News analysis

Third trophy the one that really matters for the 'Pragmatic One'

We had wondered how Manchester United might celebrate victory in the light of everything this week. With restraint? With extraordinarily giddy abandon, it turned out, in the case of Jose Mourinho.

This serial winner has claimed 20 significant trophies in 15 seasons but it is hard to recall many that have prompted scenes like this - rolling around on the Stockholm turf with his son Jose Jr, seeking his own communion with the great bank of United fans behind one goal, kissing the silver trophy (pausing long enough to be sure that photographers had captured the moment), planting a United flag in the ground.

Everywhere he went, he seemed to be gesticulating, walking around the podium at the trophy presentation instructing his players to hold out three fingers to mark three trophies. "Er, three boss?" Yes, when there is a point to be made to the world, even the Community Shield comes in handy.

To think that Mourinho has regarded the Europa League as beneath him for most of his coaching life, yet here he was declaring: "It's the most important trophy of my career."

Mourinho did not try to pretend that this was all about what had happened back home this week.

"Does this Cup make the city of Manchester a little bit happier? Maybe. But we just came to do our job," he said - and, in his mind, there were plenty of other professional reasons to be proud, and so overtly emotional.


Above: Manchester United players with the Europa League trophy after beating Ajax Amsterdam 2-0 in Stockholm on Wednesday. Left: Jose Mourinho celebrates with members of his coaching staff. PHOTOS: REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

He had piled a lot of chips on this game, this trophy. Success or failure at the end of his first season at Old Trafford was going to hinge on their result in Stockholm.

The truth is that United were always going to be expected to roll over such an inexperienced Ajax team built for a fraction of the cost.


Above: Jose Mourinho celebrates with members of his coaching staff. PHOTOS: REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Mourinho had something to prove and, having won with something to spare over a raw, naive Ajax, he was going to use the stage to sermonise.

On television, he had come out with an almost Cantona-esque line: "There are lots of poets in football, but poets don't win many titles."

Pushed on that remark, he went a little further to explaining his dig at those who pontificate about playing good football when all that matters, to him, is winning.

  • TROPHY LEAGUE

  • ALEX FERGUSON
    34

  • JOSE MOURINHO
    20

  • PEP GUARDIOLA
    12

  • CARLO ANCELOTTI & ARSENE WENGER
    11

"Poets are the ones that win every match," he said, voice dripping with scorn.

"Some guys, they win every time. I don't. But in a bad season where sometimes I felt that my team was the worst in the world, I was the worst manager in the world, we managed to win three trophies.

"So I think the season was really good, a victory of pragmatics, a victory of the humble people, people that respect opponents, that try to stop opponents' qualities and try to exploit opponents' weakness. It was based on pragmatism; not poets but humble people."

So, a victory for pragmatism and humility. Though it is hard to see "The Humble One" catching on.

Winning puts everything right in his world, and here it was done the Mourinho way, eliminating risk, knocking it long if necessary, 33 per cent possession.

If Mourinho was bristling in victory, it was also because he was always a contentious choice as manager. Some of the United hierarchy did not want him when Alex Ferguson departed. He was forced to wait for his chance.

After the collapse at Chelsea the second time around, even a man with his record must have felt some pressure to deliver.

But winning puts everything right in his world, and here it was done the Mourinho way, eliminating risk, knocking it long if necessary, 33 per cent possession.

It was a plan that Ajax expected but could do little to counter, failing to pass their way around United's big men, including Paul Pogba, who seized his moment in a way that offers real hope for next season.

Being in the Champions League will embolden Ed Woodward, the executive vice-chairman, to back Mourinho in the transfer market, as well as making it easier to lure big-name players.

There will be at least one marquee signing as United try to lift themselves back among the true elite.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 26, 2017, with the headline 'Third trophy the one that really matters for the 'Pragmatic One''. Print Edition | Subscribe