Mourinho, Man United and the meaning of 'football heritage'
Well, well, well. Friday saw Jose Mourinho give a typically intriguing press conference, of which there will be several interpretations. Whatever he truly meant, one wonders whether the manner of Manchester United's defeat to Sevilla in the Champions League's Round of 16 has hurt him more deeply than he cares to admit.
Whatever Mourinho says -- and he had plenty to say -- the fact remains that, with Sevilla's form and United's resources, the manner of the loss was nothing less than a professional humiliation; the style in which they succumbed was unbecoming of a club with such a history of attacking football. And history was a major topic as Mourinho addressed the media, during which time he came out with a phrase that will doubtless enter into lore.
As part of a 12-minute monologue, he spoke repeatedly of United's "football heritage," mounting a passionate defence of the work he has done at Old Trafford. Moreover, he criticised Louis van Gaal's signings, asking: "Do you know how many of United's players that left the club last season? See where they play, how they play, if they play."
Mourinho might feel entitled to a better reception than that which he has received from some. He has United second in the Premier League, above Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham, having beaten each of those rivals. United are in the quarterfinals of the FA Cup and that, having won the EFL Cup and Europa League last season, suggests he has restored something of a winning mentality.
He might argue that he is exactly who he said he was and that he is doing exactly the job he was expected to do. Mourinho is Mourinho is Mourinho. It was unrealistic to ask him to evolve into a manager whose teams consistently play thrilling football. A little like the character of "The Wolf" in Pulp Fiction, he was brought in to restore order to chaos, and quickly.
If United had continued much longer as they had under van Gaal, then they might have existed as nothing more than a top-six side. Instead, Mourinho has more than edged them back toward being contenders again. By that logic, he probably thinks he has some right to feel aggrieved.
But we return to that idea of "heritage" and this is where Mourinho suffers. He might have correctly listed the number of times United exited the Champions League in recent years, but never before have they gone out with such passivity, as was the case on Tuesday.
While talk of "the United way" often seems a nebulous concept, whatever it is, it is not what observers saw against Sevilla. What they saw was a reminder that, in order to return to the summit of English football, a pact was made that could not have been more pragmatic.
The club employed Mourinho to bring success but the problem for the manager they chose is that this season's Champions League has seen the revenge of the "poets" he once mocked. Each of the sides entering the quarterfinals have largely reached that stage while playing attractive football; the type that United supporters crave.
Mourinho's framing of his role is interesting. He sees himself as being someone, who has restored stability to the club for the next person; hence his quote that "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."
It is interesting which players he named: Those he feels he can most rely upon, as well as two of his most impressive signings. His remarks were also interesting for their tone -- passionate, defiant, indignant -- and he made no reference to the way that United are playing.
This could have been a deliberate omission, since Mourinho knows that any argument in defence of the Sevilla performances would be painfully thin and he is too smart for that. But it also showed that he has never considered himself to be an aesthete when it comes to football and offered confirmation that he never will.
The overwhelming message from Friday's events was that United got exactly what they were asking for and, for all his successes and failures, Mourinho has a point.
Musa Okwonga is one of ESPN FC's Manchester United bloggers. Follow on Twitter: @Okwonga.