Almost 14 years and a week to the day, Porto arrived at Old Trafford looking to protect a 2-1 lead and make it through to the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
A double for Benni McCarthy in Portugal had answered Quinton Fortune’s opener, and captain Roy Keane picked up a red card towards the end of the match.
Without their skipper for the return match, Manchester United gave a European debut to Eric Djemba-Djemba alongside Nicky Butt and Darren Fletcher in midfield. Paul Scholes put the home side ahead and then had a goal ruled out, wrongly, for offside.
With moments left, a mistake from Tim Howard gave Francisco Costinha a simple chance to send Porto through and he didn’t waste it. Jose Mourinho leapt from the Porto dugout and raced up the touchline towards the corner flag where his players were celebrating.
Waving his arms and literally jumping for joy, Mourinho knew the enormity of what his team, who would go on to win the competition, had achieved. He held his arms aloft whilst returning to the bench, and when leaving the pitch pointed both fingers in the air in celebration, annoying some in the home crowd.
When speaking about his reaction since, Mourinho has said Porto celebrated the result like a final, such was the occasion of knocking out Manchester United at Old Trafford. He’s also spoken about Sir Alex Ferguson’s reaction, and how the class shown by the defeated manager is something he’s tried to learn from.
Around 5 years ago, Mourinho took his Real Madrid team to Old Trafford, after Ferguson’s side managed to get a 1-1 draw in Spain.
An own goal from Sergio Ramos saw the home side well placed, but Nani’s red card just after half time changed everything. Madrid had been floundering but within 15 minutes of the sending off they’d scored twice through Luka Modric and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Mourinho, perhaps as part of a charm offensive, said after the match: “I try to be honest, and to be honest is to say that in my opinion the best team lost, but that’s football.”
Real Madrid had a team including Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane, Xabi Alonso, Mesut Ozil, Angel Di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain and Cristiano Ronaldo, with Luka Modric coming on as a substitute.
Manchester United actually managed to come out of the match with some credit. Although the loss was still a big disappointment, given it had been their first at home in the Champions League knockout stages since AC Milan in 2005.
The Porto and Real Madrid matches were very different to what happened on Tuesday night when Sevilla visited Old Trafford. Porto were on their way to European glory led by a man whose confidence and meticulous planning would soon make him the self declared Special One.
None of this was anything like Sevilla, Mourinho’s men this week managed to dish up something rather special in its awfulness.
And then came the comments.
“This is not the end of the world. I sit in this chair twice in the Champions League and I knock Man United out at home at Old Trafford.
“I sit in this chair with Porto, Man United out, I sit in this chair with Real Madrid, Man United out.”
Well good for you, Jose. It’s not me, it’s you, and if it is a bit me, then it’s surely a bit you too.
The manager, feeling under scrutiny, answered for his own shortcomings by reminding his club of theirs whilst talking up his own record. Manchester United, you’re not really all that.
That wasn’t all he had to say. In his BT Sport post-match interview, Mourinho had it put to him that the season has come down to a shot at the FA Cup and clinching a top four place.
Brash as you like, he replied: “Yeah, you know, a fantastic team like Tottenham has exactly the same as us. Liverpool has the Champions League but does not have the FA Cup.”
After taking up the job to Make Manchester United Great Again, Mourinho has dedicated a lot of time to managing expectations. He’s been so successful that it’s felt at times he was rewriting history, but it’s been largely lapped up.
Louis van Gaal and his time at Manchester United have been made to look as disastrous as possible, and fans can happily jump on that train. But Mourinho, quite possibly by design, played a hand for a long time in the demise of that reign.
From December 2015 onward, Van Gaal’s head was on the block and Mourinho was increasingly linked with taking over. It grew and grew, and it doesn’t take a great leap of faith to believe that without the unprecedented media pressure the team would have secured the extra point needed for fourth place, having lost out to Manchester City on goal difference.
Winning the FA Cup (a trophy Mourinho didn’t want in his first squad photo) was overshadowed by the Dutchman being turfed out, with Van Gaal since making clear his genuine shock at how he was treated.
But few cared, and back then Mourinho’s task was to go for the Premier League title, something he initially talked up as a compulsory objective, before expectation management started.
The first season was saved from being a disaster by beating Ajax in the Europa League Final, and subsequently qualifying for the Champions League. Manchester United had finished sixth, and whilst the revisionism on behalf of Mourinho would have one believe the league position was a product of European adventure, it was clearly the reverse.
A League Cup win was given far more weight by fans who previously dismissed it as Mickey Mouse.
This season has been much better in the league, and being second to the current incarnation of Manchester City isn’t such a bad thing. Yet, there’s a decreasing amount of joy attached to the club.
Beating Liverpool will always be a high point in a United season, but even that has been overshadowed by the Sevilla fiasco. A squad with some exceptional talents seems to be performing way below their actual capacity, and the plan, if there is one, is unclear.
Jose is neck deep in the job he always wanted, but when fans needed him to be a Manchester United manager he instead became Mourinho Apologist Number One.
When the Old Trafford supremo should have been talking about being ashamed with the result, embarrassed, how he realised it wasn’t good enough, and how he’d personally make sure this group of players would make it up to supporters… Mourinho told them to suck it up, it’s no big drama, because he’s inflicted similar before.
And, anyway, look at Tottenham.
Instead of talking up the great name of Manchester United, and making the history seem even more illustrious than it is, Mourinho did the opposite. This was the attitude of a man who feels he’s the victim of his situation rather than the architect, and that he’s doing the club a favour by trying to fix it.
Pre match comments about Frank De Boer had been lapped up, as Mourinho stuck a knife into the former Crystal Palace boss and twisted it, telling the Dutchman he’s the worst manager in Premier League history.
It was understandably celebrated widely by fans. Take that De Boer, Mourinho may be a dickhead but he’s our dickhead and you’re his latest victim.
Little did they know, not so long later, Jose’s aversion to criticism was going to see his own club in range.