Ahead of a defining week in Manchester United’s season, Jose Mourinho is more convinced than ever that his hardline approach to restoring the fortunes of English football’s biggest club is working.
United need to maintain their 25-game Premier League unbeaten run at Arsenal on Sunday to realistically keep alive their hopes of a top-four finish and face an even more important fixture on Thursday when they play Celta Vigo in the Europa League semi-final second leg at Old Trafford holding a 1-0 lead.
They then travel to Spurs on Sunday hoping that their Champions League aspirations are still in the balance on two fronts.
It’s been a topsy-turvy debut campaign for Mourinho at Old Trafford and he has divided opinion with the way he has publicly questioned the form and attitude of players like Luke Shaw, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Anthony Martial.
He has ended the team’s reliance on captain Wayne Rooney and left out gifted forwards Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Marcus Rashford for periods of the season.
However, with results on an upward trajectory, despite too many league draws, Mourinho has declared himself satisfied with the job he is doing, having been sacked by Chelsea last season after falling out with key personnel in the dressing-room.
‘I don’t care what people think about me. I think this has been a good season and it can still be a very good season,’ insisted the United manager, whose side have already played 58 games this season.
‘In terms of my work, I think this has been about rebuilding a team and rebuilding a club. For me, it has been a positive process. What people on the outside say is what they will say — and it doesn’t matter. It’s not important to me because I know the work that we have done this season.’
Mourinho has never stayed more than three seasons at any club. Ideally, though, he would like to be at United for longer to see the fruits of his labour. But the idea of emulating Sunday’s opponent Arsene Wenger and remaining for two decades is fanciful in his eyes. Instead, Mourinho — who has issued his support for the under-pressure Frenchman to stay at The Emirates next season — thinks Wenger is the last of his kind in terms of longevity.
‘I feel sympathy for all the other managers because we live through the same pain. Everyone. Football has changed. Now it is a game that makes it impossible for managers to stay in their position for a long time,’ asserted the United boss.
‘Football now means if you don’t get success then you are gone — so yes, I feel bad for other managers.
‘When you are at one club for 20 years it is impossible to have success every single year. Even Sir Alex will tell you that. The truth is that I hope Wenger keeps his job at Arsenal. I really do.
‘I hope that the club trusts him to make things better. I think that Arsene is probably the last example of a manager who brings stability to a club over such a long time.
‘Sir Alex was the same at United and he was able to leave when he knew it was time to leave. I hope that it is the same with Wenger. Why not?’
Juggling team selection between domestic and European games has been a recurring theme for Mourinho in recent weeks. Already without Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcos Rojo with long-term injuries, goalscorer Rashford and Ashley Young picked up knocks in Spain on Thursday and Marouane Fellaini is banned for Sunday’s game.