Jose Mourinho became a devil in more ways than one before his Manchester United sacking. Despite fans, media and even some high-profile players rounding on the Portuguese manager, Demetri Mitchell won’t hear a word said against him.
Mourinho gave the Hearts loanee a first-team debut at Old Trafford in 2017. He also took the academy graduate on two pre-season tours with the senior squad and marvelled at his singing into the bargain. Mitchell is understandably indebted to the man United replaced with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer last month.
He spoke out to thank Mourinho upon returning from Hearts’ winter training camp in Spain. “I have to pay respect to Jose Mourinho,” stressed the 22-year-old. “He gave me my debut so he has been an important figure in my career. He took me on tour twice with the United first team and I learned a lot under his management.”
It was during the second of those tours in Los Angeles last summer that Mitchell became the centre of attention at United for a few priceless moments. Standing on a chair in the middle of the dining area inside the team hotel, he gave a spine-tingling rendition of Drake’s top hit ‘Hold On, We’re Going Home’.
Cheers from Juan Mata and others prompted the defender to restart the song as team-mates acclaimed the quality of his voice. Mourinho sat in the background filming the whole thing on his mobile phone.
Trips like that gave Mitchell an insight into his former manager’s character. “He is a good person. It’s not what you always see in the press,” he said. “Behind closed doors, you get a different character. Ole is there now and he’s doing a good job but I’m at Hearts. I’m trying to make an impact and show what I can do here as much as possible.
“It’s all change down there but the boys are telling me they are enjoying it. Everyone has smiles on their faces and you can see that in the way they’re playing. You see Jesse [Lingard] and Marcus [Rashford] playing fluidly and smiling. It’s all good when you are playing football with a smile.”
Mitchell is due to return to Old Trafford – his contract runs until 2020 – this summer when his season-long loan in Edinburgh ends. Scouts and coaches in Manchester are monitoring his progress with Hearts. He is currently competing with the Australian Ben Garuccio for the left-back berth in Craig Levein’s team.
“There are people at United who look after players out on loan. They give you constructive criticism on all games. They use Wyscout and I’m sure Hearts send them footage as well,” explained Mitchell. He has now spent a year on loan at Tynecastle Park after initially arriving on a shorter deal 12 months ago.
“I’m still enjoying it. The whole ride has been a learning curve with ups and downs,” he added. “In football, when you have confidence then you’re loving it but it’s good to keep a level head. If things are going well, keep a level head and if they aren’t, don’t get too down about it. That’s what I’ve learned here.
“Last season I was a regular starter with no competition. Now I’m fighting for my place with Ben. It’s good to have competition. When everyone is fit we have competition in all positions. That’s how you get the best out of players.”
Mitchell is certain to be involved on Sunday when Hearts return to competitive action. Livingston visit Tynecastle in the Scottish Cup fourth round, but the feeling in the home camp is that there will be no repeat of the freak 5-0 scoreline which occurred last time the clubs met just a few weeks ago.
“It was a bad result,” admitted Mitchell. “They had chances in the first half, it wasn’t just 15 minutes in the second half. It was the whole game. We’ve picked up since then and learned from it. The Hibs game before the break showed we dug deep and got a result there.
“I was at Hearts last season and now there’s a whole different bunch of players. I came back in the summer and the attitude of the boys is really good. They are really positive players. The 5-0 was a shock but we look forward and not behind us.”
Of course, he is not the only player to head north from England eager to further his career in Scotland. Interest in the Ladbrokes Premiership has soared with luminary figures like Steven Gerrard, Brendan Rodgers and others enjoying success north of the Border.
“It gives the Scottish Premiership more coverage with players like Jermain Defoe joining. It’s good to see. Hopefully more people will watch,” said Mitchell. “There is more coverage on TV and that helps. Sometimes people message me on social media saying they saw the Hearts game on TV. You see players coming from England to Celtic, Rangers and Hearts.”