When news arrived that Jose Mourinho had been making eyes at PSG and declaring that his presence at Old Trafford will be temporary, I remembered a chance encounter with the executive who once turned down Mourinho’s application for the Barcelona job.
The executive in question, now at Manchester City, had just watched Pep Guardiola give a slightly nervous inaugural press conference at the club — a contrast to Mourinho’s far more muscular first performance at Old Trafford a few weeks earlier.
‘There will be trouble in the end with Mourinho,’ this individual told me as we stood at the top of the staircase near City’s press conference theatre. ‘There is always trouble with Mourinho.’
There is always an ulterior motive, too. Every word he utters is weighed and has a purpose. His weekend performance on the French TV channel TF1 was transparently a demand for a new contract, more than diversionary tactics for his lavishly assembled team’s pitifully unambitious display at Anfield.
Don’t let it be said that Mourinho is the first Manchester United manager to make a play for extra money in public. When Alex Ferguson felt aggrieved that Arsenal’s George Graham was earning twice as much as him in the early 1990s, he slipped it into a conversation with a national newspaper journalist.
There was subtlety, but the intention was clear. And the pay rise duly came: a doubling of Ferguson’s salary to £500,000 a year in May 1996. He played the media, for sure, yet the substantive point is undeniable — the Scot had the courage of his convictions.
He didn’t dress it up. He let it be known that he wanted more.
Mourinho took to French television to praise the ‘magic, quality and youth’ of PSG
Sir Alex Ferguson knew he needed to command credibility and so acted with much more class
Ferguson would no sooner have drooled over another club’s ‘magic, quality, youth, specialness’ — Mourinho’s breathless definition of PSG — than he would have taken a pay cut. That’s because he knew that he would soon enough have a player wanting more money in his office. He would need credibility when he looked him in the eye and said ‘no’.
Mourinho doesn’t see beyond the scope of his self-interest, of course. He has the languages, the sports science qualification and the comfortable upbringing, the clever way with words.
Ferguson has the school-leaver’s certificate, the toolmaker’s apprenticeship and infinitely more class.