“It’s Mourinho time,” proclaimed the Daily Telegraph. “Second miracle in Turin,” announced the iPaper in reference to that comeback from Fergie’s boys who partied in 1999. A more functional “United pass Turin test,” runs the headline across the back of the Daily Express.
But it was The Times who captured the essence of this thrilling final eight minutes including stoppage time, complete with the image that has been unavoidable on social media ever since.
“The Special comeback”. And this performance, both before, during and after from Jose Mourinho, bore all the hallmarks of a man many had thought lost touch with the game several years ago.
The Portuguese cupped his right ear to the Curva Sud. ‘Where’s the abuse now?’, signified the gesture. There were no expletives, no need for dangling a little finger to his dissenters. Paul Scholes was asked for his thoughts on Mourinho by BT Sport presenter Gary Lineker.
You could see across his face he didn’t thank Lineker for the question, knowing that even his rather low-key response would become an instant overnight banner for online media outlets.
Scholes, never forgotten as being a fans’ favourite of 700-plus appearances placed in the awkward position of needing to praise a United performance, provided only a brief response, seemingly not wanted to become the headline.
“This is everywhere he goes,” said Scholes. “You need to win with a bit of class sometimes, shake the manager’s hand. I don’t think there’s any need for it but that’s the way he is.”
That was it, but The Sun grabbed it. “No Class,” became the splash, and instantly Manchester United’s 2-1 win at Juventus, their finest result in Europe since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013, was ‘tainted’.
Should Mourinho’s antics overshadow United’s win?
Another United performance was instantly bookended by one man again. Not Ashley Young for his role in making Wojciech Szczesny take a step the wrong way before Juan Mata’s unerring free-kick or for his inviting cross which led to Alex Sandro’s own goal.
Not Mata himself and not Marouane Fellaini, a man who in many ways shares traits with Mourinho for his much-maligned displays. No, it was all about Jose, again.
Mauricio Pochettino spoke last week of wanting to ‘bring the glory’ back to Tottenham Hotspur, and this was Mourinho providing his club with another glorious night, a back-from-the-dead, milestone victory.
On the eve of a Manchester derby, their city rivals were putting six past Shakhtar Donetsk at the Etihad, but there was little intrigue in that beyond Raheem Sterling kicking his foot into the ground to win a penalty. Even a 6-0 win felt a hollow victory following the fresh leaks being serialised by German outlet Der Speigel.
You run out of superlatives for Pep Guardiola’s side, but the intrigue remains constant surrounding Mourinho.
You can imagine the immediate delight that the night’s pantomime villain felt as he was escorted away down the tunnel. This is his happiest habitat, but the United boss conceded afterwards that he had perhaps acted a little irresponsibly.
He said: “I didn’t offend anyone at the end, I just made a gesture that I wanted to hear them louder.
“I probably shouldn’t have done it, and with a cool head I wouldn’t have done it. But with my family insulted, including my Inter family, I reacted like this.”
Mourinho had vowed before the game that he would not respond to the Juventus fans again after brandishing three fingers at them during United’s defeat at Old Trafford a fortnight ago – representing the Treble he won with Inter Milan in 2010.
“Before I said that I would not do it, but then I did,” he added. “You remember what they did to me, but that sign is not an offence.”
I promise I won’t point three fingers, but I’ll use another signal. In the heat of battle, it was peak Mourinho.
It’s easy to point the finger at this ego-maniac and grimace a little at his calls for an encore from the supporters who’d been abusing him for 90 minutes. He came out fighting with members of the media who dared to suggest it had been a show of disrespect, a lack of class.
“Do you understand Italian?” he asked one female reporter who reflected on how Mourinho’s action had irked home supporters. She responded she didn’t, to which the manager gleefully replied, “Ask the FA, they will translate for you!”
He didn’t end there. In the post-match press conference, when asked by a Spanish journalist, “Do you think your celebration lacked respect?” Mourinho replied: “You understand Italian, so you know what they were calling me for 94 minutes, and you think it’s offensive to cup my ear?
