There are some things that are too big for even the most intrepid of Diaristas. Where the sheer scale of the subject at hand is baffling and overwhelming; where to even attempt to conjure some kind of reasonable or amusing comparison feels like an impossibility. To try, and to fail, might be to invite some kind of permanent breakdown, a catatonic state where all that comes out is “Really big. Like, really big. No, bigger than that.”
Yet try we must. The single largest thing in the history of humanity took form in Manchester over the weekend, and it did so on our beat. We refer, of course, to Jose Mourinho’s sense of self-satisfaction, which is almost certainly still growing as you read this. Because Manchester United didn’t just beat Chelsea. They Mourinho’d the life out of them.
We can assume that in comparison to most of the world, Mourinho operates from a fairly grand base level of smug. He’s rich. He’s a man. He’s wildly successful. And he currently possesses what is by reputation one of the most important and prestigious jobs in his chosen field, even though on a practical level the gig involves more official tractor partnerships than might be ideal. This all sustains even through the parade of 1-1 draws that has made up United’s season so far.
So first we multiply by the simple fact of winning. Then we multiply again, because this was a win against a good team, which is not something that either Mourinho or United have been able to manage in recent seasons. Then we multiply again, because this was a good performance, a dominant one, marked with courage, intensity, and cleverness. Those have also been in short supply. We’re about the size of a double-decker bus by now.
Then — multiply — this was Chelsea, Mourinho’s former team, against which he promises he doesn’t want revenge and against which he clearly and obviously does. The club that sacked him. Multiply. The club that are now being led by Antonio Conte, a ridiculous man with pretend hair. Multiply. The club that are about to win the title having, just two years ago, won the title. No, sorry. Just one year ago finished tenth. Multiply again. What size now? Let’s say … Rutland.
And then, The Plan. It was evident from Mourinho’s post-match interviews that any thoughts of club-centred revenge had been relegated behind a more immediate gripe. “[There was] the total convincement that we would be playing the FA Cup semi if we played at Stamford Bridge with 11 men.” I worked this all out last time, he was saying. ‘I’ve done this twice.’ Multiply again. The Pacific Ocean basin.
Then all the little, granular details; the decisions that came off perfectly. The decision to drop his top scorer in favour of a teenager and Jesse Lingard. Multiply. The decision to entrust the most important job on the pitch, sitting on Eden Hazard, to Ander Herrera, who got sent off last time. Multiply. The performances of Marouane Fellaini and Paul Pogba, who have been struggling, respectively, with their lack of talent and lack of impact. Multiply. The fact that David de Gea could have brought a book. Multiply. The state of Diego Costa after twenty minutes with Marcos Rojo. Multiply again. Not sure now, but definitely extra-planetary.
Finally, and perhaps most inflatingly, there was the symbolism of the moment. United’s season has been a strange one, promising in some respects but deeply frustrating in others. And one of the most persistent threads has been the lack of any particular Mourinho-ness about proceedings. As well as generally inadequate, United have been soft-centred, have struggled for concentration, and have looked at times like there is no plan for either direction. Here, though, they had a plan to win and a plan to not lose, and both meshed perfectly. Multiply. We’ve lost sight of it. Despite its massiveness.
There is an old story about the wise man who invented the game of chess and asked, as a reward for his wisdom, that he be given one grain of wheat for the first square of the board, two for the second, four for the third, eight for the fourth, and on and on, doubling each time, for all 64 squares. The story goes that the king granting the reward laughed at the modesty of such a request, until one of his advisors pointed out that by the end of the board, the inventor would be due more wheat than actually existed.
For his irritating cleverness, the inventor of the game was either given a plum job or executed. That doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Mourinho’s self-satisfaction is, as we type these words, multiplying off the second half of the chessboard and vanishing beyond comprehension into the clouds of exponential massiveness. And as you, later, read them, it’s still going. Big. Like, really big. No, bigger than that. Oh dear.