Jose Mourinho has long since mastered the art of generating a verbal smokescreen to disguise his own failings, but he was not playing to the crowd when he become cheerleader-in-chief for Juventus last month.
After watching his expensively assembled Manchester United side comprehensively beaten by Italy’s slick champions in a Champions League mis-match at Old Trafford, Mourinho didn’t hold back in his praise of his opponents as he fired verbal jabs aplenty in the direction of the decision makers in his own boardroom.
“My biggest compliment to Juventus is about their philosophy and the basic ideas behind it,” Mourinho told reporters.
“They had Gonzalo Higuain, Mario Mandzukic, Paulo Dybala and want more. They want Cristiano Ronaldo. They had Andrea Barzagli, Giorgio Chiellini, Daniele Rugani – they are not happy, they want more, they want Leonardo Bonucci and they go for the best players in the world.
“So they are big club with a big past, but with also a big desire to have a big future. They want more and more.”
This was vintage Mourinho, with his each and every word needing to be dissected to appreciate the sentiment behind it.
Mourinho went on to reveal that Juventus President Andrea Agnelli told him prior to the game at Old Trafford that winning an eighth successive Serie A title this season will not be considered as success unless the club’s 23-year wait for Champions League glory ends in the Madrid final next May.
It is the kind of mentality serial winner Mourinho expected to find when he agreed to become manager of the world’s most commercially successful club in the summer of 2016, yet he has been met with obstacles that he believes are halting his dreams of building a new era of success at Old Trafford.
Mourinho’s relentless praise for veteran centre-backs Chiellini and Bonucci was especially loaded, as he used their immaculate performances in Juve’s 1-0 win in Manchester to highlight what he sees as a lack of ambition from United’s hierarchy in the transfer market and just for once, his points were valid.
While so much of Mourinho’s arrogant and petty sniping has become irritating in recent years, this was a night when he highlighted the difference between a club trying to win on the pitch and another aiming to finish top of the financial league tables.
In essence, Mourinho was using the Juventus spending model to make his points about the deficiencies in United’s transfer policy very public, with the divide between club and manager not just a source of speculation in the media or among the club’s fans.
When Mourinho had his first meeting with United’s executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward in the summer of 2016, he was promised huge cash sums would be made available to turn United into a winning machine once again.
The signings of Paul Pogba (£89m), Romelu Lukaku (£75m), Nemanja Matic (40m), Fred (£52m) and Alexis Sanchez (overall deal worth well in excess of £100m) have highlighted that investment, yet the kind of players Mourinho has wanted to sign have not arrived in the last 18 months.
Mourinho was keen to add the strong characters and proven performers to his set-up, but those transfer targets were never likely to fit into the recruitment model put in place by Woodward. United may be the richest club in world football, but the club’s owners do not want to sign players lacking a credible re-sale value and that is where their relationship with Mourinho has broken down.
So while Tottenham defender Toby Alderweireld and Inter Milan winger Ivan Perisic were Mourinho’s dream signings over the last two summers, neither were likely to arrive at Old Trafford as their 30th birthday celebrations were on the horizon.
United’s policy on signing maturing players may have been altered with in their moves to sign Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Alexis Sanchez, as the commercial opportunities from signing marquee players of that stature meant they were exceptions to Woodward’s rule.
Yet since the lavishly expensive deal to sign German World Cup winner Bastian Schweinsteiger in 2015 turned out to be a costly mistake, United have focused their attention on targeting younger players that need to be moulded into top stars.
If United’s hierarchy wanted to employ a training ground grafter with a track record of signing promising players and improving their market value, they selected the wrong candidate when they hired the coach who hold the distinction of being the first in football history to spend £1billion in the transfer market.
By contrast, Juve have been operating under very different rules, with their £100m deal to sign an ageing Cristiano Ronaldo in July backed up a £35m capture of 31-year-old defender Leonardo Bonucci a few weeks later.
France midfielder Blaise Matuidi was signed by Juventus after his 30th birthday in the summer of 2017, while their 34-year-old captain Giorgio Chiellini was singled out for special praise by Mourinho.
The United side out-classed by one of the Champions League favourites had at average age of 26, with Massimiliano Allegri’s Juve dream team five years more experienced player-by-player.
The far more alarming statistic that highlighted the difference of mentality between Juventus and the rivals they will play once again in Turin on Wednesday night.
The Juve side that beat United 1-0 at Old Trafford two weeks ago included players that have won a collective total of 37 league titles medals in Europe’s top leagues (England, France, Germany, Spain and Italy). By contrast, United called on the talents of players who have won just 10 league titles, with Paul Pogba’s four titles during his time at Juve making up much of that total.
The alternative business models of the most successful clubs in Italy and England have resulted in one being installed among the favourites to win the Champions League and the other toasting successful balance sheets rather than trophy triumphs.
Juventus are likely to kick-start the debate over Mourinho’s United future all over again when they add to his misery in their Champions League re-match in Turin on Wednesday night.
How Mourinho must wish he was in the Juventus corner rather than working for a club that seems unwilling to live up to their billing where it matters most.
JUVENTUS v UNITED CASH SIGNINGS SINCE MOURINHO ARRIVED AT OLD TRAFFORD
United 2016/17 signings (age when they were signed):
Eric Bailly (21) from Villarreal – £30m
Henrikh Mkhitaryan (27) from Borussia Dortmund – £27m
Paul Pogba (23) from Juventus – £89m
Victor Lindelof (22) from Juventus – £32m
Romelu Lukaku (24) from Everton – £75m
Nemanja Matic (29) from Chelsea – £40m
Diogo Dalot (19) from Benfica – £19m
Fred (25) from Shakhtar Donetsk – £52m
Average age of signings: 23.75
Total spent: £364m
Juventus 2016/17 signings:
Miralem Pjanic (26) from Roma – £28m
Medhi Beatia (29) from Bayern Munich – £2.5m
Gonzalo Higuain (28) from Napoli – £80m
Juan Cuadrado (28) from Chelsea – £20m
Tomas Rincon (28) from Genoa – £7m
Rodrigo Bentancur (19) from Boca Juniors – £8.5m
Douglas Costa (26) from Bayern Munich – £6m
Wojciech Szczesny (27) from Arsenal – £13m
Mattia De Sciglio (24) from AC Milan – £12m
Federico Bernardeschi (23) from Fiorentina – £38m
Blaise Matuidi (30) from Paris Saint-Germain £25m
Benedikt Howedes (29) from Schalke – £5m
Mattia Perin (25) from Genoa – £13m
Joao Cancelo (24) from Valencia – £38m
Cristiano Ronaldo (33) from Real Madrid – £95m
Leonardo Bonucci (31) from AC Milan – £30m
Average age of signings: 26.88
Total spent: £421m
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