As much as Manchester United knew what they were getting into with Jose Mourinho, Mourinho also knew what was going to be expected of him at Manchester United.
From the moment he was unveiled by the club in July 2016 he has been left in no doubt that there is a different set of expectations placed on the manager of Manchester United, that whatever his experiences and successes elsewhere he will be judged within quite specific parameters by the fans at Old Trafford.
The need to entertain supporters has always been every bit as important as silverware at the Theatre of Dreams – perhaps more so, even. From Matt Busby telling Bobby Charlton of the need to put a smile on the faces of factory workers in Trafford Park through to Alex Ferguson’s thirst for high-tempo, often thrilling attacking play, United’s modus operandi has rarely changed over a period of some decades.
And it wasn’t about to change for the sake of bringing in the Portuguese. There was always going to be some give and take, but Mourinho would have to play ball every bit as much as United’s fans.
That is why Tuesday night’s shock Champions League exit to Sevilla has jarred so overwhelmingly with United fans. It wasn’t just that their side went out of the competition, but that they had done so by killing their own attacking instincts for most of the tie’s 180 minutes in a bid to stifle a far inferior team.
This Sevilla outfit have shipped five goals in a game five times so far this season, but United managed only four shots on target over two legs. A United team with the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Juan Mata, Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard, all of them with an abundance of tremendous attacking potential, were restrained to such an extent that they managed just four shots in two games. It just wouldn’t make sense if their manager wasn’t Mourinho.
His decision to select Marouane Fellaini over Paul Pogba was a lightning rod for criticism even before Wissam Ben Yedder had come off the bench to score twice, and it will remain an unfathomable selection for years to come for most United supporters. But then again, others will simply look at it as an example of Mourinho’s blatant disregard for his club in his quest for personal vindication.
The man himself was right when he said in his post-match press conference that elimination from the Champions League is not the end of the world. There is, indeed, always next season.
But the way in which he sent his side out to deliberately play within themselves in some twisted belief that they couldn’t be trusted to see off Sevilla will take some getting over among the United fan base. As will what he added about his previous Old Trafford achievements in the Champions league
“It’s not the end of the world. I sit in this chair twice in the Champions League and I knock out Man Utd at home, at Old Trafford. I sit in this chair with Porto – Man Utd out. I sit in this chair with Real Madrid – Man Utd out… So I don’t think it’s something new for the club.”
To kick your own club’s supporters in the gut like that so soon after presiding over an abomination of a performance is remarkable. By cherry-picking through his personal experiences and fingering United failures as the common denominator he has made a deliberate attempt to shift the blame from himself at a moment when he knows full well he has let the club down.
He went on to claim that United’s wasn’t a bad performance and that it was little more than a piece of fortune which saw Sevilla grab the all-important first goal, but it all felt disingenuous in the least.
With both his decision-making on the training field and his antics in front of the microphone, Mourinho proved that he has fundamentally misjudged Manchester United as a club and his task as its manager.
If he thought he could serve up performances like that and have fans just brush it off, he was sadly mistaken. And if he believed that he could taunt his own supporters by dismissing Champions League failure as somehow par for the course, then he is in for a rude awakening.
For most United fans, Mourinho has been seen as a necessary evil. His style of management was considered the quickest route back to the top and there was a hope that he would begin to bring about a more fluid approach to the beautiful game at some point along the way.
There were always going to be a few who would take longer to come around to his charms, but it feels like Tuesday was the night he may have lost many of them for good. Even his allies will find it hard to defend him.
Some have even begun to call for his head. It would seem to be a premature sentiment given that the Champions League exit is Mourinho’s first real failure as United boss and they were unlikely to win the competition even had they progressed past Sevilla, but the fact that it was almost entirely of his own making and was then compounded by his childishness after the match has given the fans a variety of sticks with which to beat him.
Mourinho could yet go on to win more trophies as Manchester United manager, but in so outrageously misjudging the mood at Old Trafford he has ensured that he will never truly win over the United fans.