Mourinho's greatest trick...
The greatest trick Mourinho ever pulled was convincing the world he’d gone to sh*t.
Jose Mourinho looked shot in pre-season. Like the script to a film we’d all seen before, Mourinho’s third season at the United helm looked like it was about to go up in flames.
Now, anyone who has ever seen a film will be well aware that facial hair is the crucial, and indeed often the only required, visual signifier of the welfare and status of any given male character.
A lush lumberjack beard is often the preserve of a former top agent gone to seek the quiet and peaceful solace of a cabin in the woods after hanging up their gun. They will soon again be clean shaven for the first classified briefing back at the field office, once convinced by a visit from an old partner and the head of the CIA that only they can save the President/ World/ Day. Once there, their checked shirt might still stand out among the uniform black suits, but their chin is smoother than their draw, and so the audience immediately understands – they’re back.
There are thus two beard types that signify a level of contentedness in the Hollywood lexicon (goatees, incidentally, are solely the preserve of Eastern European mobsters but we won’t concern ourselves with them here). There is one, however, that should it find its bristly talons stretching around your top lip and down over your chin, signals a deep malaise from which it might be difficult to ever return. It is the motley stubble. The very same vaguely unkempt but muted growth that for some time now has been sported by the man in the United dugout. It enclosed the mouth that told his own fans they weren’t worth paying to watch and then calculated the amount of holiday Antonio Valencia could reasonably be expected to withstand before concluding that he had exceeded it.
Against Leicester though, he had shaved. He, and his side, looked like they were back. Coincidence? Well, much like a man poking and prodding at a whiteboard covered in aerial photographs – I don’t believe in coincidences.
Just like Jason Bourne, Jason Statham (and all the other Jasons), once they’re back, it’s difficult to imagine that they ever went away. Maybe Mourinho didn’t either? Maybe it was all a ruse – complete with hair and make-up. After the game looked happy and relaxed in his post-match interviews and press conferences. In stark contrast to his prickly and scattershot demeanour in the preceding weeks. Let’s flash back to Friday, before the game. Here was a tweet that appeared on our, and we're sure many other, timelines:
This is obviously a bit silly. But it was symptomatic of a wider feeling being expressed, including on this website, that United weren’t going to be up to it this season. Football analysts were underestimating United, relieving the media pressure on his team. What if it even other football managers, who, despite what they say, surely cannot exist completely isolated from the opinions of us mere mortals in the world at large, started to believe the narrative? Did Claude Puel and his players expect a party when they arrived at Old Trafford on Friday night only to find Mourinho had shaved for his date? Did Mourinho (and the immediately recognisable red flag right there on his face) only convince us he’d gone to sh*t so he could hobble off into the night clutching the Premier League title under his arm?
If he did, it would be the greatest trick he’s ever pulled in a career filled with deceit.
N.B. This theory was first touted by Will Jones down the pub but just like those guys in All The Presidents Men, I did the journalistic hard yards on it.