He remained too confrontational, too combustible, seemingly still simmering after his bitter exit from Chelsea. But even before the Portuguese had lifted the first trophy of his United tenure at Wembley on Sunday, the mood towards him had changed.
Sir Alex Ferguson has told former colleagues that he thinks Mourinho is the manager the club have been looking for since he retired, and other senior figures share that view. ‘It’s hindsight, of course, but we really do wish we’d got him three years ago,’ one insider remarked.
What they like about Mourinho is the approach he has taken to managing the club. Ferguson admires the fact that there is so much emphasis on the performance of the individual in training when it comes to picking the team. Others appreciate how little he has changed at Carrington.
‘From the receptionist to the chef, it’s pretty much all the same staff there,’ another insider said.
What is different at the training ground, compared to Louis van Gaal’s time in charge, is the atmosphere.
A source explained: ‘There is a screen in the canteen which you can pull out that allows you to separate the players from the rest of the people who work there. I think it dates back to the days of Sir Alex but it was rarely used until Van Gaal was here.
‘Louis would use it in the run-up to games if he was having a team meeting or if the players were meeting here ahead of an away match. Jose doesn’t use it — everyone eats together.’
Players have embraced training under the Portuguese. Sessions involve more ball work than they have done in previous regimes and the manager will often inject life into training by staging competitions and pitting his stars against each other.
Players are often split into groups to undertake challenges. Contests include the likes of Wayne Rooney leading a group in performing exercises against the clock.
This is not to say that training sessions have dropped in intensity. If anything it is the opposite. Mourinho, similarly to his great rival Pep Guardiola, places huge emphasis on training but also knows when to inject a bit of humour. He is developing something of a reputation as a practical joker who likes to get all the staff in on the act
In the press conference ahead of the first leg against Saint-Etienne in the Europa League, the manager took great pleasure in seeing defender Eric Bailly, a relative novice in dealing with the media, come on to the stage after he had spoken to the press.
Mourinho left, but not before he had craftily taken pictures of the Ivorian (who performed admirably) and sent them to his team-mates.
He can also smile when the joke is on him. Earlier in the season in the canteen, he was collared by one of United’s say-it-as-you-see-it dinner ladies who accused him of always looking like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders when he came in to eat.
‘You want to cheer up, love,’ she said, or words to that effect, before telling him not to worry because he would ‘be getting sacked soon anyway’.
Mourinho apparently found this hilarious. The manager has also shown solidarity with his players by turning up at commercial press events.
When the club announced their partnership with a leading watch manufacturer recently, players were surprised to find that Mourinho had decided to come along when he had not been expecting to.
Such dedication is part of his workaholic nature. He is usually the first to arrive at Carrington and can be heard in his office making phone calls long after 6pm, with his decision to remain living in a hotel in central Manchester now regarded as a positive.
He has made something of a home for himself in the suite he occupies in the Lowry but because his family live in London his employers can be sure of one thing: when he is in the city all he does is work, and that commitment is clearly beginning to pay off.