Back to José. Back to last October, back to London, to Harrods and to an interview given eight weeks before Chelsea decided they had had enough of José Mourinho, for a second time.
Our meeting came during an international break. In Chelsea’s game before this break, they lost 3-1 at home to Southampton.
Mourinho’s on-camera response to the defeat was emotional, dramatic, a spontaneous combustion that contained a telling reference to TV pundits: “What you are thinking and what you are saying in the studio.”
For a man so strong and seemingly so self-assured, Mourinho looked brittle and vulnerable. Obviously he knew Chelsea from the inside, that the club of
gets through managers, and this was a topic he addressed.
But TV pundits? Why should Mourinho concern himself with them? All he had to do was hold up his CV.
Yet back last October, English football was still inhabiting a world in which Gary Neville had transformed himself, and television analysis, into a most significant item. It was as if Neville's critique of others' work was more important than the work itself.
Neville’s impact was such that in December he became manager of one of the biggest clubs in Spain, Valencia, without having done the job before or being fluent in Spanish. The more you think about that . . .
Neville took charge of his first La Liga match as Valencia manager the day before Chelsea lost at Leicester, the game which proved to be Mourinho's last.
The coincidence may not have struck many but it will surely have occurred to Mourinho and Neville given what Mourinho had said after Southampton and then that night in Harrods when he used the phrase “culture of vultures” to describe the feeding frenzy he saw gathering around his position at Chelsea.
An Anglophile, Mourinho said: “I know the culture now, even in England. Before it was not the culture in this country, but, especially the pundits. They have a new job, which has become a very important job, it’s changed the culture a lot.
“Some of them are really brave. To criticise someone with my history, you need to be brave, as there is a risk someone like myself will say: ‘Shut up. You’ve won nothing in your life.’”
Whether this was aimed directly at Neville, Mourinho didn’t say, but it felt like Neville was at the very least part of the broad target.
After all, there was also this, which did not make the paper: “I think now it’s much easier for people without experience, without results, to have an opportunity. Before, for a young manager to get an opportunity, was harder.”
And this: “People who don’t have a [manager’s] job, they try to disturb. They do nothing in football and they criticise people with big histories.
“To need to do that to get in the highlights? You should be in the highlights because of your job.”
Body of work
Well, Neville got his opportunity to build a body of work and create a different set of highlights. It did not go well. Four months in, three days ago he joined Mourinho as an ex-manager.
The two men are now enjoying, or enduring, the same status, and both are linked to future roles at Manchester United. A quite amazing thing is that in some eyes the two are equally qualified: Mourinho, who has been a successful manager since 2001; and Neville, who has been a manager for four months.
If, in Neville’s case, this demonstrates the power of television, in Mourinho’s it shows the power of his personality. That might be considered a positive in some people but not in Mourinho. His personality has obscured his talent.
This was one of the central issues of our brief chat last October and he did not answer it convincingly. He thinks his trophies speak for themselves, they don’t.
In his time away, maybe Mourinho has addressed this and yet his public image is such that with the often drab football on offer from Louis van Gaal mumbling on, and with the likes of Neville and the equally inexperienced Ryan Giggs as his main rivals, Mourinho has still not been definitively annointed as United's next manager.
If he were, he could be preparing now to take on Pep Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp next season. United need the preparation.
The machinations at Old Trafford are the subject of intense scrutiny. It is just over three years since Bobby Charlton questioned publicly Mourinho's suitability to be United manager – "he pontificates too much for my liking". In the same interview Charlton acknowledged Alex Ferguson's admiration for Mourinho, then adds: "He doesn't like him too much, though."
Ferguson and Charlton are still very much still around, and like the idea of continuity represented by Giggs, Neville,
Yet Ferguson is said to be less influential with the owners, the Glazer family, than vice-chairman Ed Woodward. Woodward would like to retain Van Gaal but it will be mighty difficult to justify should United not finish in the top four or go out to West Ham in their FA Cup replay at Upton Park.
All the while, José Mourinho watches and waits, though not quite like the vulture he portrayed. He’s too anxious for that, clutching his CV.
What will it say about him should Manchester United remove Van Gaal and replace him with Giggs, or Gary Neville? What will it say about English football, United and television?