Wednesday 7 December 2016

COMMENT - Why Jose Mourinho is playing a very dangerous game at Manchester United

Premier League review

Published 07/11/2016 | 15:06

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho

Not for the first time in his career, Jose Mourinho made a valid point very badly as he opened himself up the prospect of another mutiny in his own dressing room on Sunday.

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The Manchester United manager was clearly irked by the reluctance of defenders Chris Smalling and Luke Shaw to play through the pain barrier in what became a vital game against Swansea following a woeful month for their manager Mourinho.

Make no mistake, if Bob Bradley’s lowly Swans had beaten United ahead of the latest international break, the concerns that have been simmering under the surface for Mourinho in his first few months at Old Trafford would have exploded into a full-scale crisis for the relentlessly grumpy tactician.

Mourinho was feeling the heat after his side’s 2-1 Europa League defeat against Fenerbahce on Thursday, so he would have expected his troops to be ready to go into battle on his behalf in his hour of crisis.

Instead, he was presented with Smalling and Shaw suggesting they didn’t fancy the trip to Wales as they were nursing injury concerns, with Mourinho sufficiently annoyed to air his grievances over their stance in a garish manner that was always going to generate upset.

“There is a difference between the brave, who want to be there at any cost, and the ones for whom a little pain can make a difference,” said Mourinho, as he reflected on the absence of Smalling and Shaw.

“Of course, it is not just the players, it is the people that surround the players.

“I have a friend who is a big tennis player and he remembers more the times he plays in pain than without any pain. That’s what I mean, to compete you have to go to the limit.”

Mourinho’s comments were lapped up by the media pack who duly splashed his views all over the back pages of the newspapers on Monday morning, yet this smacks of a manager who opened his mouth before thinking once again.

Back in the days when everything Mourinho touched ended in trophy success, he could get away with these kind of verbal public floggings for his players and yet the mood around him has changed so radically in the last 12 months that he is now working under different rules.

Least we forget that when he went public in criticism of his Chelsea players last season, his squad quickly turned him into the fall guy with a series of performances that left the club’s owner with little choice other than to sack a mouthpiece who had lost the support of his dressing room in alarming fashion.

Mourinho clearly feels empowered in his latest role at United to make the kind of inflammatory comments he offered up for Smalling and Shaw, yet he has rolled the dice with his latest observations that may not go down well within the inner circle at Old Trafford.

You might recall the stories leaking out suggesting United players were disappointed by Mourinho’s criticism of Shaw after he made a mistake in the defeat at Watford in September, with the full-back picking up an injury before he was blamed by his manager for a mistake that led to the concession of a goal.

Well, those stories would not have been fabricated by the media and neither was the report in The Times claiming some senior players were not happy with Mourinho’s ‘stand-off approach’ towards the United squad.

Mourinho may have believed he had the control at Chelsea to outsmart anyone who threatened to undermine his authority, but that theory blew up in smoke when he was sacked last December.

That chastening experience could have taught him a few lessons, but a manager who cannot help himself when he is confronted with what he perceives to be injustice is back on a war footing.

Time will tell whether his crash and burn approach is any more successful at United than it was at Chelsea.

LIVERPOOL ARE TITLE FAVOURITES

Ignore the doubters and accept this reality; Liverpool are in pole position to end their enduring wait for a first league title since 1990 this season.

While manager Jurgen Klopp is eager to play down his side’s Premier League ambitions, Liverpool confirmed that they are the outstanding team in English football right now with their 6-1 demolition of Watford on Sunday.

As Aldridge suggested, Klopp’s side could and should have doubled the misery on their outclassed opponents after creating chance after chance at Anfield and while their defensive flaws remains apparent, their attacking fire power so potent that any team standing in their way are liable to be blown away.

Southampton, Sunderland, Bournemouth, West Ham and Middlesbrough are the next five Premier League games on a Liverpool agenda free of European commitments and after those enticing fixtures, their one point lead at the top of the table may well have swelled.

HAZARD THE FRAUD

The plaudits poured down on Chelsea talisman Eden Hazard after his magnificent display in his side’s 5-0 rout of Everton this weekend, yet it’s hard not to look in on this love-fest without a hint on cynicism creeping into your viewpoint.

We all remember the Hazard who was sulking and scowling rather than playing football this time last year, with his refusal to play for manager Jose Mourinho a misguided example of player power gone wild.

Some 12 months on and the Hazard of old is back, but should we celebrate his comeback or instead question why he decided to turn off his talent tap in such a clinical fashion last year?

It’s hard to admire a sportsman who turns it on when he wants and goes missing when he decides to abandon his side’s cause, yet thus appears to be the Hazard DNA.

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte can only hope his star man does not declare another of his unofficial strikes any time soon.

INDEPENDENT.IE TEAM OF THE WEEK

Jordan Pickford (Sunderland)

Michael Dawson (Hull)

David Luiz (Chelsea)

Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham)

Jonny Evans (West Bromwich Albion)

Eden Hazard (Chelsea)

Pedro (Chelsea)

Mousa Dembele (Tottenham)

Philippe Coutinho (Luverpool)

Sadio Mane (Liverpool)

Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Man Utd)

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