning Mourinho’s roasting has worked. Yet it’s also self-evident that there should have been no need. Young’s fabulous, bar-rattling free-kick and Herrera’s curler, plus the general, stirring re-boot, simply should not have been necessary. Not at Manchester United. Not at any team which manifestly needs to show some affirming, nay validating grit.

So why the bore and then the bollocking?

We find ourselves – inevitably(?) – with Mourinho. What’s the quality of his work, his influence, these days? Should he stay or go?

I think he should go. His influence, from Press Room to touchline, is somewhere between sour and outright malignant. His squad is certainly dispiritingly ordinary – go look, I just did – but the bloke has had years and extravagant funding towards improving it. The Coach sets the culture and mixes the chemicals: both are currently baleful.

88 minutes done. Might I be saying something else, had either Rashford or Lingard converted reasonably straight-forward chances? Absolutely not. Rashford’s disappearing presence speaks volumes around Mourinho’s exhausted capacity to inspire… but hang on.

As I write this the lanky, recently gawky-looking number 9 – previously a thrillingly energetic and directly protagonistic ‘handful’, remember – bundles a winner. Six yards out, having chested down rather unconvincingly, Rashford converts… and charges to the corner-flag to bury himself in the love (and relief) of the fans. There is the love of ‘one of our own’ in the air.

So extraordinary. United were useless then ‘in it’ then on top: somewhat crudely or gracelessly on top. Then they won.

That this wasn’t the kind of win that great teams manufacture through temporary blips goes without saying. Mourinho’s United are joy-sappingly ordinary. For me – he goes.