Jose Mourinho is a winner. Everywhere he goes, he wins. He has only been at Manchester United for half a season and has already claimed his first trophy, beating Southampton in the EFL Cup final a fortnight ago.
But the thing about habitual winners is that they tend to be rubbish losers. Sir Alex Ferguson was happy to admit he was a bad loser and it’s no surprise that Mourinho, the natural heir to Ferguson’s throne at Old Trafford, is the same.
When Mourinho returned to Stamford Bridge earlier this season, facing the club that sacked him twice, he would have been desperate for victory. Chelsea fans would have feared that he would get what he wanted, knowing all too well that their club’s most successful manager ever would have been meticulous in his preparation.
But when the final whistle was blown, Mourinho was on the wrong end of a 4-0 battering. It was the biggest defeat for United against Chelsea since the 5-0 loss in 1999, but on that day United had played with 10 men for 70 minutes. There were no such excuses for Mourinho in October.
Had you seen the crowd that day, unaware of the result, you would have presumed that the travelling team were the winners given the atmosphere in the United end. The singing was continuous, while the home fans were silent.
At one stage, following Chelsea’s final goal, Antonio Conte was seen trying to encourage some noise from his club’s supporters. It wasn’t forthcoming.
Mourinho was furious with Conte’s behaviour, though, seeing it as an attempt to humiliate him. He spoke to Conte on the touchline before discussing his unhappiness when interviewed in the tunnel afterwards.
Conte denied any wrongdoing, claiming he had respect for everyone and would never intentionally humiliate anyone.
“There were United fans who kept singing, while ours were in silence after a great performance from my team. I wanted to call the crowd to applaud the players, which seems normal enough to me,” Conte said. That seems totally reasonable — but Mourinho wasn’t having any of it. Given that he was also critical of how quiet Chelsea fans are when he was their manager, it’s a surprise he couldn’t accept Conte’s explanation, but maybe he was blinded by frustration and embarrassment.
Or maybe he was just desperate for a news story that would deflect attention away from the dreadful result.
On Monday, he will return to Stamford Bridge for his team’s sixth-round FA Cup tie. The “One Of Us” banner dedicated to him has long since been removed from Stamford Bridge, with Chelsea fans clearly no longer feeling the same affinity with the man who made them champions for the first time in 50 years and has won three of the five league titles in the club’s history.
It’s hard to know whether Mourinho would have been delighted or disappointed when he learnt of the draw — whether he is ready to make amends for the previous result or fears another failure.
The trip to Russia to play Rostov just days before the tie presents the same dilemma. Would he have been frustrated that his players had to travel so far and play on such an appalling pitch before a big game, or relieved that he has an excuse if he suffers another bad result?
Mourinho got it all wrong last time, although he wasn’t aided by a string of dreadful defensive errors. “If we could delete the defensive mistakes, the performance was good,” the manager said. It’s hard to argue a side played well after getting battered 4-0, but if anyone can, it’s Mourinho.
While his personal pride is likely to be more important to him than a result for United — whatever he may say to the contrary before kickoff — he will still be keen to reward the fans with an overdue victory at Stamford Bridge.
The manager said he has fallen in love with United supporters and, having delivered one domestic cup already, will be keen to progress in the FA Cup and retain the other. He will know as well as anyone that to have clung to sixth position in the league as tightly as they have this season is unacceptable, but silverware is a great way to soften the blow of poor league form and fans love a day out at Wembley.
The problem is that, for United to progress, they have to claim victory on one of their bogey grounds. They have won just two of their past 15 trips to Chelsea, with the most recent of those wins coming in 2012, a narrow 3-2 victory over nine men.
Mourinho showed no signs of being able to break their bad run there on his first visit. Having to make his second attempt without his suspended talisman, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, on the back of 4,500 mile return trip to Russia isn’t ideal.
If he’s on the winning side, he is likely to be painfully magnanimous and full of praise for the opposition manager, players and fans. If he suffers defeat, he is likely to be a bad loser, much to the irritation of Chelsea supporters, who were happy to defend such behaviour when he wore their crest on his suit.
“Nobody can delete the history you wrote,” Mourinho recently said on his Instagram page, in tribute to Claudio Ranieri. The same is obviously true for Mourinho and Chelsea, however much the fans at Stamford Bridge may now criticise him.
But history matters little to Mourinho now.
“The cup is in the museum, so let’s move on to the next match,” he said after his most recent win at Wembley. This attitude only cements the affection United supporters feel for the manager they used to dislike so much. He looks to the future and is hungry for more, and that is a mentality United became accustomed to in the near three-decade spell for which Ferguson was in charge.
Even the most optimistic United supporter won’t be anticipating a win on Monday night, but Mourinho is often at his best when his back is against the wall. He will want revenge and will have had one eye on this game since the draw was made, hoping that, this time, he can turn back from the “Humiliated One” to the “Special One.”
Scott is one of ESPN FC’s Manchester United bloggers. Follow him on Twitter: @R_o_M.