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Has Jose Mourinho turned the corner at Manchester United?

The final whistle blew in Turin on Wednesday night. Jose Mourinho strode on to the pitch at the Allianz Arena cupping his ears, goading the Juventus fans and was told by an official to leave the field of play. Yes, it was chaotic. Yes, it was slightly comical. Yes, it could have been construed as disrespectful. Having said all that, who cares? Mourinho certainly didn’t. This was the Mourinho the Manchester United fans wanted and have waited to see!

United fans know too well what it’s like to be goaded by Mourinho. When FC Porto knocked United out of the UEFA Champions League in 2004 at Old Trafford with a last minute goal, a young effervescent Mourinho ran down the touchline like a 100-metre sprinter goading the United fans as he celebrated. For years at Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid he was the master of the mind games. He was the master of getting under opponent’s skins and the master of the dark arts some would say.

As Chelsea manager when his side beat Barcelona in 2005 in the UEFA Champions League knockout stages, he ran on to the pitch at full time celebrating and hugging his players. No one will forget his antics in the Nou Camp in 2010 when his Inter Milan side beat Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona to reach the UEFA Champions League Final. He ran all away across the pitch at the Nou Camp pointing his hands to the sky. He was letting everyone in Barcelona know he was the man.

For Real Madrid in September 2012 when they played Manchester City we saw Mourinho do a knee slide on to the pitch when Cristiano Ronaldo scored a last-minute winner. This was the Mourinho I expected at United. Some would say a Manchester United manager shouldn’t behave like this and should show dignity in victory and defeat. Though these type of antics what made Mourinho who he was. This is what made him the Special one.

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We have to remember Sir Alex Ferguson was no angel on the touchline either. He would kick the odd water bottle and would intimidate the fourth official.  Only in recent weeks have we started to see the real Mourinho. The 2-1 victory away from home to one of the tournament favourites Juventus was the most improbable yet wonderful result for Manchester United. It was United’s greatest result in Europe since the Sir Alex Ferguson days, which is too long for a club like United.

All this was masterminded by that man Jose Mourinho. At times United rode their luck, but that was to be expected when you travel to one of the juggernauts of the European game. Not many people gave United a chance before the game. When United went 1-0 down the majority of the football world, probably thought it was curtains for United. It would have been a devastating blow, which could well have meant that United ended up in the UEFA Europa League in the New Year.

Jose Mourinho had other ideas. He brought on Juan Mata, who scored a sumptuous free kick. He also brought on Marouane Fellaini. Whether you love him or hate him (Mourinho certainly loves him) when used in the right way he can be unplayable. As soon as he came on against Juventus, panic ensued. The centre-backs Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini started to drop deeper to try to deal with the Fellaini long ball threat and eventually they dropped so deep it resulted in a winning goal for United.

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It was not the prettiest goal but they all count. Fellaini’s presence in the box caused the disarray and got United a priceless goal. Not only against Juventus have we seen signs of the old Mourinho. When United played Chelsea at Stamford Bridge we saw the old Mourinho fighting spirit. He was mocked by the Chelsea coaching staff after the last minute equaliser and Mourinho retaliated. A fight broke out, but even in this instance, it was good to see that Mourinho still had the passion.

Even before the Chelsea game, we saw signs that the spark Mourinho once had was returning. The Newcastle game at home, Mourinho kicked every ball. He was on that touchline, willing the players on for the whole 90 minutes. He did nearly as much moving on the touchline as the players did on the field in that game. He made brave decisions also. When United were 2-0 down after 10 minutes he quickly made a substitution where he brought Mata on for Eric Bailly.

This paid dividends as Mata set the ball rolling with a trademark free-kick which resulted in an exhilarating comeback win. This has proved to be a big turning point in the season. In his days at Chelsea, he would often make substitutions before or during the half-time break, which would change the course of games and we have certainly seen in the last month Mourinho’s substitutions making an impact.

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On Saturday against Bournemouth Marcus Rashford scored a dramatic injury-time winner, coming off the bench. Also ,Ander Herrera made a huge impact in the midfield in the second half and was one of the main reasons United came on strong in the second half. Herrera stabilised the midfield. Again it was a masterstroke from Mourinho. Mourinho is not everyone’s cup of tea. What Mourinho is though, is a winner.

When his career in management ends, Mourinho will rightly be placed as one of the greatest managers of all time. When he first came to England in 2004, he anointed himself the Special One. Little could argue back then that there was something special about the Portuguese manager. He went on to win trophy after trophy at all the clubs he managed. Even at United, he has won trophies.

In his two years at United, Mourinho seemed to have lost his spark. He wasn’t the Special One anymore. At the start of this season, the club under his leadership seemed to be turning in to a circus both on and off the field. Suddenly, something has changed with Mourinho in the past month. The players have helped by putting in better performances, but Mourinho himself has a whole new demeanour than he did at the start of the season.

If he can provide another Mourinho Masterclass against Manchester City on Sunday, as he did against Juventus, then it may be time to believe he has really turned the corner and that the Special One has finally returned.

Written by Ross Struel Clarke

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