It was ordinary Jose Mourinho. There was the talk of trophies and the particularly pointed insult. Defeat Sevilla on Tuesday night and the Portuguese trusts Manchester United will have the capacity to begin “sniffing” a Uefa Champions League triumph that would make him the main administrator to win Europe’s chief club rivalry with three unique clubs.
If it would give him a claim to be the greatest, he nevertheless turned his attentions to a peer he branded the worst. Frank de Boer, whose brief spell in charge of Crystal Palace yielded neither a league point nor a goal, had said it is “a pity” that Marcus Rashford, scorer of two goals against Liverpool, is managed by Mourinho.
“I read a quote from the worst manager in the history of the Premier League, Frank De Boer – seven matches, seven losses, zero goals – that Marcus would not learn under me,” Mourinho responded.
He does not have a reputation for promoting youth but, while Saturday marked Rashford’s first league start of 2018, Mourinho cited the number of games that 20-year-old forward has played in his two-season reign: 93 and counting. His grasp of the figures was inaccurate in one respect – De Boer only actually lost four games before being sacked – and his response felt personal.
“If Marcus would be coached by Frank, he would learn how to lose,” Mourinho added. De Boer is a protege of Mourinho’s predecessor and ally turned enemy, Louis van Gaal, and while Mourinho gave credit to the older man for initially selecting Rashford, the days when they worked together at Barcelona seem distant indeed.
Instead, thoughts turn to another Spanish club. United drew 0-0 in the first leg against Sevilla. “When you are in the last eight, anything can happen,” Mourinho said. “You start smelling the semi-final. The last 16 still feels a bit far away. But when a team reaches the last eight, anything is possible.”
He branded the second leg “more important” than the Liverpool match because it is a knockout tie. His resources may be greater, with Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba training on Monday.
Another of United’s expensive additions, Alexis Sanchez, has only scored one goal in nine games for his new club. As Mourinho has conceded, United are yet to get the best from him.
“Sanchez has lived with pressure,” he said. “His season could have been better than what it has been so far. I don’t expect anything from him personally.”
United will again be without midfielder Ander Herrera and defenders Marcos Rojo, Daley Blind and Phil Jones, who will also miss England’s friendlies against the Netherlands and Italy.
Michael Carrick is available, however, after a season when he has made just four appearances, in part because of the emergence of Scott McTominay – “he’s fantastic,” said the captain – and in part because of a heart problem. “I’m clear now but there were two or three times when I wondered whether it was worth still playing,” Carrick added.
His career did resume but it is nearing the finishing line. “There’s a time when your body tells you to stop playing football,” said the 36-year-old, a veteran of 739 games for club and country. Carrick confirmed he is retiring at the end of the season and it “looks likely” he will join Mourinho’s coaching staff.
A natural diplomat could have much to offer but not, in all probability, Mourinho’s capacity for controversial comments.