A few months ago, news that Jose Mourinho has signed a contract extension at Manchester United would have been surprising, as the early signs of meltdowns seen at his previous clubs began to show.
Mourinho claimed supporters weren’t backing Romelu Lukaku, which left fans puzzled and had a negative impact on the striker’s form. Mourinho then gave an interview to French media, in which he sang the praises of Paris and the project PSG were undertaking. But if those were signs of itchy feet and that he already had his next job in mind, nothing further came from them and Mourinho will prolong his stay at the club.
It would be difficult to argue why this is a bad move for United; the manager is happy at the club, won two trophies last season and still has the pulling power to attract the best players in the game. The signing of Alexis Sanchez has answered any doubts over the club’s competitiveness in the transfer market, after being outspent by City for four of the past five seasons.
Mourinho’s commitment to the club — and vice versa — is positive. There has been so much change since the 2013 retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson and consistency behind the scenes is important. Chopping and changing managers, which sees old systems overhauled with new ways of playing and new players to fit that method, is a difficult foundation for success. It also costs a fortune.
The news won’t be unanimously welcome; some supporters have been against Mourinho since before his appointment and cite his past behaviour, from the eye gouge of Tito Vilanova to treatment of Chelsea doctor Eva Carneiro, among other incidents. There was also disquiet over Mourinho’s record with developing young players, as well as his negative tactics in big games and instances of his players downing tools after a couple of years under him.
History has repeated itself in some regard, particularly with the tactics deployed for the biggest games. Fans would rather draw 0-0 at Liverpool than concede four goals, as City did recently, but that result also proved how vulnerable Pep Guardiola’s team could be when attacked, which United failed to do in December’s 2-1 defeat at Old Trafford.
Mourinho has played youth-team products Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard regularly, as well as giving Anthony Martial a prominent role, which has seen him flourish. But Scott McTominay is the only player from the next generation to get any decent amount of playing time; fans have been frustrated that Tim Fosu-Mensah and Axel Tuanzebe have been loaned out instead of getting first-team chances.
The manager would argue that playing every week elsewhere is better for development and he has a point. Fosu-Mensah, for example, has impressed at Crystal Palace and, if he comes back to United and plays more regularly at a higher level, there won’t be many complaints.
And in terms of unsavoury incidents, Mourinho has been fairly well behaved. He’s a stubborn man and likely won’t change his ways easily, but there’s no denying that he’s curbed his behaviour. He might get into trouble for kicking water bottles and stepping an inch on to the field of play these days, but can be forgiven for that.
Plenty was made over Mourinho’s decision to stay at a hotel, rather than buy a house in Manchester, but as time has gone by that move has become more understandable. His home at The Lowry is akin to an apartment and he has a personal chef, which suits his self-confessed “lazy” lifestyle.
“If the fans want me to be comfortable, that’s the way I feel comfortable,” he explained. “I’m in an apartment where I have all the comfort and support, like living in a house. If they’re worried about me being comfortable and happy and supported, I really am. If they want me to be in a house that I don’t like, lonely, away from my assistants, then I would be a sad guy and sad guys don’t work well.”
Mourinho has repeatedly spoken about the love he has for his players and clearly wants to see what they can become. It’s true that United are a long way off City, but the Premier League leaders were a long way off Chelsea last season.
No one could have imagined that Guardiola would have turned a trophyless debut campaign, in which his side finished 15 points behind Antonio Conte’s men, into a situation whereby City have a lead of the same size over the defending champions.
Guardiola might build something incredible but he had a head start in terms of players in the squad he inherited. Whereas Mourinho needed to buy his own star striker in Lukaku, as well as important midfielders like Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic, the presence of Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne meant Guardiola could focus on his defence.
With another transfer window, Mourinho will have his team in a stronger position to challenge for the title and that is why this contract extension is an important statement: Both club and manager are showing commitment to doing whatever they can to take United forward and return the glory days to Old Trafford.