“It was offensive what they did to me. That was offensive! It wasn’t offensive me asking for more [after the game]. It was not offensive asking for a little bit more now.”
“Did they say they would kill your family [in cold blood]?” asked the journalist.
“No, if they did I would go straight home,” replied Mourinho.
He had been an animated observer, frantically flapping his hands on the sidelines shortly before Cristiano Ronaldo’s glorious opening strike.
He knew then that, after an hour of putting the hard yards in, the thighs of his players were beginning to burn. He emerged from the dugout and sought to cajole Jesse Lingard and Alexis Sanchez into one final high press before being replaced by fresher legs.
Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof had ridden their luck a little, losing the deep run of Sami Khedira as he struck the outside of David de Gea’s post, while Paul Dybala had come even closer, thudding the crossbar after cutting inside unopposed.
Then, with the game appearing to have hit a slight lull, a trademark lofted pass from Leonardo Bonucci found Ronaldo peel off the shoulder of Lindelof with the ball leaving his foot like a fireball that flashed past De Gea.
But half an hour later, the small pocket of vociferous United fans were left breathless on a night which evoked memories of the club’s most celebrated European triumphs under Ferguson.
This would turn into Juventus’ first defeat of the season, a result which seemed impossible in the 10 minutes after Ronaldo’s first Champions League goal since his summer move from Real Madrid.
Miralem Pjanic twice came close to doubling the lead, but Mourinho had the last laugh, tilting the spotlight in one arm raise away from the hapless Szczesny – culpable for both United goals – onto him.
Rodrigo Bentancur and Bonucci both approached the offender before Young intervened. It didn’t matter, it seemed, what the offended had been chanting throughout this match, which throws qualification from Group H into a three-horse race.
It was nothing Mourinho hadn’t heard before. Nothing overly personal, just generic tit for tat. Showering down from all directions came the words “Figlio di puttana”, which translates to “son of a bi***”. Then in unison, “il triplete mettilo nel culo”, which roughly translates to “the treble, put it in the a**”.
Revisiting Mourinho’s relationship with Juventus
Mourinho’s two seasons in Serie A – between 2008 and 2010 – were dominated by success.
Juventus were still reeling from the aftermath of the Calciopoli scandal and their relegation to Serie B when Mourinho arrived in the country, so they weren’t seen as direct rivals to the title, but what he achieved in his second season truly got to the heart of a rivalry that remains to this day.
Being crowned champions of Europe has eluded Juventus since 1996, and the club have never achieved a treble of trophies as Mourinho did in 2009/10.
While that campaign showcased Mourinho’s brilliance, here he demonstrated his powers of recovery, which have become synonymous with his side during the autumn.
Since trailing Newcastle 2-0 at half-time on October 6, United have recovered from losing positions at Chelsea, Bournemouth and now in Turin.
Mourinho experienced a frosty relationship with the Italian media towards the end of his two-year stay in the country. It reached a new low in December 2009 when he was accused of physically and verbally abusing a journalist after Inter drew with Atalanta.
Andrea Ramazzotti of Rome-based paper Corriere dello Sport was reportedly pushed and insulted as he approached the Inter team bus – the tension reaching a head in the same week he had criticised the Italian media for suggesting he could be sacked if Inter failed to qualify for the Champions League knock-out stages.
“Last year we won the league and this year we are top. This season in the Champions League we took two more points in qualifying than last season. I thought Italy was a country where all that mattered was results. That seems to apply to everyone but me.”
By February 2010, Mourinho had been fined £35,000 for another gesture following the 0-0 draw with Sampdoria, crossing his hands to imitate being handcuffed towards TV cameras and supporters.
The Italian FA took a dim view of him insulting the referee, who had sent off two of Mourinho’s players during the stalemate, banning him for three matches.
“Well done, well done, remember your family is watching you on TV,” Mourinho told the match official, according to the Italian daily La Repubblica.
