Time for Jose to turn underdog

The boy in second class was collected by his dad on Tuesday, as usual, and they began the walk home. Two or three steps along, the news was broken and the boy wheeled back towards his friends with a tremendous urgency, screaming the bulletin to nobody and everybody.

“Mourinho is gone!”

It was a frightening indictment of the education system, that these boys and girls could have been left, for as long as five hours, not knowing. That they could have been denied information so crucial, and for many of them so fundamental to their sense of personal well-being.

In the little pockets of joy the young newshound triggered, in the medley of Fortnite dances performed as word spread, it was clear that the Manchester United contingent in second class had been introduced to optimism, perhaps for the first time in their lives.

The wider faithful, who once only knew optimism, would soon turn to little Ole and dream once more of a time when they always scored, and when the flag always stayed down.

And Ole, perhaps mindful of the social media output of Pogs and Lings and co, is just hopeful his lads can tap into the optimism of second class, as well as influence the antics of second class.

“I want the players to be the kids who love to play football.”

While Solskjaer attempts to placate a people who had grown to hate football, the world tries to figure out where and when it all went wrong for Jose. To ask themselves, at what point did he go to the bad?

It is not an endorsement of United chief Ed Woodward’s recruitment that nobody thinks the turning point came since he arrived at Old Trafford.

With every year, the famously tender embrace Mourinho shared with Marco Materazzi when he left Inter Milan looks more like a farewell to The Special One.

Some argue he lost it in Madrid, where his failure to get all the big beasts on side erupted in paranoia and eye gouging.

In Rob Beasley’s book Jose Mourinho: Up Close and Personal, there is a poignant scene with Jose consoling one of his loyalists in Madrid, Chelsea loanee Michael Essien, because none of his new teammates showed to his birthday party.

“He told the Ghana international that it was nothing personal; it was not even that his teammates did not like him and, sadly, it was not because they had anything better to do. Mourinho said it was simply because they were more interested in themselves than anything or anyone else.

“Mourinho had come up against the same attitude himself. Players believing they were bigger than their coach, maybe even bigger than the club.”

Maybe he wasn’t big enough. He went back to Chelsea begging to be loved and won a title. But his insecurity lingered and all he could see was rats running up the dressing room walls.

There is, if anybody has the inclination to research it, a precise way to find out exactly when Mourinho’s ‘methods’ ceased to be effective.

Find out the last time anybody wrote about him trying to take the pressure off his players.

In the great early infatuation with the man, all of the histrionics, the jibes, the conspiracy theories, the baiting, and the bullying used to be neatly packaged under that convenient catchall. Jose was regarded an honours student of the mind games and the controvassy. He was taking the pressure off his players.

If we can pinpoint the moment the media worked out it had always been about him, we can take it the penny had already dropped in the dressing room.

A willingness to tolerate Mourinho, their abandonment of dignity on the off-chance he could recapture the magic, will linger as a stain on Manchester United.

But before we write off Mourinho altogether, could failure at Manchester United be just the thing that sets him free?

He has options. He could work, from now on, in two-year terms, diluting his toxicity.

Or the man who did more than most to turn professional football into a WWE-style pantomime of over-wrought theatrics and scripted malevolence, could yet perform the most audacious heel-face turn of them all.

That’s what they do in the wrestling when a character arc has run its course, when there’s nowhere left to go. Rewrite villain as hero, heel to face, or vice versa.

In Mourinho’s case, it might be straightforward enough. He can abandon his ambition to turn the world’s biggest football clubs into plucky underdogs and take his brand of underdog football to somewhere it’s needed and appreciated.

If Claudio Ranieri can do a Leicester, couldn’t Mourinho?

With the writing on the wall after Liverpool, he reminisced wistfully on his Porto days, where he worked with the indignity of an outsider proving a point. And Inter where he could play his beloved ‘low block’ and nobody grumbled. “You can be there for five hours and you don’t concede a goal.”

In what was probably the final straw for the United faithful he described his infatuation with Liverpool’s Andy Robertson, sounding like he wanted to hug him in a tender embrace, in memory of the days when players would run and run for him.

Maybe he could have all that again, if he got back in the ring a changed character with a fresh script. Rekindled the outsider energy.

But would his players ever truly believe again that he wasn’t heaping all the pressure on them?

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