I found out very quickly after my retirement from the game that giving interviews was still expected of me. For whatever reason, be it genuine interest, nostalgia or revelling in my slow demise as a human being, people wanted to hear what I had to say about football.
In delivering my pearls of wisdom, however, I’ve made an important distinction. There is a fundamental difference between being interviewed and ‘giving a talk’. One is worth nothing and the other is worth about £750 depending on which club is paying me.
Even though each of my former clubs long ago jettisoned me from their wage bill, their media departments have no qualms about inviting me to the stadium on a match day and bribing me with a Coca Cola in return for fielding questions from the corporate know-nothings.
‘Giving a talk’ to the same room of strangers implies on my part that a certain level of research has gone into producing a coherent speech full of eye-opening observations that leaves fans feeling as if they were lucky to hear me for free. It’s work. It’s £750. The reality is that an interview and a talk are exactly the same thing, except that one of them can be invoiced.
And so last week I gave a talk about various facets of the game to a crowd of good-natured football enthusiasts that had congregated in less than salubrious surroundings to ask an ex-professional if he’d consider the possibility of entering football management.
I answered the questions thrown at me as if I was delivering a keynote speech. I strung sentences together that were compelling. I threw in a few words with more than two syllables and expertly trod the line that distinguishes a savvy observation from an obvious bunch of bullshit. The fans were engaged because the club has managed to produce an ex-player that actually offered up a fresh and insightful point of view. And I was £750 up. Everybody was winning.
Until somebody at the back stood up and asked me a question that I didn’t see coming: What do you think of Jose Mourinho?
What do I think of Jose Mourinho? Now that’s a thinker…
Where does one start with a question as broad as that? Thankfully, Jose is not shy in telling the world what we ought to think of him. On Friday the Portuguese used his pre-match press conference to deliver the case for the defence after the prosecution had offered up United’s desperately passive defeat to Seville in the Champions League on Wednesday as Exhibit A.
He said, “Manchester United last won the Champions League, which didn’t happen a lot of times, in 2008. The (last) final was 2011. Since 2011, 2012 out in the group phase. The group was almost the same group as we had this season: Benfica, Basel and Galati from Romania. Out in the group phase.”
And he didn’t stop there.
He went into fine year-by-year detail on United’s recent struggles in Europe and the Premier League and while the quotes are media golddust, I’m fairly certain that you have the gist of what Mourinho is trying to say.
In 12 minutes Jose spelt out why everybody can fuck off. It is too easy to say that he is feeling the pressure. The defeat to Seville was poor but it is obvious to anybody that understands even a modicum of this game that Manchester United are in the process of building a team. It might not be the most exciting team ever assembled but it will certainly be effective. It will be a Jose Mourinho team. It will be a team that wins and there will be no cherry on top. He alone will create it and those who are with him will be rewarded and those who are not will almost certainly have their faces rubbed in it when the next trophy is hoisted into the air.
“This is football heritage,” he claimed.
Do you know what is also heritage? Nicolas Otamendi, Kevin de Bruyne, Fernandinho, David Silva, Raheem Sterling, Sergio Aguero — they are investments from the past, not from the last two years.
“One day when I leave, the next Manchester United manager will find here Romelu Lukaku, Nemanja Matic, of course David de Gea from many years ago, they will find players with a different mentality, quality, background, with a different status and know-how.”
To be fair, that approach takes balls and incredible selfishness. After all, this is a manager that tried to convince us that Mo Salah and Kevin De Bruyne were not quite cut out for the rigours of Premier League football. But we all make mistakes. Although to my knowledge I’ve never made a £300m mistake.
Football heritage lives on in everything to do with the game, good and bad. It’s history.
A friend of mine who works for Chelsea recalls the day Mourinho was sacked for the second time by owner, Roman Abramovich. “We were eating lunch in the canteen, the players and the staff. We were struggling badly in the league, I think the media were saying that we had made the worst start to defending a title in the history of the Premier League. Jose had queued up for his food after all of the other players and staff had been served. But as he sat down to eat his mobile phone rang. He walked outside to answer it and we never saw him again. It’s funny because Jose made us think that we were all in it together and that we were all part of the act. But now I understand that win, lose or draw, everything Jose did was an act.”
He made you feel part of the act, but when the shit hits the fan, he really only looks after himself. The point is that when you put your balls on the chopping block it is always a possibility that somebody will one day cut them off. The trick to keeping nature’s intentions intact is being able to talk your way out of potentially damaging situations by deflecting blame on to others and hamming yourself up in the process where possible.
Football heritage is not defined by stark facts pertaining to winning and losing. Every team has football heritage. The oldest United in the world, after all, is not Manchester United, it is Sheffield United. Football heritage also came in the demolition of Mourinho’s star-studded Real Madrid side by the lesser fancied Borussia Dortmund in the quarter-finals of the 2013 Champions League, one round after Madrid had knocked out Manchester United.
And yet I know what Jose is trying to say. What Jose has achieved is incredible. I have always said that the very best managers in football are those who happen to be in love with what they do for a living. The very best managers are those who have the attributes to be successful in any walk of life in which they preside over a loyal collection of worker bees.
There are interesting people whose opinion I tend to agree with and then there are people who have interesting opinions that I am desperate to disagree with. Jose Mourinho falls into a small category of individuals for whom the substance of what they say is a kaleidoscopic assault on the black and white monotony of football commentary.
I think that Jose Mourinho is a football man for whom I would go out of my way to listen to regardless of his opinion. I’d happily pay money to listen to him. How much? I’m not exactly sure, but £750 for 12 minutes work seems pretty cheap to me…
Agree with him or not, our man inside the game would pay to listen to Mourinho