It was 2006, the summer after Mourinho had won his second consecutive title with Chelsea. For Manchester United, the Arsenal era had passed and the future was all about matching the threat posed by Roman Abramovich’s money.
Yet it wasn’t just investment that gave Chelsea an advantage. Their coach had a new way of working, too. He was a front-runner. Where United under Sir Alex Ferguson had always focused their efforts on finishing strongly, Mourinho liked to set the pace. And once he did that, he played a tactical game, closing the season out.
Mourinho’s teams do not park the bus, as lazy minds suggest, but they do know how to protect a lead, and sometimes over several months.
‘Traditionally our preparation for a new season had emphasised the second half of the 38-game programme,’ wrote Ferguson in his autobiography.
Now he was finding the old rules did not apply. Once Chelsea got a significant buffer it did not matter how United finished. In 2004-05, Chelsea went top on November 6 and did not relinquish that lead. The following season, they were even more commanding - a procession from first place that began on August 24, three games in, after a 4-0 win over West Bromwich Albion.
Ferguson knew he had to change. ‘A lesson we took on board was that slow starts could no longer be tolerated if we were to face down Chelsea,’ he wrote.
The following year, a two-week spell in late September was the only period Manchester United were not top of the league - to win their previous title, in 2002-03, United hit the front for the first time on April 12.
So Mourinho has already changed the ethos at Manchester United. That is what, at his best, he brings. A new broom.
Leicester and Claudio Ranieri are credited with sounding the death knell for pure possession football - but watch Mourinho’s Inter Milan team against Barcelona in 2010 for a masterclass in how to operate without the ball.
Not that all of his strengths concern negativity. Many of the Premier League records set in his first season in English football still stand, including most points (95), most wins (29), most away wins (15), fewest goals against (15) and fewest goals conceded away from home (none). And, if anything, his second season was better than the first - it usually is.
This is the manager who held such appeal for United they were willing to start paying him months before offering the job - and to give him compensation if they ultimately changed their minds.
There was a route that would have seen Louis van Gaal see out his final year, but it involved Manchester United securing Champions League football, the bottom line for any coach at Old Trafford from this point.
Despite positive recent financial results, Ed Woodward, the chief executive, believes a point is being reached at which seasons outside Europe’s most prestigious competition will begin to harm the United brand. He has seen the effect on clubs such as AC Milan, and is concerned.
Mourinho is viewed as the type of coach who will get Champions League football on lockdown. The final season of his second spell at Chelsea is viewed as the exception, with a consistent level of success and high-end competition the rule, and United were aware that Van Gaal’s position could be significantly weakened as he entered the final year of his career in management.
Mourinho, though equally dogmatic in approach at times, arrives empowered at a club whose standards need to be raised. He will also be viewed as a charismatic manager, his individual pull perhaps capable of overcoming the absence of Champions League football this season.
So they want him. And he wants them? Resoundingly, yes.
Ever since that famous sprint down the touchline with Porto, Mourinho has seen Old Trafford as his stage. There was talk of Paris Saint-Germain and, no doubt, if an offer from United had not materialised, the opportunity to work again - and a tilt at the Champions League - may have appealed.
Yet Mourinho is scornful of Europe’s less-than-competitive leagues and PSG’s 31-point winning margin this season is perhaps the most extreme example of that.
‘I think England is the country mother of football,’ he said, announcing his return to Stamford Bridge three years ago. ‘The competitiveness is very, very high. I don’t enjoy too much winning 6-0. I don’t enjoy too much to play in a league where you know you are against another team and you know that this is about 90 points, 92 points, 96 points, 100 points, 100 goals, 110 goals, 120 goals.
‘If you make a little mistake and you lose, you are in big trouble because your direct opponent won’t lose any matches. The number of points Barcelona got last season, to finish second, would have won every league in the world. The same with Real Madrid this season. It’s a two-horse race.’
In France, you can halve that field, and Mourinho knows it. The money would be good, but largely irrelevant to a man of his means. Mourinho has long been convinced the greatest challenge is in English football.
In 2014, he was honoured by the Football Writers’ Association. Van Gaal, his mentor, was among the speakers and talked at length on his specialist subject - the greatness and wisdom of Louis van Gaal - before Mourinho put many cynics in the room to shame with a speech setting out his love for English football.
‘I feel I am more English than the English,’ he said. ‘When I attack the divers, when I defend the cups, when I play my best team in all the cup competitions because I think it is important - and when I say there are too many foreign managers, and the jobs should go also to the best British managers.’
José Mourinho | The Special One ★HD★ Welcome To Manchester Unitedhttps://t.co/a1iyCC5haL— Man Utd Videos ⚽️ (@ManUtdVines) May 22, 2016
He would later expand on that address.
‘English football pushes everybody to the maximum of possibilities,’ he said. ‘The extra competition, 60 matches, 70 matches, three matches in a row, the Christmas period, the Easter period, the accumulation, pushing people to the limit. That’s fantastic.
‘I’m not saying it’s right. I just love it. Sometimes you love things that aren’t right. Would I prefer to have a week’s holiday at Christmas, like I did in Spain? New York two years ago, Brazil last year. No, I prefer to play. I was envious at home watching the Premier League in that time. Total envy. Is it right playing four consecutive matches? Probably not. But I love it.’
One imagines, therefore, that he will not be protesting about Europa League football and the subsequent Thursday-Sunday treadmill at United next season; or maybe he will. That’s Mourinho style, too, wanting it all ways.
The idea that he will not encourage United’s youth talent is nonsense to anyone who has followed the careers of Kurt Zouma, Raphael Varane, the 22-year-old Petr Cech picked ahead of Carlo Cudicini and then the 22-year-old Thibaut Courtois picked ahead of Cech.
He gave 18 players their debuts at Real Madrid and played Davide Santon at 17 at Inter. Marcus Rashford has been one of Manchester United’s best players in recent months and good managers do not drop their best players just for being teenagers. Mourinho is no exception. Expect Rashford to feature next season, as he has in this campaign. Timothy Fosu- Mensah seems to have a little of Zouma about him, too.
Expect Ryan Giggs to still be around the place as well. He was known to have been unhappy with Van Gaal’s style - it is hard to believe he did not have some sympathy with the criticism of former team-mates - and it was thought he might leave if overlooked for the main job again.
The suggestion is, however, that he will chose to work with Mourinho, and use the opportunity to at least find out about a coach regarded among Europe’s best. He may also reason that, if Mourinho is successful, it will look equally impressive on his own c.v. - and he may then be better placed to succeed him, if Mourinho’s tenure conforms to previous patterns.
You never know, though: he might fall in love. He has waited a long time for this - and if any club has that power, it is Manchester United.
Original source: Jose was destined for Old Trafford