“Respect, respect, respect” was the call from Jose Mourinho that echoed through football the last time he was involved in a Manchester United versus Tottenham clash at Old Trafford.
Here was a manager on the cusp of a crisis, in full confrontational mode at a post-match news conference that passed boiling point – riled when it was pointed out many home supporters had walked out before the final whistle.
Here was Mourinho defending his patch ferociously, standing up for his players, for the supporters and, lastly, for himself. Showing three fingers, and pointing to how he has won three Premier League trophies.
United’s 3-0 home defeat to Spurs in August 2018 was a result that demanded answers and Mourinho had plenty.
Conspiracy theorists might contend otherwise, but Mourinho would maintain he intended to see out his United contract, if not stay for longer. That he was planning to still be in charge today rather than take his leave early, sacked by Christmas last year with a tidy pay-off banked.
Therefore, another theory goes that he is in some way a reluctant Tottenham head coach, and would sooner, in a perfect world, be commandeering the home side than Spurs on Wednesday.
His United service was due to run until the end of this season, yet Mourinho will be in the enemy trenches as he brings Tottenham to a familiar parish.
Here is a look at what Mourinho might expect on his return as a rival manager.
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) December 3, 2019
UNITED ARE A CHANGED TEAM
Under his successor, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the start of a United clear-out occurred in the off-season, and four of the players who played a part in Mourinho’s final game have moved on.
Romelu Lukaku, Matteo Darmian, Ander Herrera and Marouane Fellaini, who was a substitute in Mourinho’s sorry 3-1 swansong defeat at Anfield, have new homes, and Solskjaer has changed the face of the first team.
Appropriately, it is baby-faced in places, with the manager putting his trust in the likes of young Welsh winger Daniel James and pricey but promising full-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka, along with raw teenagers such as Brandon Williams and Mason Greenwood. Harry Maguire, finding his feet, is a player Mourinho wanted but could not get.
Whether the facelift has done the craggy model any favours, however, is already up for question. James has consistently looked the part, and other newcomers have shown top-level ability in flickers.
But 18 points from 14 games is a shabby return for a club of United’s status, and Mourinho will know United are ripe to be still sitting on that same haul after their 15th game.
“THE BEST JUDGE IN FOOTBALL ARE THE SUPPORTERS”
Moments before his demand for “respect” last year, Mourinho stood up for United’s supporters and pointed out how they had appreciated United’s efforts in the heavy defeat to Spurs, and it was true enough – especially before the goals flowed.
This time they will judge him, and it remains to be seen how Mourinho is greeted on his Old Trafford return.
He was received enthusiastically when back as a television pundit earlier this season, but now that his allegiance has switched so the affection for the Portuguese could be in short supply.
The United faithful willed Mourinho to do well, and many bought into the sense of siege mentality that pervaded the latter stages of his reign, but with time and reflection comes clear thinking and reasoned reckoning.
Solskjaer is now the man they are willing to succeed, and any warmth towards Mourinho may well prove short-lived.
“The work that is going on here is always geared on us improving,” Ole says.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) December 3, 2019
THE NEW HOME’S AN UPGRADE
Never mind swapping a five-star Manchester travel tavern for London’s home comforts, there might be another thought that strikes Mourinho when he arrives back in the north-west on Wednesday.
When he walks out at Old Trafford, he will surely notice how 20th century it looks compared to the gleaming Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
It is hard to avoid the conclusion Mourinho has landed on his feet with a supreme opportunity, inheriting a team equipped to compete for honours and a club with their compass pointing to progress.
Tottenham have been built for success, largely by Mauricio Pochettino and Daniel Levy, and Mourinho might get them over the line with a trophy.
Another Old Trafford statement result by Spurs would go some way to persuading sceptics that Mourinho still has what it takes to deliver silverware to his new club. Along with three points, a polished performance would positively demand respect.
For struggling Solskjaer, such an outcome would bring reminders United are no strangers to December dismissals.
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