Exclusive: Jose Mourinho Turned Down Manchester United Job to Return to Chelsea

Duncan CastlesFeatured ColumnistNovember 12, 2014

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It is the first weekend of November, 11 matches into what can still be legitimately referred to as the new Premier League season, and Arsene Wenger is floating the idea of Jose Mourinho surpassing his own domestic record by winning the title with "100 points."

Over the past three transfer windows, Wenger has spent a net £88.8 million on transfer fees and pushed Arsenal's wage bill on to a par with Chelsea's.

A few days earlier, Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal could be found talking of feeling "very lousy", about an initiation at Manchester United that has clearly not followed a famously self-confident plan. Already on his third starting-formation change of the campaign, Van Gaal has elected to emphasise defence in an attempt to squeeze back into the Champions League again, while stating that United's restoration “will take three years, I hope.”

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In his first summer at the club, the Dutchman oversaw an unprecedented net investment of £131.6 million in transfer fees, and a gross inflation of player salaries.

Mourinho? In just 17 months back at Stamford Bridge, with a Financial Fair Play (FFP)-restrained wage bill and net spend of £42.25 million, he has transformed an unbalanced, Barcelona-wannabe squad into a group eight points ahead of the defending champions that has already drawn twice in Manchester and won twice in Liverpool, against the Reds and Everton.

The expenditure on transfers works out at one Mesut Ozil or two-thirds of an Angel Di Maria (two footballers Mourinho brought to Real Madrid to the club's significant sporting and financial gain).

The neutral observer would be forgiven for thinking that United missed a trick in the spring of 2013 in deciding that David Moyes was a better choice to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson as manager than the soon-to-be-ex-Madrid coach, Mourinho. If you are a Manchester United supporter you'd be forgiven for harbouring baser thoughts.

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Forget, though, the standard narrative that Moyes was a carefully considered continuity choice, handpicked by Ferguson, anointed by the Glazers. Ignore the vindictive fabrications from Madrid that tell of Mourinho "sobbing loudly" upon hearing of Moyes' elevation.

The truth makes far more sense. The truth is that the Portuguese was United's preferred choice to take over that summer, was offered the position, then stepped away from it when Chelsea came calling.

A close friend of Ferguson's, Mourinho had actually spent much of the 2012/13 season discussing and preparing for the appointment. During the course of that final campaign, he and United held detailed discussions as to how he could combine moving his young family back to London and coaching in Manchester. Plans were even put in place for them to have use of a helicopter for trips between the two cities, enabling Mourinho's daughter and son to study in the capital.

Then an intervention from owner Roman Abramovich—who'd originally sought to bring Pep Guardiola to Stamford Bridge—changed everything.

Mourinho's affection for Chelsea, the feeling that he had unfinished business there, plus the opportunity to be with his family in London trumped the more accomplished squad, grander budget and greater security on offer at United. His change of direction forced England's champions-elect into a rapid switch of strategy.

On May 3, 2012, just five days before Ferguson announced his decision to retire after 27 years as manager, Moyes was summoned to his fellow Scot's Wilmslow home to be informed that the position was his. His own description of it is the antithesis of a carefully considered succession.

MADRID, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 13: Sir Alex Ferguson (L), manager of Manchester United, stands besides head coach Jose Mourinho of Real Madrid during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Real Madrid and Manchester United at Estadio Sant
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"It was a strange situation," Moyes said two months later. "I had no idea whatsoever until Sir Alex gave me a call and asked me to come to his house. I was expecting him to say ‘I’m going to take one of your players’ or something else.

"I went in and the first thing he said to me was ‘I’m retiring.’ I said ‘When?’ because he was never retiring, and he said ‘Next week!’ His next words were ‘You’re the next Manchester United manager.’ ”

Moyes then added: "As you can imagine, the blood drained from my face. I was really shocked. More shocked that Sir Alex had chosen to retire."

While both Ferguson and Mourinho have never talked explicitly about the offer to take control, clues as to what really happened are scattered around the public record.

In December 2012, while Mourinho was still on course for Old Trafford, ITV aired a documentary in which Ferguson spoke positively of him as a potential successor.

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"He can manage anywhere, absolutely,” Ferguson told ITV. “I'm not going to put any forecasts on what is going to happen at this club. I won't last forever, but Jose can manage anywhere, there is no question about that."

Talking about Ferguson's retirement and the United position shortly after his return to Chelsea, Mourinho made it clear that he had been in the Scot's confidence for some time.

“I knew that Ferguson was retiring many months ago,” he told reporters. “And I am so happy with his trust because it was big news for the world. I can imagine that just a very small circle around him knew that, and it was a big responsibility for me to know that."

Continued Mourinho:

Why do I know that? Because we are friends, so if I am his friend to know that he is going to retire, he is also my friend to know that the club I want to coach in England is Chelsea. Of course I told him I want to come to Chelsea. I would have turned down every job in the world, the Manchester United job, everyone. For Chelsea I would turn down every job in the world.

Three days after Moyes' dismissal, the ghost writer of Ferguson's recently published biography produced a newspaper article pointedly distancing the storied Scot from his failed successor.

“The downfall of David Moyes this week after 10 months as Manchester United manager was cast as a blow to the authority and judgment of Sir Alex Ferguson, who had recommended his fellow Glaswegian for the post at the end of his own spectacular 26-year reign,” wrote Paul Hayward in The Telegraph.

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“In time, history may expose this as a myth,” he continued.

If it wasn't difficult to detect Ferguson's scalpel in Hayward's postmortem of Moyes, it is straightforward to see the reference to United in Mourinho's end-of-Premier League-campaign analysis last May.

"You know I had lots of chances to have easy fairytales, but I decide not to have it,” Mourinho told the BBC.

He continued:

If I want to win leagues easily I would choose another league, I would choose another club with another moment that in this moment Chelsea does not have.

Chelsea had a fantastic decade, but that team is step by step disappearing and I come in a moment when there is a transitional moment of the big players of the last decade, some are not here, and some are at a certain age, and the younger players are in the beginning of a process.

So I choose with my heart in every aspect the club I want, the club I love, a competition I like very, very much to play, a city where I like very, very much to live. An accumulation of factors brought me to make this decision and I'm very happy with that.

Mourinho made the decision, not Manchester United. And now Mourinho's restructured, re-energised and resurgent Chelsea are running free and clear atop the Premier League. Not Manchester United.

Duncan Castles writes for The Sunday Times, Sports Illustrated, UEFA Champions magazine and others. A respected figure with an inside track, he has built a reputation for breaking transfer stories.


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