Quite hard to comprehend what you’d have to do to get sacked on a Tuesday. Maybe the Monday was too busy: hand-wringing takes time.
Or maybe José just holed himself up in his hotel room with the phone off the hook, ignoring all points of contact, telling himself if he never speaks to anyone ever again, he can’t ever be sacked. Like one of those Japanese soldiers cutting about in the jungle, unaware that the war’s been over for twenty years now, José Mourinho sending emails to club staff, his account bouncing back or redirecting whenever you try to reply.
“Sign Mats Hummels.” he emails. “Sell Paul Pogba.” Every 3pm. Like clockwork.
They were expecting him to pack his bags and be gone by the midday checkout. That’s why he’s travelled so light, they thought, he must’ve always seen this coming. But now the opposite is true. He pays entire years up front. Always handled it himself, assuring everyone it was just his fierce independence rather than another calculating Plan B. He’ll be damned if anyone’s going to take him off his property, the 600-foot hotel room that overlooks Salford or the dugout of Man United.
Months pass. He’s barricaded himself into his room so he can’t see anyone. He makes lavish Ocado orders and makes the drivers park in the forecourt, throwing down the huge lengths of tied-together bedsheets for the delivery guy to lash his shopping bags to. His hair was growing long and lank, like a Portuguese Howard Hughes. He trusts nobody to cut it. Squeezy sports-bottles of piss everywhere. Lurid, scribbled threats to Paul and Alexis and Romelu adorn his walls. Quite haunting, really.
He’s in his pants, of course, but then he always is: it used to be pants and coat, in the halcyon days of West London harmony, but it’s just pants now, his body frail and brittle, his eyes two angry cranberries. He doesn’t sleep. Sleep is where they get you.
Now he’s got a lot of time to think: It’s quite hard to know where you can go from here if you’re José Mourinho You know, besides check out of the hotel you’ve been living in for a few years and quietly move back to Setúbal. The painful truth is that he was a top manager who won lots of silverware with his best days probably behind him when he arrived in Manchester. Man United remain the biggest club in the world on the books of Ed Woodward, but even they must admit they’re second-rate, desperately clutching to the coat-tails of the world-class teams around them, a spent and bitter force who’ve seen themselves too clearly reflected in Mourinho.
“Who’d take a punt on me now?” José thinks to himself. He’s been sacked before (three years and one day since he was sacked by Chelsea) but never without suitors waiting. His penchant for vitriol, innuendo, and virtuosic displays of piss-boiling, his instant-meme attitude to everything—win or lose—and unfailing demand to be the centre of attention when they’re winning—when HE is winning—and absolved of all wrongdoing when they lose was always funny in the past but now sees him a man out of time. Can he ever take charge of a top three team again? Or will he be filed away with the Big Sams and Dancing Alans, simply a more expensive curio in the Deluded Middle Aged Manager collection?
The trouble is, unlike many of the others in that managerial scrapheap, José Mourinho is actually quite a nice person away from football. He’s charming and funny, kind and patient with fans, always there to wink into the phone camera or upend Olly Murs at a charity kickabout. It’s just that as soon as things don’t go his way, the pressure to be José gets too great, building up in his head ever-ready to explode out of his nostrils.
He moves from the bed to the mirror, meeting the man he finds there. He takes out his razor and Bics his hair right down, right to the wood. He moves in closer to inspect his eyes: Is football really worth this? For years he’s looked miserably into the camera, always someone called Jeff prodding and daring and goading him, setting him up for an outburst. Those eyes used to shine. They’ve not shined for a long time. He used to sit in press conferences without looking like a man whose house just burned down. He’s always had a bit of wrestling about him: the pomp and arrogance and ear-holding and crowd-baiting and ability to hold a cameraman by the sack and not let him go until he had finished whatever lucid diatribe he’d launch into against his enemies—real or imagined. Maybe he needs to take some of that on board, disappear for a while, get a new look, come back fresh and hungry when all this has blown over.
Imagine it now, in the cold throes of a distant January. Phil Foden is captain of the England team. Ryan Sessegnon is finally old enough to rent a van. A big club loses their manager... the power vortex has already started... the usual names are bandied about... and the music hits... the push notification jamboree begins... and it’s José Mourinho, flying into the ring of pretenders, clearing everyone out, throwing them over the top rope one after the other after the other, seizing that abandoned managerial post for himself.
Imagine the thrill you’d get from that news, seeing him back after all those years...
José Mourinho deserves his Royal Rumble moment; he just has to go away to come back.
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