What Jose Mourinho is talking about is indisputable. Manchester United were at a low ebb when he took over as manager, and he did indeed sit on the bench at Old Trafford more than once in the Champions League knockout stages and oversee the progression of another team at the expense of his current side.
When Mourinho arrived at Real Madrid, his players were certainly at a lower level than they were when he left: he may not have delivered the killer blows to Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona but he did push them as close as any other team did.
He may even be right about what Manchester United’s team will look like when he leaves: a side with, on paper certainly, better players than when he arrived.
And so when Jose Mourinho pulled out a piece of paper to read off these uncontradictable truths at a press conference on Friday afternoon, the content of what he was uttering was indisputable and everyone in the room knew it: they were talking about facts.
From the supposedly broken English – in which Mourinho still felt proficient enough to embark on a 12-minute rant – to the content of what was being said, this was remarkably similar to another Iberian manager’s low moment at an historic club in north west England.
Rafael Benitez’s ‘facts’ rant holds a dear place in the hearts of Manchester United fans. It wasn’t just because the Liverpool manager was humiliated, but because this was the season that Manchester United levelled Liverpool’s record for most English titles won. Better still, Benitez and Liverpool weren’t just beaten, they were humiliated. Just like Kevin Keegan a decade or so earlier, Alex Ferguson hadn’t just managed to beat Benitez, he had managed to crawl under his skin and poke and prod around while he was in there.
It was total victory.
From the other side, though, things aren’t quite so rosy. The current Manchester United manager has no tormentor but himself and his own inability to keep the pace. That the modern world is overtaking Mourinho is an analysis which simply isn’t going away, and just like Arsene Wenger the Portuguese is raging at the world like the lion in winter.
That may be a trite analysis which doesn’t stand up to too much reason. After all, Mourinho – for all the talk of facts – is indeed correct. His side have made progress this season, and with a second place finish and the first trip to the knockout stages of the Champions League since they were the defending Premier League champions, there is incontrovertible evidence to suggest that he has taken them on a step forward.
But the style of play is one blot on his copy book, as is the fact that this season can end with only an FA Cup in the trophy bank. If they can manage that, they’ll have won more than any other top six club barring Manchester City, unless Arsenal can win the Europa League or Liverpool the Champions League.
And yet, the last Manchester United manager to play what was, by all accounts, boring football and to come away from a season with only the FA Cup to show for it was sacked within minutes of lifting the trophy.
There may be numerous large differences between Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho. For one thing, Van Gaal may have won the FA Cup but he didn’t even finish in the top four that season. There was also a sense of stagnation and even decline under the Dutchman’s reign, something which there isn’t at the moment.
That – and the fact that Mourinho has signed a new contract in recent months – means there should be no suggestion of sacking the manager at the end of the season even after a Cup victory.
It’s not the differences we need to pay attention to, however, it’s the similarities. Just like Keegan and Rafael Benitez, Van Gaal learned that life at the top of English football can be a difficult business. All left various battles with Manchester United with the scars to show for it, and all are remembered at least partly for their rants and ridiculousness in press conferences.
Maybe this is Mourinho’s Rafa moment. And maybe we have just witnessed the moment when Manchester United, the size of the club and the pressure it generates chewed him up and spat him out again.