Manchester United manager José Mourinho has insisted he is “one of the greatest managers in the world” during a fiery press conference – another one – ahead of his side’s crucial Premier League visit to Burnley on Sunday.
Mourinho was in defiant mood as he faced provocative questions from the British press, continuing what has been a testing start to the new campaign for the former Porto boss, both on and off the field at Old Trafford.
United have lost two of their opening three Premier League games, with the latest seeing the Red Devils suffer a 3-0 defeat at home to Tottenham Hotspur on Monday evening. Mourinho, who remained on the pitch after the match to share mutual applause with sections of the home crowd, maintained that he was happy with the performance.
It has been a problematic season for the Portuguese from the start. An opening day victory over Leicester City was quickly overshadowed by inflammatory comments made by star player Paul Pogba, who appeared to indirectly confront his manager, while reports emerged detailing the club overruling Mourinho’s summer recruitment plans over disagreements about strategy.
Such stories continued during the week, with newspapers indicating that the United hierarchy intend to issue Anthony Martial a new contract, despite an apparent openness from Mourinho to sell the Frenchman, leading to a sense that the discord between club and manager is growing.
Mourinho, who last week maintained that his relationship with Chief Executive Ed Woodward was still strong, was targeted for provocation from the opening minute of his press conference on Friday, with a journalist asking him to respond to chants from Tottenham fans questioning whether he was still ‘The Special One’.
“They did not have that song when we beat them (in the FA Cup semi-final) at Wembley a couple of months ago. A cup final that they had a big dream to go to; a title they had a big dream to win, because they don’t have many. That night the United fans were singing “the special one” and of course they were not singing that.”
The former Real Madrid boss was then asked to describe his feelings on managing one of the greatest clubs in the world, and Mourinho appeared irked by the question. “I am the manager of one of the greatest clubs in the world, but I am also one of the greatest managers in the world”.
Mourinho’s time at United has seen him attract more criticism than perhaps at any point during his career so far. Despite last season’s second place finish – United’s highest since Alex Ferguson retired in 2013 – and winning the Europa League and League Cup in 2017, Mourinho has been subjected to unflattering comparisons with rival Pep Guardiola, while the quality of United’s football, transfer recruitment and his relationship with his players have also been major talking points.
Success in stabilising United’s results – including wins over rivals Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham during the closing months of the season – has not prevented Mourinho’s tactical pragmatism from becoming a popular issue when measuring him against rival managers Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, Mauricio Pochettino and more recently Maurizio Sarri of Chelsea.
When pressed on whether he would still be one of the great managers if he failed to win the league title with United, the 55-year-old was stern in his response. “Do you ask that question to the manager who finished 3rd in the Premier League last season? To the manager that finished 4th? To the manager that finished 5th?
“I had great success in my career? I had great success last season. That’s what probably you don’t want to admit. You do what you want; I do what I want. I analyse my performance, myself. For me it’s more important what I think, not what you think.
“Two seasons ago we had a fantastic season, by winning the Europa League. Last season everyone thought Atletico Madrid were amazing for winning the Europa League. We are the last team in England to win a European competition.
“I have won eight titles. I am the only manager in the world that won Italy, Spain and England. Eight titles – not small titles; proper titles. With this I say my second position last season was one of my greatest achievements in football.”
Mourinho’s team travel to Burnley on Sunday fully aware that a win is vital to get their season back on track. The United manager, who was in attendance as Burnley were eliminated from the Europa League by Olympiakos on Thursday at Turf Moor, said he felt the Clarets were unlucky to be eliminated.
“I went there, and I knew they would probably rest a lot of the players who will play Sunday, and that happened. I think they were very unlucky. If they score one of the big chances they had early in the beginning of the second half, if they score I think they would win the tie.”
The omens for Mourinho are good, with his United side having won both of their visits to Burnley since his appointment without conceding a goal. Ahead of the match, midweek press reports have ranged from stories claiming some at United feel Mourinho’s position is precarious, to stories of a stronger-than-ever relationship with vice-chairman Woodward.
Victory on Sunday, however, and the avoidance of a third consecutive league defeat ahead of the international break, will no doubt be the most important headline for the Portuguese.
By Sean Gillen