It is not everyday you win a trophy, even Jose Mourinho would agree with that. However if one man could at least stake a claim to do so, I suspect it would be Mourinho himself. Having won the EFL Cup for the fourth time in his career in England, Mourinho now equals the achievements of other great managers from the past and surpasses others.
And yet even for Mourinho the season has not been as successful as he and the Manchester United supporters might have hoped. With at least fourth place in the premiership a dreamers wish, sixth place was and is their permanent home for season 2016/2017.
The achievable goal once fourth place was recognised as unattainable was to win the Europa League Final. On Wednesday 24th May amid sadness and unimaginable sorrow Mourinho’s United embraced the one remaining piece of silverware not on display at Old Trafford. In defeating a youthful but overawed Ajax 2-0 there was a sense of completeness but not closure at the seasons endgame.
Jose Mourinho if nothing else is a pragmatist and whilst the Europa League Final was another trophy on his outstanding CV, the main prize was entry into next season’s Champions League. Ironically it was achieved in what was arguably their easiest fixture for some considerable time.
The expectations were high when Mourinho was named the new Manchester United manager last May. Following two seasons of Louis Van Gaal’s sideways, backwards possession football and his confusing philosophy, although to be fair, it ended with victory in the FA Cup Final. The David Moyes regime prior to Van Gaal started with a root and branch dissection of the club, beginning with the backroom staff, arrogance which Moyes never overcame.
A brief interlude of four matches after Moyes was sacked in May 2014 saw interim Manchester United manager Ryan Giggs achieve two wins, one draw and one defeat in his short spell in charge. The Manchester United board deciding in the end to offer the managers job to Van Gaal with Giggs taking on the assistant managers roll.
Mourinho arrived at least as a proven, if somewhat tarnished winner, from his enforced wilderness experience.For many his tenure started three years too late, whist for some, not in the Mourinho camp, it probably should not have started at all.
Supporters who feared that his particular baggage would not suit the Old Trafford club had a point, and perhaps after Mourinho’s recent body language, excuses and expressive antics still do.
Sharing his opinions on Luke Shaw in public for example whether rightly or wrongly, has not gone down well. The flip side of which some argue is the inability of players today to take any form of criticism. In fairness when Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson disciplined players, it was generally behind closed doors, generally.
Add to this the odd curve ball which Mourinho is apt to throw from time to time like naming Marouane Fellaini the Manchester United captain at Sunderland. If Mourinho has a blind spot then it has Fellaini’s name written all over it. In the same vain, for some supporters but perhaps to a lesser degree, you can add the name of Jesse Lingard.
On the plus side Mourinho has become the first Manchester United manager to win two major honours in his first season, three if the Charity Shield is included.
Mourinho supporters and doubters alike have already had one, two, three days in the sun, something to look back on in the summer months amid the transfer merry go round.
On the debit side of course there has been too many home draws, this coupled with the inability of the team to score goals. An over reliance on Zlatan Ibrahimovic before his injury resulted in the footballing equivalent of putting all their eggs in one basket, the basket of the Europa League.
In the days prior to United winning the Europa League Final at the Friends Arena in Stockholm if you believed the media soundbites, top players would not want to sign for United if they could not be offered Champions League football.
The addition last season of Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba argued against that but even for United it might still have been a difficulty to overcome. That is now irrelevant and a shopping list complied two months ago, according to Mourinho, can be put into action.
This Mourinho who has now won three trophies within twelve months is the same man who, in his first press conference as Manchester United manager was forthright, focused, determined, passionate and very quotable.
For Mourinho it was not a “dream job”, in the sense that “it is reality”, he said, “I am Man United manager, it is the job everyone wants and not many have the chance to have, and I have it.” When asked what his aim was for the coming season, Mourinho performed a rallying cry for the watching media and the club’s world wide supporters.
He stated, “I want to play well, what is playing well, playing well is scoring more goals than the opponent, is to concede less goals that the opponent, is to make your fans proud because you give absolutely everything, is to make your fans proud because you win”.
“So we want everything at the same time, and again, it is aggressive approach by myself, I want everything. I want to win matches, I want to play well, I want to play young players, I want to score goals, I don’t want to concede goals. I want the fans to be behind us because in the last ten minutes we are chasing a result, I want the fans to be behind us because in the last ten minutes we are defending a result. I want everything, of course, we are not going to get everything, of course, but we want too”
Those desires have not changed but perhaps what has, or is in the process of changing, is the impact on Mourinho personally of being the Manchester United manager. Growing pains should be expected in his transition from the chosen one of Chelsea to the right one at Manchester United.
In stating that he hopes to stay longer than his three year contract at United, Mourinho is recognising perhaps that he needs stability now he has reached a certain age in life and wants it to be in Manchester.
However Mourinho knows in football there are no guarantees and longevity, excuse the pun, is almost a thing of the past. Paradoxically even being a proven winner is not always a pre-requisite for a stable secure football life, ask Claudio Ranieri.
The Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger recently said that for him fourth place in the premiership was like a winning a trophy. Unfortunately that was also a dream too far for the London club which even winning a real trophy, the FA Cup, will not erase. For Arsenal next season lie the uncharted roads of the Europa League and the Thursday, Sunday rotations.
I suspect those words would be anathema to Mourinho and in that sense music to the ears of all Manchester United fans. Even those who are not yet in the Mourinho camp for this season at least.