It was bound to happen. Even the staunchest José Mourinho defendant understood that the Portuguese manager comes with a guarantee of friction in the dressing room. Some supporters were surprised that it happened so soon. Don’t be. It works.
When Mourinho walked into the club last summer Bastian Schweinsteiger was immediately cast aside despite having captained Germany to the World Cup just two years earlier. Summer signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan soon followed after a disgraceful performance against Manchester City, and Luke Shaw was publicly criticized for his autumn mistake against Watford. The left-back has featured only sporadically since. Even Antony Martial, last season’s hero, has received similar treatment having suffered dips in form for much of the season.
Mourinho views the approach as risk-free. If the player is unwilling to adjust to the manager’s ethics on work-rate and fitness, then he is of little use. If, like Mkhitaryan, the player comes to terms with Mourinho’s demands then star and manager will get on just fine.
It is a little more complex for fans. The strategy is fraught with possible disappointment. Having been United’s best outfield player last season, what happens if Martial packs his bags and raises a metaphorical finger at José on the way out? The potential loss would be immeasurable.
Still, if there is one thing that Mourinho is better at than most, its player manipulation. Then there’s the social situation which Mourinho understands like few others. United is the best supported football club in the world, and the most covered. Inevitably it ups the pressure on players singled out for Mourinho’s treatment.
In signing Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimović, Mourinho now has two of the strongest personalities in world football in his dressing room. The duo holds a similar never say die attitude and understand the importance of the manager’s work. It creates an atmosphere of superiority around the club which, if manipulated correctly, will bring the best out of others too.
That is Mourinho’s gamble. It normally works.
Getting Over Cultural Issues
After the victory against Swansea, Mourinho alluded to what he believes are “some cultural issues, influenced by a situation that has been going on for a few years,” before controversially singling out some members of his squad. Simply put, Mourinho feels that some players aren’t giving him enough.
Mourinho is famously demanding, yet he has also inspired devotion of a degree that only a select few managers can claim to equaled. Who can forget the sight of Marco Materazzi, a famously no-nonsense and often aggressive footballer, weeping like a child on the day Mourinho departed Inter Milan?
His sides have been built around some formidable characters, the likes of which have been conspicuously absent from Old Trafford in recent years. Not least since figureheads like Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand departed the club.
The popular consensus was that Mourinho was the man to finally extol success from a squad that had been poorly managed. The Portuguese began brightly enough, but his side’s recent nosedive has placed him under the same microscope as his doomed predecessors. The question is, at what point does this castigation shift from manager to players?
Mourinho has surely realized that while United continues to grow in a commercial sense, it is no longer the revered footballing institution he admired from afar. Fixing the mentality within the club is a path that the Portuguese coach must walk if he is to succeed.
It is also one fraught with danger. Criticizing Luke Shaw, a young man who has hauled himself back from a horrific leg break, was not the way to get this particular point across.
If Mourinho is to transform the club, then he must keep himself in check in a way that has often proved difficult for a single-minded coach. He is absolutely correct in highlighting the “culture issues” at United, but courting chaos will not end well.
The players have had it too easy for too long; the fans have been let down one too many times. Something has to change. And yet, Mourinho must find a way to alter the situation without waging all-out war on his team. It is a thin line to walk.
The Mourinho Revolution : The De-Van Gaalification of Old Trafford
The progression that was evident during a spate of draws in the autumn is now bearing fruit in terms of results, as Mourinho’s de-Van Gaal-ing of United gathers steam. Of course, supporters’ positivity still needs to be balanced out by a sense of realism as United remain in sixth in the league, but nonetheless the team is now unquestionably in a better position to challenge for a top four spot.
The cause of United’s upward mobility? A large part of the trend is down to Mourinho tackling a whole range of niggling issues and deftly coming up with answers to the big questions asked of him. The result is a list of achievements that bode well for United as the team enters the crucial phase of fixtures.
