MANCHESTER – If time really is running out for Jose Mourinho at Manchester United, he certainly seemed a man in a hurry yesterday.
In for his weekly press conference half-an-hour early and out again little more than eight minutes later, his tense exchange with the broadcast media lasted four minutes and 13 seconds.
The fact that Mourinho faced 13 questions in that short time showed just how little he had to say and how much he didn’t want to be there.
At the end of a week that started with a damaging defeat by Brighton and brought more scrutiny over his future at Old Trafford, the whole episode did nothing to detract from the image of Mourinho as a manager under mounting pressure and increasingly at odds with his surroundings.
His relationship with United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward continues to be a subject of intense interest after a rancorous summer in which Mourinho made little secret of how he felt about the club’s recruitment of new players.
Asked if his relationship with Woodward is fine, Mourinho replied: “Of course.” No problems at all then? “No,” came the terse, rather unconvincing, answer.
What about the background noise surrounding him and Woodward?
“Yeah, but don’t ask me because I don’t know,” said a man who is known to pay a lot more attention to the media than he cares to admit.
“I don’t read, I don’t know 10 percent of what is written, I don’t know 10 percent of what is coming on TV screens, so I’m not the right guy to answer to it.”
On to Paul Pogba, United’s record signing and another key figure at the club who appears to be on less than cordial terms with the 55-year-old manager.
Having responded to being handed the captain’s armband with a Man-of-the-Match performance in the opening win over Leicester and then claimed that he couldn’t discuss his situation at United without being fined, Pogba admitted after the Brighton defeat that his attitude wasn’t right.
How could the player’s performance fluctuate so wildly?
“Paul told,” said Mourinho. “Paul has to answer by his words. If you want any explanation about Paul’s words, you must ask him.”
Centre backs Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof came in for particular criticism over their performances in United’s 3-2 defeat at the Amex Stadium, but again, Mourinho was in no mood to discuss it.
“I don’t analyse with you my players,” he said, shutting down his inquisitor.
And so on.
Perhaps the strangest response was to a question about Tottenham, his opponents on Monday night in a game that has now taken on even greater significance.
If United were to lose two games back-to-back this early in the season, the alarm bells really would be ringing.
So how impressed has Mourinho been by Spurs and the progress made by their manager Mauricio Pochettino?
“I’m not going to comment,” he said.
Jose on @NemanjaMatic, @Anto_V25 and @Alexis_Sanchez: "There are decisions to be made, but they are training with the team. Dalot is also with the team this week, so in terms of the medical department, they are almost free." #MUFC pic.twitter.com/BdQRMGKvBe
It was quite a performance, even my Mourinho’s truculent standards after a summer of depressingly downbeat comments on the club’s tour of America.
At least on those occasions he kept to the schedule.
It can only be assumed that his timing yesterday was intended to wrong-foot reporters who have come under fire from him recently, and were anticipating a 1.30pm start when he walked in at 1pm. He has been early before, but never like this.
Mourinho did not break any rules – the Premier League merely stipulate that all press conferences must take place no later than 1.30pm the day before a match – but the two-fingered message seemed clear enough.
It was reminiscent of Mourinho’s early dart through the media zone after the final Premier League fixture of his first season in charge, at home to Crystal Palace in May 2017, when he was unhappy with what he perceived to be a lack of respect for his team’s progress throughout a 64-game campaign.
"It's always difficult after you lose a match, especially for people who really care about the job and about being football professionals," says the boss. "But after that, you think about the next match." #MUFC pic.twitter.com/j3qg9rGeXb
That was a few days before United won the Europa League and their third trophy in nine months under the new manager.
Mourinho is no longer acting from a position of strength, however. The future does not look as bright as it did then, and time isn’t on his side.