Heart Of Football

Mourinho has a bone to pick with Cherries in United's opener


Joseph Schooling has barely had time to towel down. The Olympics is moving on to its crossover point in track and field.

But the juggernaut that is England's Premier League cannot, and will not, wait. The Rio Games might be a once-in-a-lifetime event for Olympians, but their airtime is about to be squeezed by the league that waits for no man or woman.

A pity, but there is no arguing with the EPL big boys. Or at least there used not to be.

This, remember, is the year of Leicester City. And while the Foxes' manager Claudio Ranieri was only joking when he said there is a better chance of E.T. landing in the city than his team winning the title again, the achievement has opened up hope for everyone.

Take AFC Bournemouth against Manchester United today.


Bournemouth's Vitality Stadium is by some way the smallest in the league. Its 11,469 capacity would fit snugly six times into Old Trafford. On the pitch United's summer spending of £150 million (not counting wages) dwarves Bournemouth's record signing of £15 million (S$ 26.07 million) for Jordon Ibe tenfold.

And there's a catch. Ibe is not necessarily Bournemouth's for keeps. Liverpool sold the 20-year-old (not quite Schooling's age) on the proviso that if he blossoms with the Cherries down in England's south coast, Liverpool have the option of buying him back.

So in effect, Ibe is joining Bournemouth as a finishing school.

Lewis Cook, the other major investment made by Bournemouth this summer, is a 19-year-old from the Leeds United academy.

And now that Jose Mourinho has landed the job he has long coveted at United, it will be interesting to see what playing time the teenage sensation of last season, Marcus Rashford, or the similarly precocious defender Tim Fosu-Mensah get under Jose.

Indeed, it is going to be a season of pruning out the excess as Mourinho decides when Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Eric Bailly, Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (his four recruitments to date) push out of the club the likes of Ashley Young, Juan Mata, Memphis Depay, Ander Herrera and Marcus Rojo.

That's show biz. United have the budget, Mourinho has precious little time to coach and coax players the way that Bournemouth's young manager Eddie Howe must do.

And the clock is ticking fast. Manchester City under Pep Guardiola is also spending and reshaping. Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp, Chelsea under Antonio Conte, even Arsenal under the longest-serving manager in the business, Arsene Wenger, have spent big and must now shape up.

Mourinho knows he is at a club that will not stand for pragmatism. There is an acceptable middle road, a blend between better defending and adventurous attacking, and we should expect that.

The bookmakers have put Manchester City as 9/4 favourites, Manchester United at 3/1, Arsenal 6/1, Chelsea 11/2, Liverpool 9/1, Spurs 11/1, and Leicester 28/1.

And Bournemouth? 1,000-1 for the title. But what do they know? These are the same bookies who rated Leicester City as 5,000-1 long shots last season.

And who did they offer the shortest odds at that time? Why, Chelsea. owned by Roman Abramovich, managed by Mourinho, champions the previous season.

By Christmas last year, Chelski had imploded and Jose was history (again) at the Bridge. He was paid off after Chelsea's 1-2 loss to Leicester following an equally shocking 1-0 home defeat by Bournemouth.

And since Bournemouth pulled off a win against United the next game, it is fair to say that there will be personal reasons for Mourinho wanting to put the Cherries in their place this evening.

"I cannot laugh because I'm not happy," Mourinho said after Chelsea lost to Bournemouth in December. "I cannot cry because it's not my profile."

He accused Bournemouth that day of "cheating" by nicking a goal against the run of play and hanging on. He accused the referee of "making a mistake, a big mistake" in not giving his side a penalty.

He looked that day dishevelled, unshaven, and in despair. He knew what was coming, and very soon after it happened Mourinho and his agent appeared to know what was coming the way of the then-United manager, Louis van Gaal.

The rest starts here and now. Manchester United has one advantage over their main rivals for the Premier League crown in that, because of van Gaal's failure, the team did not qualify for the Champions League.

So while City, Arsenal, Spurs and (yes) Leicester will have that on their plates, United can focus single-mindedly on the league.

But can they start well? Mourinho completed his signings with Pogba's world record fee, but the Frenchman cannot play today. He is suspended after getting two yellow cards in Juventus' Coppa Italia at the end of last season.

Also suspended is defender Chris Smalling because of another disciplinary hangover from months ago. So Eric Bailly will make his league debut at centre-back, probably beside Daley Blind.

Given Mourinho's preference for two holding midfielders, it could be Marouane Fellaini and Michael Carrick in those anchor roles, Mkhitaryan on the bench, and Wayne Rooney behind Ibrahimovic up front, served by the pace of Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial on the flanks.

Mourinho knows he is at a club that will not stand for pragmatism. There is an acceptable middle road, a blend between better defending and adventurous attacking, and we should expect that.

First, though, the experts who predict Mourinho's Red Devils will automatically get into the title race seem to conveniently overlook what happened at Chelsea.

The Jose Mourinho whose team was taken by Bournemouth and finished off by Leicester was a shadow of the champions two seasons ago.

Explanations continue to be in short supply.

Bournemouth, meantime, make the best of what they have and, contrary to Mourinho's criticism, are coached to play bright, attractive and positive football.

The Cherries last season overcame a huge handicap when two strikers, Max Gradel and Callum Wilson, were struck out for most of the club's first-ever Premier League campaign by long-term injuries.

They are available today, along with the players Bournemouth purchased as emergency replacements, and along with Jordon Ibe.

Still, think the odds favour United? Bournemouth, like Leicester, don't rate betting odds very highly.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 14, 2016, with the headline 'Mourinho has a bone to pick with Cherries in United's opener'. Print Edition | Subscribe