Mourinho’s immediate reaction to the most recent defeat against Spurs, the first time the North Londoners had won at Old Trafford since 2014, almost distracted from the result as the former Chelsea and Real Madrid boss stood and applauded the section of fans who had stayed until the end and embraced full-back Luke Shaw, a player heavily criticized by the United manager over the last three years but who has started the season well.
The United manager’s outbursts over recent months — one journalist dubbed it a “moanathon” — have led many to ask whether this is the onset of what is called his “third-season syndrome,” a nod to Mourinho’s eruptions in his third seasons at Real and Chelsea (second stint), which ultimately led to him losing his job.
On Friday Mourinho, a title winner in Italy, Spain and England, proclaimed that he would be “one of the greatest managers in the world” even if he doesn’t win the Premier League title while at United.
But should Mourinho fail at United — his team next play Burnley on Sunday — could it be the beginning of the end of Mourinho as a manager of great clubs? Is the 55-year-old out of step with the managerial times?
“He’s a product of a different time and culture,” author and journalist Michael Calvin told CNN World Sport of Mourinho.
“His man management has always been based on the old system of command and control. With the modern player, and in the modern club context, that’s very difficult to get across.
“Look at the situation with Paul Pogba. He embodies the modern footballer who is as much a social media phenomenon than a footballer.
“When United are talking about their social media penetration rates at their AGM that gives you some idea of how powerful he is if there is a power play going on. So Mourinho’s style, and to be honest Mourinho’s ego, can’t really deal with that.”
The Frenchman is failing to fulfill his potential, but whether that is the fault of the player himself or his manager is open to debate.
“You hear a lot of people saying Jose Mourinho needs to get the best out of him but he needs to do it for himself and prove he’s at that level to help Manchester United,” former United great Wayne Rooney, who played under Mourinho for a season, recently told CNN Sport.
Pogba and Mourinho are said to have an uneasy relationship so who would hold more sway if the club ever had to choose between the two?
The 25-year-old has been linked with a move away from Old Trafford, with Barcelona reportedly interested in acquiring the midfielder, according to the transfer rumor mill.
But even though his performances in a red shirt have been underwhelming, would United want to get rid of an asset like Pogba, a player who is likable and clickable — 28 million followers on Instagram and over five million on Twitter and a particular appeal to Generation Z?
In 2017, Pogba was named the third-most marketable sportsperson in the world, while he is also sponsored by Adidas, United’s kit manufacturers.
Ed Woodward, United’s executive vice-chairman, has already said that the team’s performances “doesn’t really have a meaningful impact on what we can do on the commercial side of the business.”
Mourinhho’s reported problems with Pogba — and given his marketing profile — highlights the changing nature of the sport.
One of the issues Calvin explores in his most recent book “State of Play” is the need for more emotionally intelligent managers and coaches in football, as epitomized by England manager Gareth Southgate.
“We’re actually watching someone who is out of his time,” said Calvin of Mourinho.
“It was very marked within the World Cup where Southgate had almost the moral courage to say to these players ‘just be yourselves.'”
Mourinho, in a sense, set the tone for the start of the season United has had.
Entering his third season at Old Trafford, he predicted a “difficult season” for a team which finished second in May.
Not enough money has been spent, said the Portuguese, who has seen three players added to his squad over the summer — Brazil midfielder Fred for $60 million, Portuguese defender Diogo Dalot ($24 million) and third-choice goalkeeper Lee Grant ($2 million).
The Portuguese was also critical of his players this summer; questioning captain Antonio Valencia’s fitness and the length of Anthony Martial’s absence from the summer tour following the birth of his second child.
While United were relatively quiet in the most recent transfer window, Mourinho’s net spend as United boss is reportedly $389 million — only Manchester City (£500 million) has spent more. It was under Mourinho’s stewardship that defenders Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly were purchased, both of whom are currently out of favor with the United boss.
“I think there’s a joylessness about him,” continued Calvin.
“When he came into English football, he had a joy about him and impudence about him. There was definitely a spark in his eyes. Now there’s a deadening effect to his continual pessimism and complaints.
“He talks about not being given the players he wants. He’s spent a lot of money on that team with very little effect.”
In Mourinho’s first season, United won the League Cup and Europa League, but finished sixth, 24 points behind champion Chelsea. Last season his team didn’t really mount an effective challenge to Manchester City as Pep Guardiola’s ran away with the title.
In the opposition dugout on Monday was Mauricio Pochettino, a man, says Calvin, whose managerial style is the future.
“Potch is the exact opposite,” he said. “He drives people, he trusts you and there’s a sense of adventure.
“Someone like Mourinho has lost the ideas of the real values of his football club. The counterpoint to that is someone like [Liverpool manager] Jurgen Klopp. He reflects the emotional intensity of the club.”
Mourinho signed a contract extension in January and former players have spoken out in favor of the manager.
Former United captain Bryan Robson told the United’s TV station that “the track record that Jose has holds up,” while another ex-United player Ryan Giggs said it was time for the club and fans to stick together.
Drawn against Juventus, Valencia and Young Boys in the group stages of the Champions League, United’s fixtures over the winter will not get any easier.
Juventus now has Cristiano Ronaldo in their ranks, Valencia is on the up, while last season United was dumped out of the Champions League stages by Sevilla in the last-16 round.
“The leopard has got to change his spots and I can’t see that happening,” said Calvin.
“The unspoken question so far is: is this Mourinho’s last job at one of the world’s great clubs?
“Mourinho deserves the greatest credit and respect for what he’s done in the game but if we look at what he will do I think we’ve come to the end of the line. I’d be surprised if he’s there at the end of the season.”