There’s a stat going around showing the number of shots United has taken under Mourinho compared with Van Gaal. Mourinho admitted that it would have been easier to work with an entirely new group of players and not deprogram the squad that he inherited from the Dutchman.
Slowly but surely the squad has come around to Mourinho’s style of football if the shots stats are anything to go by, with United managing 74 shots in 10 games at home thus far compared with 75 in the whole of last season.
Adjusting to changing Scenarios
Former Bayern Munich midfielder and eternal Fußballmeister Schweinsteiger was frozen out on José’s arrival and was even chalked off United’s asset list in the club’s September accounts – an ‘exceptional item’ written down at a cost of £5.9 million. Mourinho’s reasoning was that his squad was already too large and that he needed to filter out deadwood.
It had been reported that many United players had been underwhelmed by Bastian’s first season at the club. Mourinho was too. The message was that no man is safe from exile, not least because José picked on the most glorified player in United’s squad.
While Schweinsteiger may have moaned indirectly through former teammates and his brother, Tobias, he personally remained silent. The former German skipper turned up to training and managed to force his way back into Mourinho’s plans, first making an appearance against West Ham United in the EFL Cup at the end of November. Having received a warm reception at Old Trafford, he started against Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup last month, grabbing a goal and an assist.
Although Bastian is a long way from Mourinho’s first choice team, his reintegration into the Europa League squad is reward for perceived good behaviour.
Meanwhile, Mkhitaryan, the Bundesliga player of the season of 2015/16, was welcomed as a quality addition to the Reds’ attacking options last summer. Life at Old Trafford did not begin so smoothly. In his first start, against Manchester City, Mkhitaryan suffered a shocking first 45 before being hauled off at half time. The Armenian was not seen for two months.
Echoes of the infamous #freekagawa hashtag were prominent on Twitter, but the 27-year-old, like Schweinsteiger, worked harder to be the player that Mourinho wanted. Two months of graft later and the Armenian was reinstated to the squad and put in a string of outstanding performances, which although have dipped of late, were enough to cement his place in José’s long-term plans.
The correlation between Schweinsteiger and Mkhitaryan’ s redemption is the apparent strong mentality and exemplary work-rate. Although it may have seemed like Mourinho was taking a gamble by isolating both, he seemingly understood the personalities in play. For the Portuguese it was no gamble at all.
Frenchman Martial, who was so important in United’s FA Cup triumph last season, has suffered a minor case of ‘second season syndrome’. Martial’ s exile only came to light after Christmas when his agent used the medium of tabloid gossip to note that Martial was “unhappy at United” and keen on a “loan move to Valencia.”
Mourinho hit back at the rumours at the end of December by arguing that Martial is a “top talent” that needs “to listen to me, not his agent.” Since then, like Schweinsteiger and Mkhitaryan before him, Martial has sealed his lips and sat on the bench without public complaint.
While Shaw has been fit to play for much of this season, he has been relegated to the bench or the reserves for most of the campaign. Mourinho is seemingly unhappy at the youngster’s fitness and work ethic, and has rotated one of Daley Blind, Matteo Darmian and Marcos Rojo in the position. Shaw, it seems, must work harder or face a career away from the club.
The promising left-back is yet to see the light at the end of the tunnel, he must know exactly what Mourinho requires by now. The talent is there; all that is left is the work.
The lesson is obvious: Mourinho remains a corrosive personality over long periods, however, his methods, if accepted, bring success. After all, the manager is a glory hunter; he seeks silverware relentlessly. Nothing and no one is more important to Mourinho than Mourinho’s methods.
This is nothing new. Sir Alex Ferguson famously discarded players when he perceived growing arrogance and falling performances. David Beckham was one, Wayne Rooney very nearly another. To bring that team ethos back at United Mourinho might have to play by his own rules.
I was never a Jose Mourinho fan but I have to admit what Adityareds (popular Youtube Video creator) said :
“He is man hated by all unless he’s yours.”