Mourinho’s Inter would finish champions come May, while Juventus languished in seventh – some 27 points adrift.
As the Milanese club were enjoying a record-breaking season, becoming the first side to win the Serie A, Coppa Italia and Champions League – Juve were averaging crowds of 22,924 at home matches.
Ciro Ferrari, the club’s manager who Mourinho had referenced in that December outburst to the Italian media, lasted until late January before he was replaced by Alberto Zaccheroni, who would oversee the final four months of the one of the most troubled seasons in Juve’s history.
What’s kept the rivalry fresh in the mind?
As Mourinho was thriving amid the backdrop of his stormy relationship with the media, Juventus were surrendering a 3-1 first-leg lead to Fulham in the Europa League semi-finals.
The club’s fans haven’t forgotten, and their ire towards Mourinho has been kept at a healthy level thanks to his run-ins with Antonio Conte during the Italian’s time at Chelsea.
Conte, a fan favourite as a player at Juventus, brought the glory days back to the bianconeri following Mourinho’s successful stint, upstaging him in many ways with three successive league titles with the final one in 2014 coming with record haul of 102 points.
The sight of the Italian filling the dugout at Stamford Bridge – a place he once called home – led to the inevitable regular feuds which reached a head in February this year when Conte labelled Mourinho a ‘fake’ for showing his support to Claudio Ranieri after his Leicester sacking.
Back in 2008, Mourinho had said of Ranieri, who was the then-Juventus manager: “I studied Italian five hours a day for many months to ensure I could communicate with the players, media and fans.
“Ranieri had been in England for five years [at Chelsea] and still struggled to say ‘good morning’ and ‘good afternoon.’”
Juventus are now in a much healthier position than Inter, having won each of the last seven Scudettos – but Mourinho won’t let them forget the feat that still eludes them.
A fortnight ago, supporters of the Old Lady sung the Italian equivalent of “You’re getting sacked in the morning.” At a time when they’ve been heavily backed as one of the favourites of this year’s competition, Mourinho was never going to miss this opportunity.
Tactical changes, tough love at heart of United resurgence
The back story to Mourinho’s ear-cupping should be known, and revisited, at times when we reflect on his behaviour. It’s not often you get such an open goal to remind critics of your qualities and having been schooled by Juventus only two weeks ago, he didn’t need a second invitation.
But the greater point that shouldn’t be lost at the Allianz Stadium is that Mourinho is more relevant than ever in this time of exposés and frivolous FA appeals.
All we hear is fake outrage from both sides, towards a man who may well refer to a ‘manhunt’ again, after a commission’s decision to dismiss a conduct charge after he swore into a camera in Portuguese.
This has been the year of comebacks already for United, winning on six occasions having trailed – starting against Conte’s Chelsea in a 2-1 home win in February.
Lingard came off the bench to score the winner, while United were trailing 2-0 at Selhurst Park with 35 minutes remaining in March, only to complete the turnaround in stoppage time.
Fergie Time is back under Mourinho – and the latest tribute was thanks to another inspired substitution, with Mata coming off the bench to score after Fellaini had instilled an air of uncertainty in the Juventus defence.
The resurgence of Luke Shaw, Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial has been visible amidst all the furore of United being off the pace in seventh place. Mourinho’s tough love may still bring the best out of Alexis Sanchez, who has looked far more engaged since being moved to centre forward in the absence of Romelu Lukaku.
Look a bit deeper, beyond the mild irritation of a middle-aged man goading others and you see bundles of courage, determination, tactical brilliance and hope that this marriage dismissed already as inconvenient might yet bring sustained success.
As they head to the Etihad this weekend, Mourinho has had the better preparation than his counterpart Guardiola. The exertions of Wednesday night may still be felt come Sunday, but confidence is restored.
Few teams can afford to start as sluggishly as United have in recent league games against swashbuckling City, but few have the powers of recovery that Mourinho has been busy building behind his ‘classless’ persona.