Jose Mourinho’s defence of his greatness, delivered 459 days ago through the words of German philosopher Hegel while witnessing his aura recede at Manchester United, feels particularly pertinent as he readies to return to Old Trafford as manager of Tottenham.
“The truth is in the whole,” the Portuguese said at the end of August 2018 following a 3-0 night terror directed by Spurs at the Theatre of Dreams, rephrasing the quote from The Phenomenology of Spirit.
Mourinho argued the entirety of his CV should be considered when assessing his career rather than whether or not he won a title with the 20-time champions.
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His application of the idea wasn’t exactly as Hegel intended upon publication in 1807. The philosopher theorised that you can’t judge the essence of a subject at the beginning and need to wait until the end to form an exact opinion.
So then, back to the “very kind, smiling” Mourinho, who Heung-Min Son added is “making jokes with the players and is doing a great job” at Spurs.
The 56-year-old has won his opening three fixtures in charge of Tottenham, with 10 goals scored and six conceded in a departure from the drudgery that has come to define his approach.
Mourinho has been pitch perfect in his first fortnight at the helm. Off the bat he admitted mistakes in recent years, no doubt alluding to the way his stints since 2013 at Real Madrid, Chelsea and United have ended in a football Armageddon of sorts.
There was the wily noting of affection for his predecessor Mauricio Pochettino, whom Mourinho made sure to reference immediately and warmly.
The private and public hyping up of Dele Alli has certainly worked given the evidence of his performances. Meanwhile, the hugs and fist-bumps with Callum Hynes, the 15-year-old ballboy, has aided Operation New, Happy, Humble Jose.
At United there will be glances over to Tottenham with the warning: “The truth is in the whole.” But is this Mourinho a product of fully understanding that phrase? Did 11 months out of the managerial bubble help him realise he cannot only circle his mastery during 2002-2012 and crop out the toxic failures that followed?
“He’s had time to analyse where it all went wrong for him, remember the factors that made him so successful and reinvent himself at Tottenham,” Benni McCarthy, a protagonist in Mourinho’s success at Porto, tells The Independent.
The South African knows the man, and the manager well. McCarthy scored four goals – two against United in the round of 16 – as the Primeira Liga side became Champions League winners against convention in 2004.
“Jose was brilliant from the start at Porto,” he says. “He was caring, very observant and knew exactly how to get the best out of every player. He paid attention to detail and was gifted in setting up the team tactically.”
Mourinho twice attempted to sign the former striker, who ended up at Blackburn Rovers, during his first spell at Chelsea. McCarthy, now a manager who was interviewed for a position in the United Kingdom last month, believes his old mentor has opted for a throwback to those exciting early years.
“He most definitely has rediscovered himself,” he says. “Jose seems much calmer. He looks his old, happy self. You can tell he has that passion again and the way he has been speaking about his players shows he cares again.
“The Spurs job came at a good time for him. He had nearly a year to be critical of himself and see that he needed to be humble, show compassion towards his players and be the leader that people knew him to be.
“Success came with a heavy price for him and I don’t think he felt the need to change because of what he’s achieved. He didn’t adapt to modern players and tactics.
“It was his way or the highway and players didn’t respond to that approach, many didn’t want to play for him anymore and that goes against his best years as a manager.”
McCarthy is convinced Mourinho will remind everyone why he is “one of the greats of the modern era” at Tottenham and the man himself would love nothing more that to serve up his first major Spurs statement at the scene of his mass misery: Old Trafford.
He was sacked from United with a haul of 26 points from his first 17 league games of 2018-19, with his successor Ole Gunnar Solskjaer shifting uncomfortably during a similarly deficient run. Solskjaer requires victories against all three of Spurs, Manchester City and Everton – unlikely given their limp form – to surpass that Mourinho mark.
With the much coveted Pochettino, long admired by Sir Alex Ferguson and everyone at United, on the market, Solskjaer won’t be sleeping easy. Could Mourinho spell the end for Ole and in effect pave the way for the Argentine to end up at United?
To aptly dip into Hegel again: “Man is nothing else than the series of his acts.”