What Reporters Really Think of Covering Jose Mourinho's Manchester United

Dean Jones@DeanJonesBRFootball Insider at Bleacher ReportNovember 9, 2017

Manchester United's Portuguese coach Jose Mourinho grimaces during a press conference at the Luz stadium in Lisbon on October 17, 2017 on the eve of the UEFA Champions League group A football match SL Benfica vs Manchester United. / AFP PHOTO / PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA        (Photo credit should read PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP/Getty Images)

He walked into English football as the Special One yet these days seems more like the Grumpy One.

Jose Mourinho is having a pretty decent season on paper. Manchester United are second in the Premier League table and cruising through their UEFA Champions League group—yet you would never know it.

The dissatisfied expression he has been wearing during victory or defeat suggests he is constantly underwhelmed and annoyed. You wonder what it would take to now cheer him up after a career that has seen him collect 25 trophies.

It's unclear whether he believes the world is against him or whether he would just prefer that were the case.

But whatever he says and however he acts, millions of fans around the globe hang on to his every word.

I decided to take a look behind the quotes to discover what it is like to deal with the United manager. By speaking to the reporters who follow his press conferences, we can get a better idea of the man behind the mask.

From covering Mourinho closely during his time at Chelsea, I remember how quickly his mood can turn. He was tough to deal with but would make the job worthwhile because there was often still fun to be had and good lines dished out, even when he seemed fed up.

Is that still the case, or is he is as miserable as he seems?

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Jose Mourinho has a message for Manchester United's critics 👀 https://t.co/jNiDDaATuA

When Daley Blind fired a penalty past Benfica goalkeeper Mile Svilar on Oct. 31 to ensure United's 100 per cent Champions League record would continue, Mourinho's reaction was to use a chatting-hand gesture on the touchline. It was aimed at pretty much anyone and everyone outside of his dressing room.

Later, when BT Sport asked about the fact his side were strolling perfectly through their group, he replied (h/t Samuel Luckhurst of the Manchester Evening News): "It's better for the specialists to comment than for me to give my opinion. ... The specialists are free to comment, so let them comment. I'm more than happy."

Clearly he is not. Mourinho seems annoyed at what has been written and said about his team this season when United's performances have been difficult to watch.

His charisma, charm and humour have been on the wane for some time.

"He is a completely changed man," journalist John Richardson told me. Richardson works as a freelance reporter in Manchester but has been right across Mourinho's career thanks to his previous role as the Sunday Express' chief football correspondent.

"At the Express, I would go down to Chelsea press conferences and always looked forward to it," he said. "Jose wasn't always in a great mood, but there was always a chance he could liven up. He liked the banter.

"At Chelsea, I remember a time when [Daily Star on Sunday journalist] Tony Stenson simply said to him, 'Jose, why are you miserable?' Mourinho just laughed and said, 'What do you mean?!'

"His mood changed after that, and the press conference became more light-hearted.

"But that doesn't happen at United. There is not that atmosphere in press conferences. It seems like he doesn't want to be there—that it's just a job."

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"He's somebody who likes being miserable generally." But Jose Mourinho's #MUFC have the best Premier League defence for a reason. #MOTD https://t.co/KGYOuKqyOR

Stenson, 72, a reporter who has covered top-level football for over 50 years, used to love his Friday afternoon chats with Mourinho at Chelsea's Cobham base. Perhaps Mourinho respected the fact he had been part of the press pack for so long. It was often the case Stenson would draw the best responses from Mourinho.

"I think he liked that my questions were a bit mischievous," Stenson said. "I liked asking him what he spends his money on and where was he going for dinner. Let's face it—he's not interested in talking formations, and usually it doesn't make a great story.

"I think he probably respected me for my age, but I was also once told that Jose liked it when I started off the questioning. The press conference would be more relaxed. I like that approach with a manager, and we don't get enough of that these days generally."

It seems a shame Mourinho's charisma is no longer a key personality trait. It makes life harder for those daily journalists whose jobs are to coax good lines from him on a weekly basis.

Luckhurst is the Manchester United editor for the Manchester Evening News and told me it is still enjoyable covering Mourinho, though.

"Dealing with him is quite effortless," he said. "He excels at what they call in broadcast training bridging. He will address a curveball question, such as his approach at Anfield, acknowledge it and turn it on to [Liverpool boss] Jurgen Klopp by reminding everyone he kept three midfielders on for the whole game and was ostensibly cautious.

"Then he's got a lot of people—mostly United fans—onside and contemplating another angle, even though United lacked ambition that day and their approach was inexcusable.

"If he wants to get his message across, he will. And it is usually good copy for us, so there are never going to be any complaints. His mood can be misleading and seems to be part of that siege mentality he values. He is always in control, which could not be said of David Moyes, who would try to appear serene but was flapping—and the giveaway was some of his ridiculous answers."

Jack Gaughan, northern football correspondent for the Daily Mail, explained how Mourinho almost always sets the agenda.

"It is quite normal that we ask Mourinho a question and he starts to reply—and later you realise that at no point did he actually answer the question," Gaughan said.

