Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Mourinho’s strength has become his weakness

When Jose Mourinho first joined Chelsea under the fanfare of the most unlikely of Champions League wins with Oporto, he would have felt fully justified in referring to himself as the “Special One”. His managerial record had been incredible up to that point, having won 6 trophies in just 2 years and very soon he was wielding the same kind of magic for Chelsea before later doing, arguably, even great things with Inter Milan, with whom he won a second Champions League in their “treble” winning season.  

His strength always seemed to be the way he handled his players. Whereas, Alex Ferguson, played the role of a father figure with his players at Manchester United, Mourinho behaved more like the cool uncle to his. He would defend his players to the death and created a loyalty that was unsurpassed by many other coaches. He saved his scorn and criticism for everyone else, using his attacks on the media, opposing coaches, referees, pundits and even UEFA, to develop a siege mentality where it was “us” against “them”. Although there would be disagreements with players, these were kept behind closed doors to maintain that team cohesion that was to inspire his teams over many years of success. Players such as Frank Lampard, John Terry and Zlatan Ibrahimovic all remained loyal to Mourinho long after he had stopped managing them because of the great rapport that he had developed with them.

Then, last year, Mourinho seemed to change his winning ways. At Chelsea, the year after recapturing the Premiership, he started to become more openly critical about his players. Nemanja Matic had the humiliation of being substituted only 20 minutes after coming on as a substitute himself and then the once loyal John Terry was dropped from the team for long periods for no apparent reason. The disaffection among the team reached its peak when Mourinho openly vilified club doctor Eva Carneiro after she, quite justifiably, went to tend to the injured Eden Hazard when Chelsea were desperately trying to get a goal in the closing moments of a match against Swansea. Although not a player, Carneiro was very much part of the “team” and Mourinho’s handling of this situation and his unwillingness to back down seemed to have played a massive role in the mental approach of the team and their subsequent fall down the Premiership table.

It seemed, however, that he had learned his lesson after Chelsea with Manchester United seeming to become more positive under him. However, although they are unbeaten in 20 games, half of these games have been draws, leaving them 4 points away from the magic top four places for next year’s Champions League and the pressure is beginning to tell. As a result, we find Mourinho turning his wrath on his players again. Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Henrikh Mkhitaryan have all had to take some public criticism from their boss but the main censure has been saved for the young defender Luke Shaw.

Mourinho’s decision to inform the world that Shaw has no brains on the pitch and questioning his commitment is hardly going to help his already fragile confidence. To think that bullying a young player is going to make them stronger is foolhardy at best and dangerous at worst. Mourinho’s record of bringing on young players is appalling and this illustrates why. Rather than creating a culture of free flowing, positive football, this kind of treatment will only serve to instil a fear of failure in his young players. It’s all well and good the likes of Gary Neville saying that Shaw has to respond to this in his performances but, psychologically, it is like making a player wear a rucksack full of lead and then telling them to go out and prove themselves. Surely, Mourinho could learn from his past self and work on building bridges with his players rather than burning them down. As my father always said to me, “Respect and admiration cannot be demanded, they can only be earned”. 

Andy Barton
Mental Performance Coach