The season started well but after the initial rush of success with the Community Shield victory and Paul Pogba’s signing and debut, things quickly began to stagnate. United were struggling, Henrikh Mkhitaryan was baffling absence, Pogba wasn’t fit, Zlatan Ibrahimovic couldn’t finish and it seemed as though Mourinho had no idea what his best XI was.
But eventually, things settled down, in part because Mourinho realised the importance of Mkhitaryan and Michael Carrick. With those two in the side, and with Rooney playing out-wide, things began to pick up. Zlatan started scoring goals for fun again. Now United are in irresistible form and so we have to ask, how is Mourinho doing?
Not against his opposition, obviously, we can tell that just by looking at the tables. But how is he doing against himself? Against the standards he set in his debut season at each of his previous four clubs, is Mourinho currently on track at Old Trafford?
League position: 1st
Goals scored: 73
Goals conceded: 26
Trophies won: Primeira Liga, Taça de Portugal, UEFA Cup
Mourinho actually took over Porto midway through 2001/02, guiding a flailing Porto side to third place. In his first full season, armed with a group of new players he signed, he took off. Porto were excellent, blowing away everyone before them. They won the league with 86 points, a record that stood until last season, and took both major cups available to him including an epic extra time victory over Celtic in Sevilla.
League position: 1st
Goals scored: 72
Goals conceded: 15
Trophies won: Premier League, Football League Cup
Winning the Champions League with Porto got him the top job at Chelsea. In his first interview, Mourinho famously called himself The Special One and then in his first season he proved why that was justified arrogance. A succession of 0-0’s to start became 1-0’s and 2-0’s and pretty soon the Blues were out of sight despite facing off an Arsenal side that had won the previous title without losing a single game.
The League Cup was secured and gave Chelsea a winning mentality they had previously never had, the Premier League followed and only a goal that never was eliminated them from Europe. Mourinho’s side were a juggernaut; that 15 goals conceded is still a Premier League record as is the 29 wins and the ridiculous 95 points racked up. As debut seasons go this is one of the all-timers.
League position: 1st
Goals scored: 70
Goals conceded: 32
Trophies won: Serie A, Supercoppa Italiana,
Moving to an Inter side that was already Champions of Italy, Mourinho kept things ticking over more than revolutionised them. It was here that he first coached Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and while he and the enigmatic Swede got on, there was always a sense that Mourinho needed to be rid of him if he wanted the club to move on. They won Serie A and Mourinho riled up journalists across the country with his “zero tituli” barb directed at Claudio Ranieri and Luciano Spalletti. Mourinho did work wonders at Inter, just not in his debut season.
League position: 2nd
Goals scored: 102
Goals conceded: 33
Trophies won: Copa del Rey
It was here that Mourinho began to look human. Arriving fresh off a Treble and managing the most expensively assembled team in history, against the coach who won a Treble the previous season managing probably the greatest team in history, this was a gargantuan showdown. Sure, he started well enough, but in November his side was absolutely eviscerated 5-0 by Barcelona. Things recovered somewhat, but the spectre of that beating never left his side. Four Clásicos in 10 days ended the season, with Mourinho winning just one of them – he secured his only trophy in the process, but lost out on the two biggest prizes which both went to Barcelona. His side were superb, but for the first time in his career a full-debut season ended without a league triumph.
League position: 3rd
Goals scored: 71
Goals conceded: 27
Trophies won: none
Having been humbled by Barcelona in Spain, Mourinho arrived back at Chelsea looking decidedly mortal. His Chelsea side needed work, specifically up-front. They spluttered around, coming half-way to mounting a title challenge but their inability to win the winnable games always knocked them down. To his credit, Mourinho always insisted his side couldn’t win the Premier League and were transitioning (they would win it in his second season there, of course), but this was his most disappointing debut campaign so far. He finished third and won nothing, both things he had never done before.
League position: Sixth
Goals scored: 31
Goals conceded: 19
Trophies won: none
So how does his Manchester United career (so far) measure up? Well for starters he’s absolutely miles off his debut seasons for Porto and Chelsea. Those were absolutely revolutionary seasons where he almost instantly changed everything at the club and where his team were streets ahead of their opponents.
Inter was not a revolutionary season, but they were already the best side in the country when he took over allowing him to easily win the league. It’s almost impossible for him to match that at United in terms of success, but he has already improved United more than he did Inter.
Moreover, he’s certainly surpassed his second debut at Chelsea, being that he’s made some genuine progress at the club. United haven’t won nine games in a row since 2009, but the victory over Hull takes them to that landmark this season. The Red Devils are now a team truly possessing forward momentum, the likes of which Mourinho’s Chelsea side didn’t have in 2013/14. And matching or bettering third place and zero trophies won is definitely an achievable task.
But how about his time at Madrid? There’s surprisingly a lot in common here. Madrid weren’t the best side in the country, neither are United. Madrid had a massively expensive squad and Mourinho spent even more money – just as he has at United. There was a humbling late autumn/early winter defeat to the best team in the country; 5-0 to Barcelona and 4-0 to Chelsea. The parallels are all there, the only thing that remains for Mourinho is to put his foot down on the gas, win a cup or two (right now his side can win three) and guide his side to a top two finish.
It’s certainly possible…