Jose Mourinho's arrival at Manchester United is the biggest story heading into the English Premier League Season. While Pep Guardiola's arrival at Manchester City and Antonio Conte's bow at Chelsea would have stolen the headlines in any other year, all eyes are fixed on Mourinho. Mourinho remains a polarising figure in world football and a lightning rod for discussion. There have been whispers that Mourinho has coveted the Old Trafford hot seat since the retirement of the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson. His dramatic meltdown at Chelsea was as swift as it was stunning. His arrival at Old Trafford was perfect timing for Mourinho as United lurched from one mediocre campaign to the next.
United fans have had to hop down from their high horse in recent years. Spoilt by the brilliance and longevity of the master Sir Alex Ferguson, the club that once preached to be a world apart from the likes of Real Madrid and Chelsea in sacking managers and splashing cash are now no different. United, under Ed Woodward, have had a haphazard transfer policy which has flopped more than flourished on expensive big names. United have floundered in recent years under the overwhelmed David Moyes and the pragmatic egotist Louis Van Gaal with the majority of fans aghast and baying for blood. Many United fans and even legends within the club like Sir Bobby Charlton thought they were too classy to employ the narcissist and the egomaniac that is Mourinho. However returning to past glories has become a desperate conquest for Ed Woodward and once it was obvious Guardiola was on his way to City, there was only ever going to be one manager that fitted the bill at Old Trafford.
Jose Mourinho at his best makes Manchester United a very different beast heading into this season. Mourinho is a winner; he has an eye watering CV and he won't be afraid to let you know about it. He knows the Premier League inside out and rival managers will be wary of Mourinho on the rebound from his disaster at Chelsea. Whilst the job seemed too big for David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal, Mourinho will revel in being the favourites and secretly salivate at the thought of outdoing Sir Alex.
Mourinho is too good a Manager not to bounce back from his Chelsea debacle. At every club he managed, he won the title within two seasons, and the pundits and United fans will expect nothing less at Old Trafford. Ominously he seems to be getting his transfer business done early in an attempt to catch a jump on his rivals. There is no better frontrunner in world football than Mourinho. Once he gets his side out on top, they grind out seasons in a grizzly and determined fashion as he proved at Chelsea, Inter, Madrid and then back at Chelsea the second time around.
Mourinho rose to prominence as the self-proclaimed "Special One" at Chelsea in 2004. He became the best manager and was extremely confident, brash, a box office sensation with the media, and a man who seemingly was the ultimate winner. He built his managerial reputation on created a siege mentality and motivating his players to play like ravenous dogs against the world. Whilst his style of football is functional rather then freewheeling, Mourinho rarely gets it wrong in the big games. He emphasises winning over philosophy or style of football which other managers love to hide behind. I loved that about him and you always felt confident going into big finals or occasions that Mourinho would have his tactics spot on.
However, make no mistake. Mourinho arrives at United as damaged goods. He is no longer the cocksure, guaranteed success and domineering force that he was in the mid-2000s. His last two stints at Madrid and Chelsea have ended in bedlam and acrimony. Mourinho stunningly lost both dressing rooms, as players became sick of Mourinho's mind games and personal criticism. It was a situation which was foreign to Mourinho and he looked a fish out of water trying to deal with doubting players.
If you thought his time at Madrid ended in acrimony and chaos, Chelsea was Madrid on steroids. A 3rd place finish at Madrid and being sent off in a losing Copa Del Rey final was seen as a disaster for Mourinho. Rightly he called it the worst season in his career. He was run out of Madrid on the back or of a split dressing room, a media aghast at his antics and a club embarrassed by some of his meltdowns. Whilst his comeback to Chelsea was built up as a returning hero, things never quite felt the same. It was no small feat that Mourinho won the Premier League in 2013/14 and the Carling Cup with a Chelsea side that had been inconsistent for years since his departure. However the signs of him cracking up were already apparent in their title winning season. He appeared, weary, less confident, even miserable at times, and this was when they were front running and steam rolling their way to the title! He waged war on anything from Arsene Wenger, to Referees, to the Broadcasters, Ball Boys, and even his own fans. Mourinho became a miserable sod, even when winning. Something felt different to his first spell in charge. Whilst his swagger was still there, it was not as pronounced.
The tipping point for Mourinho proved the bitter fall-out from the Eva Carniero incident on the opening day of his third season at Chelsea. Mourinho had cut a chastised and dark figure for much of the pre-season as the Chelsea hierarchy had failed to provide him with adequate reinforcements to defend his title. Mourinho's ridiculous rant and demotion of Carniero was a sign of bigger problems. Players that would run through a brick wall for him had now hit the wall. His Chelsea side simply fell apart and were stunningly on course for relegation when he was sacked in December. Mourinho looked like a man in permanent meltdown, indeed at times I thought he was desperate to get sacked, such was the crisis he found himself in. His press conferences became more and more deranged; his soliloquies more and more bizarre as his Chelsea side lurched from one capitulation to the next. Indeed when he was sacked it felt like more a relief than anything else.
Indeed Mourinho's methods are so intense and demanding of players that by his third season all the juice has been squeezed out of the orange. It happened at Chelsea on both occasions and happened at Madrid. Mourinho was at his best when working with old school veterans who loved being challenged and could cope with criticism. The players we grew to love and trust and the players that adored him were old school rough riders like John Terry, Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and Claude Makelele at Chelsea. At Inter he found similar grizzly veterans that loved his methods like Materatzzi, Cambiasso, Millito, Eto'o and Sneijder. Footballers though these days are becoming more and more precious. These old school warriors like a Drogba or Cambiasso are in shorter supply. Players are Generation Y now; they don't all like the mind games Mourinho plays. They don't respond well to criticism. They don't understand or respond to the siege mentality.
It's why I think overall Jose Mourinho as a manager is far from the Goliath that he was in the mid 2000's. His charm and swagger have been replaced with more doubt and more conspiracy theories. Teams and opposition managers have started to take his sides on and not fear his mind games. Whilst at Manchester United Mourinho will see the perfect opportunity to prove he remains a force to be reckoned with, huge doubts now must be had in his own mind and in the transfixed media.
As a staunch Chelsea fan I will always regard Mourinho as the Number 1 manager in Chelsea's history. The passion he put into the job and the memories he created at Chelsea will live for a lifetime and I will be forever grateful. I loved him when he was in charge at Stamford Bridge because he turned the club and it's senior players into a winning machine. It is too early for me to predict exactly how I think this Premier League season will play out. Until the transfer window edges towards the close, I will keep my powder dry at predicting a ladder for now. However there is no doubt United are more of a threat under Mourinho. One thing is for certain though - he will not change. He will create the same circus around himself in varying degrees throughout the season and United officials and fans will have to live with that. From a Chelsea fan's viewpoint I am worried that he will succeed, but not totally resigned to it. Now as the Manger of Manchester United, he is a rival and an enemy. I will be intrigued to see how it all plays out and I would be lying if I said I hope it doesn't end up a spectacular failure.