LONDON (Reuters) - Under-fire Jose Mourinho had been on the verge of delivering the perfect response to his critics on Saturday with Manchester United closing in on a second consecutive comeback win, at the home of his old club Chelsea to boot.
But with only seconds remaining, Mourinho’s relaxed smiles gave way to snarls when the hosts snatched a last-gasp equaliser and he leapt off his seat to confront a Chelsea coach who appeared to antagonise him, leading to an ugly melee.
Then, as tempers cooled after the 2-2 draw, the self-declared “Special One” stuck three fingers up to the home crowd, one for each of the league titles he won with the Londoners.
Chelsea fans, who once lauded their Portuguese hero by singing his name long and loud, responded to Mourinho’s behaviour with a far from adulatory version of the song.
Just as during his two spells in charge of Chelsea, Mourinho is dominating the headlines, taking the attention away from his players unless, as in the case of Paul Pogba recently, they are involved in arguments with him.
Mourinho has been charged by the English Football Association for abusive language after a 3-2 win over Newcastle United this month, a match which Manchester United had been losing, adding to speculation that his job was on the line.
United have lost ground on Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City at the top of the table, having lost to Brighton and Hove Albion and West Ham United away and Tottenham Hotspur at home.
On Saturday, Mourinho sought to dispel any notion that the ugly scenes at Chelsea were his fault, saying he had been the victim of rudeness on the part of a member of the home team’s coaching staff and fans.
“I did not get respect back from Chelsea [fans] but that is not my responsiblity. What I did here today I will do in Madrid, in Milan, in Porto, the reaction from the fans is not up to me,” Mourinho told reporters.
“But I also made mistakes in football matches and I will make more. So when he came after the game to make his apologies I accepted his apologies.”
Chelsea coach Maurizio Sarri backed Mourinho, saying he had already reprimanded his staff member for his role in the incident. “We made a mistake,” he said.
“I have spoken to a member of my staff and have dealt with this immediately.”
Whether Mourinho can restore his grip on Manchester United will hinge in large part on the outcome of a daunting run of fixtures over the next few weeks.
They face Italian giants Juventus on Tuesday and again on Nov. 7 in the Champions League, after which they visit cross-town rivals and reigning domestic champions Manchester City. In between the also face Everton and in-form Bournemouth.
Editing by Martyn Herman