"Sometimes it doesn't seem worth actually asking the questions, as he will have a point he wants to make and will make sure that is put across. To be fair to him, it is quite difficult before matches as there is quite a finite amount of time to get through people's questions in a United press conference. It means things can be disjointed and sentences can be quite short and sharp. So we have to jump on things he says that are good.

"Even though he whinges about the media when he uses lines like 'the specialists,' I think he does understand at times why he comes in for criticism. But there is more distance between us and him than we would ideally like. It's difficult to break through and actually get to know him, so that is frustrating."

Duncan Castles @DuncanCastles

Why Paris Saint-Germain want Jose Mourinho to lead their assault on the Champion League. #PSG #MUFC #POR https://t.co/xEf2P80VGh https://t.co/Oo2IOj797z

Especially frustrating, no doubt, if there are journalists not on the beat who seem to be getting exclusive information.

Freelance reporter Duncan Castles lives in Cape Town, South Africa, but regularly breaks news and views on Mourinho.

His Twitter feed has become a must-follow for any United fan or media outlet, and Castles recently spoke about the situation to podcast Media Matters.

Football 365 transcribed segments of the interview, and one part that stands out is Castles' technique for getting news from inside a club:

"What I do quite often with managers and players I know is I'll send them a text message after the match, congratulating them or whatever, and ask them about what went on. It's like having a press conference in which they're not publicly exposed so they can tell you things that they couldn't necessarily say in public before the ramifications of that being attributed to them in a newspaper or on a TV station. You get a better quality of information that way. The key thing there is trust. "

Very few journalists have such a relationship whereby you could exchange detailed text messages with such a top figure in the Premier League. Castles often receives criticism for a biased approach around Mourinho and United, but such access is undoubtedly something most other reporters would also embrace.

Manchester United's Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho attends a press conference at at Old Trafford in Manchester, north-west England on October 30, 2017, on the eve of their UEFA Champions League Group A football match against SL Benfica. / AFP PHOTO / Pa
PAUL ELLIS/Getty Images

On the patch itself, information is harder to come by. And even if you are granted a one-on-one interview with Mourinho these days, his body language makes it clear he is not interested in getting to know you or engaging in small talk. I witnessed it firsthand last season when Bleacher Report was given time with him. At times, the United boss gave the impression he did not want to be there, even though the event was taking place in the Lowry Hotel, the Manchester hotel he calls home.

Here is how a typical pre-match briefing in the Premier League works: You open with questions from television reporters and agency reporters, and the quotes are available for immediate use. Then the cameras are switched off, and a manager gives a fresh briefing to daily newspaper reporters. That is then followed by questions from Sunday reporters—if that's when the match is being played or if there is a need to preview an upcoming European fixture.

It is not unusual for the daily section to be slightly more intense, while Sunday reporters often try to take more of a casual approach in the hope they can land a different type of story.

Steve Bates is the chief football writer for the Sunday People and has covered United throughout Sir Alex Ferguson's reign up to the current day.

"The Mourinho approach is similar to Fergie's in terms of driving an agenda," Bates said. "You can go to a briefing with questions prepared, but he will lead you down another path to suit him.

"Fergie would sometimes just drop a bomb you hadn't anticipated too, something about a referee or a player, and you just go with it. Jose has that same ability.

"I understand what people say about his dull or dour demeanour, but I have to say it is always captivating to listen to him because he makes a presser interesting, even if you do not agree with what he is saying.

"I would rather deal with him or Fergie to most other managers in that sense."

It is also a privileged position to be in, each week having the chance to pitch questions to one of the most successful football managers in history. It is one thing reading the quotes or watching interviews from afar—to be the one asking has its responsibilities.

"To be in with him is great because it gives you the chance to pick up on his mood at times and take the conversation in another direction," Bates added. "There's a pressure to dealing with managers like Mourinho because you can't mess up, you get one chance a week and that means you are in a pressured situation. People who read the stories may not realise the difficulty that can go into getting the lines that come out."

Mike McGrath is a reporter for the Sun on Sunday and explained: "I always expect Mourinho to scrutinise questions because he will pull people up if he feels a question is unfair or not backed up. It's a test of us as journalists to get good lines from him.

"He is not as laid-back as he was when he was at Chelsea, but he often had more time to speak there than he does now."

Mourinho wanted the United job his whole career, but now he has it, he does not seem so bothered. Maybe that is something to do with the fact he felt they should have turned to him immediately after Ferguson's retirement in 2013 instead of David Moyes.

"He probably misses his family, and living in a hotel must drive him bonkers too," Richardson added. "But that is his decision.

"At Chelsea, you always felt like greatness was in the room with you when he spoke. It's not so much like that anymore.

"At times, you see signs of the old Mourinho, but it is not a real pleasure like it used to be. It's a bit like going to see your favourite old rock group, and they are not performing like they used to. You still buy the records, but you don't really enjoy the concerts."

Maybe Mourinho is content. Maybe this is how he wants to manage at this stage of his career. But it is going to be interesting to see how he changes between now and the end of the campaign.

Already we are hearing about a wrangle over the value of his next United contract, and there are strong rumours growing that Mourinho is being lined up by Paris Saint-Germain, with The Sun's Neil Custis reporting as much.

Given his mood and behaviour, perhaps it would not be too much of a surprise to see him go.


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