It was the fourth anniversary of Jose Mourinho’s ‘football heritage’ press conference the day after Manchester United rolled up the Champions League banner.
Mourinho is a master of detours, and in 2018, United had just lost at Old Trafford to Sevilla, a shocking outcome against the most beatable club in the last 16. Some fans began to turn against Mourinho after he reminded them that he had previously been responsible for two of their ejections at the same time.
Mourinho said in the press conference room at Old Trafford, “I sit in this chair with Porto, Man United out.” “I’m sitting in this chair, watching Real Madrid defeat Manchester United. As a result, it isn’t a brand-new concept for the club.” His box office press conferences should have been charged entry.
Three days later, at Carrington, Mourinho detailed United’s dreadful European record since their last appearance in the Champions League final in 2011. His message has matured like a fine bottle of Portuguese wine. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer did make it to the quarter-finals, semi-finals, and finals with United, but the last two were in the Europa League, and the debacle in Leipzig is just as unforgettable.
United has only won two of their last 14 knockout matches in the Champions League. In the same press room where Mourinho used to hold court, a colleague said, “Tottenham won more in the season they got to the final.”
The European rot started with Barcelona’s thrashing in the 2009 final in Rome. United’s tactical inexperience and poor game management cost them against Bayern Munich in 2010, and they overachieved by reaching the final in 2011, where they needed smelling salts after 90 minutes of passing on the Barcelona carousel.
Since then, United has been eliminated from three group stages and has heard the Europa League song five times. The dramatic Europa League victory in 2017, which took place two days after the horrific attack at the Manchester Arena, made the moment even more poignant. United’s achievement was complemented by their first-ever Uefa Cup victory, which qualified them for the Champions League.
Mourinho had developed two separate transfer lists well before that final, one in case United qualified for the Champions League and the other for another season of Thursday night football.
Mourinho was sceptical about a deal for Antoine Griezmann and instead chose Andrea Belotti of Torino. Matt Judge, who is currently the director of football negotiations, had assessed the prospect of signing Paris Saint-Germain defender Marquinhos, with midfielders Eric Dier, Nemanja Matic, and Tiemoue Bakayoko all on the table.
Griezmann was adamant about playing Champions League football at his next club, and after the Court of Arbitration for Sport maintained their transfer ban, he stayed at Atletico Madrid for another two years. Once United qualified for the Champions League, Belotti was pushed down the list, with a deal for Alvaro Morata being worked on until Mino Raiola encouraged Romelu Lukaku to select United over a return to Chelsea.
Mourinho reconnected with Matic after Tottenham refused to bend over Dier, and Victor Lindelof completed a long-awaited deal after Jose Gimenez, Griezmann’s teammate, was deemed too pricey. Matic was replaced by Bakayoko at Chelsea.
Mourinho spoke with Ivan Perisic, but United refused to meet Inter Milan’s valuation for a player who club executives did not consider’marketable’ enough. Perisic went on to score in the World Cup semi-final and final before helping Bayern Munich win the Champions League.
United’s stock in the transfer market was at an all-time low in 2019. They raided Swansea, Crystal Palace, and Leicester for three signings that are now viewed as failures due to a lack of Champions League football and an illustrious manager to allure targets. Many fans would support selling Aaron Wan-Bissaka or Harry Maguire, given Daniel James has already been sold.
Erik ten Hag or Mauricio Pochettino are names that might entice a higher-caliber player, but United’s trophy drought will almost certainly extend to six years, and joining them has been detrimental to several players’ careers. In the prime years of his club career, Paul Pogba, the headline signing in 2016, has underachieved. This week, Donny van de Beek and Jadon Sancho were again left out of their respective national squads.
Even if United placed fourth, despite Ralf Rangnick’s campaigning, they had little chance of securing Erling Haaland. Declan Rice, through West Ham’s Europa League run, has a better chance of hearing the Champions League anthem next season.
That is the history of football.