Sunday 4 December 2016

Mourinho remains convinced of his United future

Miguel Delaney

Published 10/04/2016 | 02:30

Jose Mourinho. Photo: Getty
Jose Mourinho. Photo: Getty

A few weeks ago, Jose Mourinho was enjoying a night as a spectator at a top European club, but couldn't take his mind off business. He was animatedly talking to the various football officials and representatives present of his transfer plans for when he gets the Manchester United job.

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It's unknown how Mourinho reacted to the reports from the Netherlands on Tuesday that Louis van Gaal expects to stay at Old Trafford, and has been making transfer plans of his own, but that would probably have brought a different level of animation.

This isn't the type of news the Portuguese expected to be hearing at this point. He expected other developments.

Those around Mourinho's circle say he is slightly antsy that the United situation is still open, and that the parties are a long way short of the type of formal announcements that saw managerial counterparts Pep Guardiola and Antonio Conte confirmed in their next two jobs, at Manchester City and Chelsea respectively.

At the same time, he does not have too much fear that Van Gaal will be kept on. Mourinho and all those around him remain hugely confident that he will be the United boss next season, fulfilling what has pretty much been a career-long ambition.

The message from Old Trafford, however, is a little more mixed.

There are many close to the hierarchy who breezily talk of his arrival as a "done deal" in that way that describes something that is almost certain but isn't actually signed yet. Extensive discussions have taken place, and Mourinho has let all of his plans for the club be known in forensic detail. He wants at least five players, including John Stones and Harry Kane, and has expressed approval about the idea of his old Internazionale forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic arriving from Paris Saint-Germain. United have also initiated moves to bring in young Benfica midfielder Renato Sanches.

There are others of influence at United, however, who are adamant that Mourinho is not coming and that Van Gaal could yet stay on. That explains so many contradictory stories and calculated leaks. People of equal profile are privately saying different things.

The suspicion, however, is that those contradictions reflect more about the boardroom politics than the managerial situation. There remains a distinct but waning anti-Mourinho faction at United - chief among them Bobby Charlton - but the man with the biggest say, executive vice chairman Ed Woodward, is known to have a very good relationship with Mourinho's agent Jorge Mendes. That newer power faction at United are also all too conscious of the shadow of Guardiola at Manchester City, and how they need something in response. The stagnation of Van Gaal probably isn't that.

At the same time, the Dutch coach is able to talk so abrasively about his plans for the job - and get that message out to friendly journalists - because he himself has not been told he's out. United have kept their options open.

There is still the potential for a very awkward situation at Old Trafford as a consequence. If Van Gaal does manage to beat City to the top four and also win the FA Cup, it will be very difficult to sack him. That adds another dimension to today's trip to Tottenham Hotspur, especially given the progress of the manager in the home dug-out. One of the Glazer brothers is known to really admire Mauricio Pochettino, while Alex Ferguson privately described him as "the best manager in the Premier League". There is an acceptance at United that he would be almost impossible to get this summer but a notion has been floated that they could try for him in 2017, and would synch nicely with the end of Van Gaal's contract.

Real Madrid have got wind of much of this and president Florentino Perez is willing to go for Mourinho again if they go out of the Champions League.

Those are just ideas for the moment, though. There is still nothing in this saga as strong as Mourinho's confidence he will be the next United boss.

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