MANCHESTER, England -- Jose Mourinho held up three fingers at the end of a stormy media conference following Manchester United's 3-0 defeat against Tottenham at Old Trafford.
The former Chelsea and Real Madrid coach was attempting to make the point that he had "won more Premiership titles than the other 19 managers put together" as he walked out of the media room, demanding respect from his critics, but it was a clumsy gesture. His team had just been humbled at home to a big six rival, conceding three goals in the process, so when Mourinho asked what his three fingers signified, he didn't get the response he was looking for.
Three goals conceded: the same as in the last game at Brighton (another defeat) so nobody was doing a mental calculation of Mourinho's Premier League title haul as he turned on his heels and left the media room. Mourinho's audience was only thinking of the here and now, but the United manager was harking back to the past.
Yes, Mourinho has a stellar track record. Two Champions Leagues; three Premier Leagues; FA Cups; League Cups; titles in Portugal, Italy and Spain; but it is all in the past. Wayne Rooney had a glorious career at United and Zlatan Ibrahimovic also had a golden CV when he signed for the club. Bastian Schweinsteiger was a World Cup winner when he arrived at United from Bayern Munich, but Mourinho has moved them all on because their future was nowhere near as bright as their past.
Mourinho, at 55, can still win the big trophies as a manager but not if he continues to hark back to what he did in the past. Football has moved on, coaching has moved on and too often now does he look like a coach who has allowed the game to pass him by.
Against Tottenham, Mourinho's team fell apart in the second half after falling behind to Harry Kane's 50th-minute goal. It was the kind of surrender that would never happen with Mourinho's best teams in the past, when he was winning those three Premier League titles. But this United team, which he has now been in charge of for more than two years, looks nowhere near the quality of Mourinho's title-winning Chelsea teams, so why is Mourinho telling us all to show him respect for the three titles he won at Stamford Bridge?
United are launching a new pink away kit on Tuesday, which is appropriate given that they have become a pale imitation of their former self under Mourinho. The same could be said of the United manager, who needs to focus on making the present and future as good as the past he is so determined to remind us about. But the words and messages coming from Mourinho do not suggest he knows which direction he and his team are heading.
When asked whether he knows his best defence -- he played midfielder Ander Herrera in a back three ahead of centre-halves Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly against Spurs -- Mourinho was blunt and to the point.
"No," he said.
The follow-up question was whether his decision not to select Lindelof displayed a lack of trust in the Sweden international, but Mourinho responded by attempting to deflect the story away from his selection.
"You want to make the miracle that my team played so well and strategically we were so, so good, and you want to try and transform this press conference into 'let's blame the guy?' You have to tell me what is the most important thing? When I win matches I come here many times and you are not happy and you say the most important is the way of playing.
"I need to know what is the most important thing if it is to play well or win matches?"
Mourinho knows the answer to that question well enough. Winning is the priority and style comes second, as his Chelsea teams proved, but nobody questions winners. That his team performed well in the first half against Tottenham and created better chances will not be any consolation for Mourinho considering that he is a manager who has always been only about winning.
Winners don't want hard luck stories, but that is increasingly what Mourinho is trotting out. He needs to find a way to get himself and his team out of their downward spiral, but talking about the past isn't the way do it.