When a team has no intention to do anything in a game other than simply defend the clean sheet bestowed upon them by the power of the first whistle, they’re said to have parked the bus.
It’s a term in such common usage that even the above paragraph, by way of explanation, feels so strangely unnecessary. And it’s yet another thing for which English football has to thank Jose Mourinho.
When the Portuguese first came to the Premier League, he was new, exotic and charismatic. He came with soundbites and, crucially, the managerial prowess to back them up. In his first season in English football, Chelsea conceded just 15 Premier League goals – still a record, and one you feel won’t be broken any time soon. Not unless Manchester City, United or Burnley go the rest of the campaign without conceding any more goals at all.
They may not have scored the most goals, but only Arsenal managed more. Mourinho’s Chelsea beat Manchester United in the opening game of the season, and although Mourinho’s arrival probably coincided with Ferguson’s low point at Old Trafford, it’s still shocking that Chelsea outscored Ferguson’s United by 14 goals.
The previous season Arsenal won the league, going unbeaten throughout. Chelsea lost only once, a feat that seems a little bit forgotten. They were one of the best sides in the history of the league.
Years later, though, and Mourinho is now in charge of United. His first season in the job produced 15 draws. Worse still, United scored even fewer goals in 2016/17 than they did in 2004/05, when Ferguson’s side finished third, and a long way from where they might have expected to be.
It’s a change we’ve all witnessed over the last two years. Mourinho cast a cuddlier figure upon returning to Chelsea in 2013 after the intensity of the final few months of his Real Madrid years. He seemed more humble, though possibly ruffled by the experience. The friendly-faced Mourinho who declared himself the ‘Happy One’ didn’t last long, but the sharp-toothed edge that helped Chelsea to the Premier League title in his second season back disappeared as quickly as it had arrived.
He’s lost something of his aura. Instead of delivering the one-liners and metaphors he was famous for a decade ago, he now often feels like the old man shouting at the buses. His post-match comments now seem routine and predictable, often fairly sad accusations with a conspiratorial bent.
Worst of all, though, Mourinho has become what he first railed against. He’s boring. Off the pitch and on it.
When he first arrived in England he was good for a quote and sometimes more entertaining than the football itself. He would take a full part in the mind games, the pageantry and the spectacle; shushing the crowd, throwing his medals into the stands and coming up with the sorts of metaphors that the journalists reporting on him would have been proud of themselves.
It’s not his job to be entertaining off the pitch, though. And indeed, perhaps fans of Manchester United would prefer to see a more reserved manager, keeping the spotlight away from their team as much as possible. But it certainly is his job to get his team to play entertaining football on it. Or at least winning football.
Of all the things this older, more scarred by the world Mourinho has done since returning to club management at Old Trafford, surely the saddest must be instructing his players to celebrate winning three trophies when they were presented with their Europa League trophy. Regardless of the relative merits of the League Cup and Europe’s second tier competition, celebrating the Community Shield at all – let alone as part of a treble – is simply ill-befitting of Manchester United, the most successful club in English football history and three-time European Champions. Now, despite a start to the season which would have seen them in title contention in most other Premier League seasons, they are now measured up to their neighbours Manchester City, and they’re coming up short.
And maybe it shows that Mourinho has come full-circle. From his days on the periphery of football, translating for Bobby Robson at Barcelona and becoming a prodigious coaching talent, to mocking the parking of the bus, he has turned into arguably English football’s leading proponent of defensive solidity above all else. Even at the expense of boring the pants off everyone when United’s biggest traditional rivals are there for the taking.
Clearly there are mitigating circumstances as to why Mourinho might have parked an entire fleet of buses last season given his side’s situation and the fact that winning the Europa League was the fine line between a bad season and a good one. This year, injuries and suspensions have played a part in his decisions to play spoiler rather than protagonist in some of the season’s biggest games. The proof as to whether it shows that Mourinho is less relevant than he used to be, or whether he has simply been overtaken by a once-in-a-generation Manchester City squad is still unclear.
When Chelsea drew 0-0 with Tottenham back in September 2004, it was their second 0-0 draw in a row. They had only conceded one goal up until that point, too. They knew a thing or two about defensive resilience. But this time around, it feels different. Even though, ironically, only Tottenham conceded fewer goals last season than Mourinho’s team, neither Spurs nor the 2005 Chelsea side felt boring. But United now do.
Mourinho’s gift to the Premier League was to change the face of the competition. But the very mentality he complained about all those years ago is now exactly what he’s bringing to the table.