Deep in the bowels of Wembley Stadium, around an hour after Manchester United had lifted the EFL Cup following a chaotic 3-2 win over Southampton, Jose Mourinho was asked a bold question at his press conference: ‘Why do you not look happy about the success?’
The boss looked out with a slight glint in his eyes, retained a stony face, stared down the inquisitor, and delivered a dry response that has made him a journalist’s dream throughout his storied career. “I am very happy, I am very happy,” he uttered, with the look of someone whose loved ones had just been insulted.
What followed was even more typical of Mourinho: he spoke of allowing the players to enjoy their victory without him, as he cast his own thoughts towards greater prizes on offer to him. For he is a serial winner, an ultimate trophy-collector, greedy in the best possible sense, whose haul as Reds manager has just begun.
“It is important for the fans, the club and the players,” Jose said. “I always try to put myself in the secondary position. The reality is also important to me: I put a lot of pressure on myself. I wanted very much to win a major trophy with every club and, by doing that with Manchester United, it is quite a sense of relief. It was a big target for me to win a trophy with Manchester United.
“But the reality is we want more. My contract is long. I have two more years, plus this one, so hopefully I can win something more this season. I know it is difficult, but we have to fight for more.”
As a fan sitting in that room, officially under the guise of a ManUtd.com reporter, it was hair-raisingly inspirational to hear such talk from Mourinho. Yes, he admitted to feeling emotional at becoming the most successful manager in League Cup history alongside Sir Alex Ferguson and Brian Clough, but he also displayed a winning mentality that has United fans purring about the future.
Winning the EFL Cup will transpire to be an unquestionable highlight of the season – every other club would love to lift it, and don’t let them tell you otherwise – yet in the history of our great club, there are higher mountains to climb, wider rivers to cross, and this current regime has a genuine opportunity to conquer every summit. Mourinho very clearly knows that, and plans to achieve something special in his reign.
Sunday’s two-goal hero Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a loyal lieutenant of Mourinho who moved to England on his former Internazionale manager’s request, later spoke to reporters about his burning desire to add medals to his glittering haul of trinkets. “I want even more,” was his mantra and that mentality has tellingly been flowing through the veins of every great Manchester United team in history.
The classic example of such burning ambition at United was Roy Keane, a man whose internal focus and desire carried him from the streets of Cork to the annals of football history. The former captain still deems the iconic 1998/99 Treble season as a missed opportunity. “We should have won four trophies,” he often states, without even a hint of a smile. “The League Cup was there for the taking!”
Mourinho shares that attitude and knows United can lift more silverware this campaign, with the club still in the FA Cup and progressing nicely in the Europa League. He says the Premier League title is too far out of reach, yet he knows this spirited group can still challenge and plans to finish in top spot in 2017/18.
That’s why the best part of Sunday’s EFL Cup final was not the success itself, but the promise of much more to come. Mourinho is restoring the club’s impeccably high standards in this difficult post-Ferguson era and deserves great credit for setting such a determined tone. We shall celebrate this achievement, he says, but let us not dwell on it. Now is the time to strive for greater, more historic feats.
“It is one less competition that we delete from our minds,” Jose concluded at the close of his press conference at Wembley. “We had it in our minds for about a month. Now it is over. It is finished.”
Thankfully, for every Manchester United fan, Jose Mourinho’s trophy quest is far from complete.