After speaking to his players and staff on Thursday, Jose Mourinho abandoned plans for a double training session.
The Manchester United squad headed home after a late morning workout but nobody would have complained either way. There is a buzz about the place again, a buoyancy ahead of Saturday’s seismic derby at Old Trafford.
It has not been felt since Sir Alex Ferguson left three years ago. David Moyes could not replicate it and neither could Louis van Gaal.
Considering the reservations felt by some people at the club over the decision to appoint Jose Mourinho, it has been some achievement by the new manager.
He goes into Saturday’s lunchtime showdown with his nemesis Pep Guardiola with a 100 per cent record to match that of the new Manchester City manager.
Something will have to give, and the personal enmity between the two men marks this out as the most eagerly awaited derby of recent years. The fact that United are slight favourites is further proof of the successful rebuilding process overseen by Mourinho, one that can be traced back to his earliest days in charge.
Some players had yet to report for pre-season when United took off for their tour of China in July, but those on board could not help but admire the new manager’s decision to abandon his seat in business class because his backroom team were travelling in economy. The 53-year-old was found shortly afterwards sleeping on the floor of the Airbus A300.
It was classic Mourinho, a move designed to show that he was one of the boys. And it worked.
‘The players were in first class but word quickly got around what he’d done,’ said a source. ‘They could see there were no airs and graces about the new manager and that really impressed them.’
Establishing a close bond with his players was crucial to Mourinho’s success at Porto, Chelsea and Inter Milan, and he has worked hard to instil that same spirit at United. While Van Gaal and his coaches got changed in a separate room at Old Trafford, that is once again being used to entertain visiting managers, Mourinho having immediately moved back into the main dressing-room to be with his team.
For now at least, the man referred to as ‘gaffer’ by the English players and ‘boss’ by the foreign contingent is almost universally popular among them — even those who will have to wait for next week’s Europa League match against Feyenoord for their first action of the season.
Some who viewed his arrival with a degree of trepidation have been kept onside. Juan Mata, sold to United when Mourinho was at Chelsea, has started every game since an awkward moment in the Community Shield when he was substituted less than half an hour after coming off the bench.
Marouane Fellaini, a symbol of the failed Moyes tenure, has played every minute since Mourinho made a personal call the day after he was unveiled in July to reassure the Belgian that he still had a future at Old Trafford.
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