After Tottenham’s 3-0 win at Old Trafford on August 27, Jose Mourinho launched into yet another impassioned, frenzied defence of his personal record.
The contrast between Manchester United and Spurs was stark. Mourinho’s Reds were expensively-assembled but lacking identity and panache. Fred looked like the latest expensive mistake.
Mauricio Pochettino’s decision not buy a single player during the summer, a move unprecedented since the transfer window came about, looked like a masterstroke.
Lucas Moura was ‘like a new signing’. Spurs’ young, vibrant side with an English core ripped United apart and looked to have made a real statement of intent. They laid down an early marker.
Who looks more like a United manager?
Mauricio Pochettino looked every inch a Manchester United manager. Mourinho, for all his protestations, absolutely did not.
Fast-forward three matches, and the landscape has been completely flipped. United have secured three away victories, albeit against Burnley, Watford and Young Boys.
Spurs have lost their last three 2-1. They lost to the Hornets, and succumbed also to Liverpool and Inter. Suddenly Pochettino is the manager lashing out at the press, talking about the difference between perception and reality. Sound familiar?
In the aftermath of the Spurs game, Mourinho’s players faced a test of loyalty. Would they still play for this manager?
The manager who finds a way to criticise a player who has won the World Cup, who does not defend his players or his club with the same fervour he uses to defend himself?
The early signs are that they will. Mourinho, the ultimate results manager, has found three to ease the pressure.
United have won three games their fans will expect them to win. Perhaps the improvement can be credited to the modest opposition. Time will tell, but the pressure has been lifted. They are now level on points with Spurs.
He was deliberate after the Spurs game to rally the fans’ support, and show his personality, that he was not afraid of the challenge facing him and his team. The players will have been galvanised by this.
Pochettino would be wise to look across at how Mourinho diffused a growing crisis at Old Trafford.
The simple answer is results. More deeply, it is retaining the faith of his players, getting them to carry on playing for him.
The fact that many of Spurs’ players could earn more elsewhere indicates a degree of loyalty and respect between them, their club and manager.
Pochettino will hope so. The tables have turned since that Monday night humbling. He could learn something from Mourinho’s response since.