MANCHESTER, England — He was once the new kid on the block in the Champions League, the Portuguese hurricane blowing through the grandest competition of them all, but now, after his Manchester United team exited the tournament with barely a whimper against Sevilla, Jose Mourinho looks like a man out of touch, on and off the pitch.
The twinkle in his eye has gone, and all we have now is negative football and misplaced attempts at suggesting a round-of-16 elimination doesn’t really matter. After all, he has won this competition twice before and, as he was quick to remind everybody after Sevilla’s 2-1 win at Old Trafford, he has also masterminded away wins for Porto and Real Madrid at this stadium to inflict Champions League misery on United.
The problem now is that he is still inflicting misery on United — ask the supporters what they think of his approach to the game — but should he really be doing that as the team’s manager?
“There is no time to be sad,” Mourinho said after Wissam Ben Yedder’s two goals sent Sevilla into the Champions League quarterfinals for the first time. “This is football. It’s not the end of the world.
“I sit in this chair twice in the Champions League and knocked United out of the Champions League, with Real or Porto, so I don’t think it is something new for the club. I don’t have regrets, I did my best, the players tried their best. We lost, that’s football.”
Any United supporter hearing Mourinho’s comments would instantly rage at the inference that losing to Sevilla is not “the end of the world”. In the real world, Mourinho is 100 percent correct, but football supporters still allow themselves to live in a fantasy world in which the game matters more than anything else for 90 minutes.
Mourinho has little time for such romance, however, and if that means selecting Marouane Fellaini rather than Paul Pogba or Juan Mata, then so be it. And if it means abandoning United’s cavalier, attack-first principles to get a result, then that is what has to be done.
United supporters will put up with that approach if it brings results, as it did against Liverpool at the weekend, but their patience will evaporate quickly if it holds the team back, and that is precisely what happened against Sevilla.
Even by settling for a 0-0 draw in the first leg in Spain three weeks ago, Mourinho signalled that he is a coach who has failed to evolve with the modern game. A 0-0 draw away from home, without an away goal scored, is no longer a positive result in elite European competition because most teams will attack away from home in the return leg in the hope of gaining the upper hand.
Sevilla did that and, once Ben Yedder scored the opener late in the second half, the folly of Mourinho’s first-leg game plan was exposed. The United manager attempted to retrieve the situation by throwing on Anthony Martial and Mata, but it was too little, too late.
And with defeat confirmed, then came the nonchalant dismissal of the elimination as “not the end of the world”. Had David Moyes uttered such comments during his brief reign as United manager, he would have been lambasted, but even Moyes was able to take United into the Champions League quarterfinals.
Mourinho, who keeps reminding us that he has won the competition twice before — but not since 2010 — instead reacts as though he is brushing a stain off his jacket before moving on to something else. He has not always been this way, though.
He really was a game-changer back in 2004, when his Porto team stunned Europe to win the Champions League and catapulted him as the self-styled “Special One” towards Chelsea, Inter Milan, Real and global stardom.
It all began for him at Old Trafford, almost 14 years ago to the day, when Costinha’s 90th-minute goal against Sir Alex Ferguson’s team knocked United out and sent Mourinho sprinting down the touchline in his raincoat. He was the exciting, confident upstart, the coach with the swagger to back up his ambition.
Mourinho came with charisma, and even if the pragmatic approach was similar back then, it was a winning combination. Nobody could touch Mourinho’s team on the pitch because he seemed to have the magic formula. He had it off the pitch, too.
But those days seem a long time ago now, especially with Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City rewriting the record books — and the style guide — over at the Etihad Stadium this season.
Guardiola’s City are showing that attacking football can win, and overcome negativity, but Mourinho appears to be stuck in a rut. His football no longer delivers the biggest trophies and his public comments are now more spiteful than sparkling. But when you antagonise supporters, both with your style of football and reaction to a defeat, then it is a slippery slope for any manager to be on.
Few leaders survive when they become so out of touch.