Antonio Conte left Wembley with another piece of silverware and the love of the Chelsea faithful ringing in his ears on Saturday, the self-proclaimed “serial winner” who wore the look of a man who knows he is about to move on.
For Jose Mourinho, there was the rare taste of a cup final defeat, yet more narcissistic self-justification and deflection at a post-match press conference that underlined just why the Portuguese manager has struggled to endear himself to the bulk of Manchester United supporters.
It was that kind of day, in that kind of season, for two of the giants of the English game.
Conte, the manager loved by his supporters but surely on his way out at Stamford Bridge, pitted against Mourinho, a boss who will still be in charge of United when pre-season rolls around in two months but who would not be sorely missed by many fans were that not to be the case.
“I’m quite curious, especially because now I am on holidays and I have more time for that. I’m quite curious for today, tomorrow, the next couple of days, to read, to watch, to listen to your opinions,” snarled Mourinho sarcastically at the start of yet another painful interview following the 1-0 defeat.
Mourinho, in his haste to get out of the press conference before he could be asked a meaningful question, at least stopped short of repeating his party trick of recent weeks in which he trots out a long statistical list of how drastically United’s league form has improved this season, conveniently ignoring the fact his team, nevertheless, trailed champions Manchester City by a record 19-point margin.
A Mourinho victory over an Eden Hazard-inspired Chelsea might have papered over some of the cracks and, had Romelu Lukaku declared himself fit to start, that may well have been the outcome against opponents who missed out on a top-four finish this season.
But even had Mourinho added the FA Cup to the Europa League and League Cup titles he collected in his first season at Old Trafford, the chasm between manager and large sections of the club’s support would have remained.
The fundamental issue, of course, remains one of philosophy and style with Mourinho having failed to live up to the swashbuckling, and some might say unrealistic, ideals of many United fans.
But, beyond that, there remain major concerns about the squad Mourinho has assembled, at huge cost, in his near two years in charge, his handling of a number of players and, arguably most damning, his failure to improve key personnel.
Pep Guardiola may not be everybody’s cup of tea, particularly in the red quarters of Manchester, but nobody can question that numerous City players have improved hugely under his guidance.
Under Mourinho, can the same be said of Marcus Rashford, Paul Pogba or Romelu Lukaku, for example? Absolutely not.
More alarming, at least from a financial point of view, has been Mourinho’s failure to integrate and motivate Pogba and Alexis Sanchez, the former signed for a €105m fee and the latter on a salary which were eye-watering, even by United standards.
The pair, under more pressure to deliver at Wembley from the moment Lukaku declared himself unfit, flitted around the edges of the final — Sanchez completely anonymous, Pogba delivering a couple of decent crossfield passes and then missing his team’s best chance of an equaliser when he headed wide, unmarked, from eight yards.
All of which offers Mourinho plenty of food for thought as he pours over his critics’ words during the first few days of his summer holiday.
“Of course, this is football,” said United midfielder Nemanja Matic when asked if Saturday’s defeat piles more pressure on his team next season. “When you don’t win one year the next year is always more pressure. It is a normal thing and we have to accept that and deal with that.”
Money, as usual, will be no object for Mourinho this summer but quite where does he concentrate in adding such experience?
Solid as Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young have been, two specialist full-backs might be a start. What does Mourinho do with a group of central defenders all of whom, at various times, have fallen out of favour with their manager?
How does he accommodate Pogba into his line-up and if, as seems certain now, the Frenchman cannot, or will not, play a more defensive midfield role then a natural replacement for the retired Michael Carrick is a must. So too, incidentally, a player who can offer an option at number nine as a back-up for, or alternative to, Lukaku.
“I think we need some players with some experience to bring some more qualities to our team,” added Matic.
“After that, we can fight for the title and the Champions League also.”
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