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Jose Mourinho is making Manchester United hated again

Man Utd manager Jose Mourinho should use the unfair criticism he has received over the Antonio Conte row to make his club successful again.

In the pantheon of football insults, Jose Mourinho’s incongruous reminder in an otherwise diplomatic answer to Antonio Conte’s suggestion he had ‘dementia’ was hardly lacerating.

Conte served a four-month ban in relation to a match-fixing investigation but was cleared of wrongdoing in May 2016. Still, judging by the Pinter pause following Mourinho’s response, Conte would have had to pick up the Saturday morning ‘papers with metal tongs.

Back in 1996, Alex Ferguson took exception to Arsene Wenger’s latest ‘swipe at Manchester United’: “He’s at – well – they used to be a big club, Arsenal,” Ferguson pithily said on Match of the Day. “Arsene Wenger’s been in Japan for a year. He doesn’t know anything about English football.” The Scottish rasp emphasised ‘Japan’, which may as well have been Mars. Ferguson knew how to get under opponents’ skin and the majority imploded. Mourinho is a worthy successor in that regard.

Ferguson’s last three adversaries; Mourinho, Roberto Mancini and Rafael Benitez, lasted as little as three weeks or as long as just 18 months, greying and fraying around the edges and trembling in press conferences. Mourinho may not beat Conte to the Premier League title but could see him off; Chelsea put the feelers out for a new manager months ago.

It is remarkable in a week where Wenger cracks a suicide joke and Conte suggests a peer has dementia that it is Mourinho’s factual statement which has generated the most outrage in quarters. Someone said he has a ‘chip on his shoulder’, a nonsensical columnist opined it was ‘below the belt’ and another pundit Mourinho actually brought to Chelsea used the same phrase. You dread to think what their banter consists of.

Conte’s ‘little man’ insult was about as inventive as Brick Tamland’s ‘toilet store’ retort. Chelsea staff member Carlo Cudicini’s effort to suggest the Chelsea coach meant amnesia rather than dementia was as risible as the insult was deplorable. Dementia is translated as ‘demenza’ and amnesia translates as ‘amnesia’ in Italian. The top-spin still duped a few.

These are sensitive issues Wenger and Conte do not need to be aware of the statistics surrounding them to know their remarks were crass.

Managers like Conte, Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino are the new and ostensibly cooler kids on the block. Some of Mourinho’s detractors covered his first and second stints in London and have grown weary of the repetition and the supposed sideshow, so they have embraced the new breed. These coaches were successful abroad, they are passionate, they are animated and they say ‘Boom’.

Mourinho is now in the same position he put Ferguson in upon his arrival in England in 2004. “I think he sees himself as the young gunslinger who has come into town to challenge the sheriff who has been around for a while,” Ferguson said of Mourinho in 2005. Ferguson accepted the duel and was still quick on the draw.

Now Mourinho sees himself as the sheriff, only some think he is as washed up as Robert Mitchum in El Dorado. If he publicly rebukes a player his man-management is questioned and should he question the congested fixture schedule he is derided. That Guardiola has spent nearly £100million more having invested a superior squad is deemed inconsequential.

The fixture frustration Mourinho vents is tedious. Yet consider Jesse Lingard’s response to his finishing being dubbed ‘childish’ by Mourinho at Leicester last month. He was dropped for the next game on Boxing Day, emerged at half-time and scored twice to salvage a point. Lingard has scored two corkers since and has eight in his last 10.

Mourinho should not be maligned for speaking so candidly about multi-millionaires and Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial are four others who have responded positively to his criticism over the last year.

The United manager is not averse to acknowledging his mistakes, either. In two of the last four games, Mourinho has changed United’s centre forward midway through the match via a half-time substitution and publicly apologised to Henrikh Mkhitaryan on Friday.

United should take the exposure on Mourinho as a compliment. At a time when other clubs are chasing coverage and advertising tickets for upcoming matches, tabloids are planning back page splashes and double-page United spreads before Mourinho has uttered a word at his Friday press conference.

That unofficial ‘Hated, adored, never ignored’ motto United supporters adopted years ago could also be Mourinho’s maxim. Gary Neville likened United to “a little island. When you’re on it you protect it and you look after it. And when you’re not on it, you’re gunned down. Anyone who comes towards us, you just gun them down.”

That’s what happened to Conte last week.