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12 September 2018

Who will last longer, Theresa May or José Mourinho? I consult the history books for answers

We’re repeatedly told that their days are numbered. But will it be this season, before Christmas? Next year? Tomorrow?

By Hunter Davies

Who will go first, Mourinho or May? Both the football and political experts, who know everything and have ears and toes on the ground, have been telling us for ages that they are for the chop, going soon, no chance of surviving. Will it be this season, before Christmas? Next year? Tomorrow?

You could probably put a bet on it. And will the final nail in their coffins be writing in the sky, or in the Telegraph? José easily survived that banner flying behind an aeroplane during the Burnley-Man United game. It told the world, or those fans with their heads in the air, “Ed Woodward – a specialist in failure!” The wording was strange. There was a passing reference to an old gibe by Mourinho at Arsène Wenger, whom he once called a specialist in failure – but why would they have a go at Woodward, who is the chief executive, not the manager? Presumably because José has managed to keep most fans on side, so far, blaming everyone but himself. I suspect, in fact, that José paid for the banner.

Theresa May has had to put up with Boris rubbishing her in his Telegraph column, calling her stupid and her Brexit policies crap, though in slightly poncier, more archaic wording, trying to be amusing at the same time.

The moment will come, of course, and the chances are that even the experts will be caught out. I remember Don Revie resigning suddenly in 1977 when he appeared to be doing well as England manager. What a surprise that was, but then I am easily surprised. Turned out he was off to manage the UAE for a lot of money. Cloughy resigning at Derby County in 1973 was not such a shock, as he was always threatening. His eventual split with his long-time partner Peter Taylor was more unexpected. Fergie packing it in was always on the cards, as he had told us once before he was going, and he was getting on.

Margaret Thatcher quitting in 1990, that was delicious. I remember watching her on TV while she was in France, coming out of somewhere or other, not knowing she had been damaged in the leadership poll. Geoffrey Howe had really started it by denouncing her in his resignation speech in the Commons, which was a surprise in itself as Denis Healey had told us being attacked by Howe was like being savaged by a dead sheep.

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Harold Wilson jacking it in in 1976, that caught most of us on the hop. At the time, there appeared to be no proper explanation, though some conspiracy theorists suggested he was being investigated by M15. That was a good ‘un. Another suggestion was that he was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s and could not bear the thought of his mind disintegrating. That made sense to me. He always prided himself on his wonderful memory.

I went to interview him, for something or other, at the House of Commons in 1963. George Brown was hanging around in his outer office, the worse for drink, while Marcia, his secretary, sat typing, making a face and going tut tut. During the interview, we got on to football and reminisced about the cup final of 1938 when Preston beat Huddersfield – Wilson’s hometown club – 1-0. Later he sent me a letter, typed by Marcia, in which he mentioned again this cup final, and added in handwriting, “after hitting the bar”.

Mourinho is another awful show-off, though funny with it, posing and preening, acting up for the camera, so it is unlikely he will storm out without turning it into some sort of dramatic event. I look forward to it. Or one day he might just get the push, as he did twice from Chelsea.

May seems unlikely ever voluntarily to give it up. She will have to be pushed or voted out, or lose the next election. There appears to be little else in her life to amuse or occupy her brain – no interests, no family, apart from her dear husband, so why should she pack it in?

My bet, therefore, is that May and Mourinho will be with us for at least another year. If, however, by the time you read this, they have both gone, then obviously I had expected it, oh yes, being a total expert. 

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This article appears in the 12 Sep 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The return of fascism