Monday 5 December 2016

James Lawton: Mourinho's brutal demotion of Schweinsteiger not the United way

Published 06/08/2016 | 02:30

'There will surely be considerable scepticism at Wembley tomorrow when the author of Schweinsteiger’s Old Trafford humiliation leads his Manchester United team out against, of all people, Claudio Ranieri’s already mythical champions Leicester City.' Photo: Getty
'There will surely be considerable scepticism at Wembley tomorrow when the author of Schweinsteiger’s Old Trafford humiliation leads his Manchester United team out against, of all people, Claudio Ranieri’s already mythical champions Leicester City.' Photo: Getty

There may be no easy way to tell a great player, a truly great one, that it is over, that he is no longer close to what he once was, but could this ever be an excuse for the kind of brutality which Jose Mourinho has dealt out to Bastian Schweinsteiger?

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There will surely be considerable scepticism at Wembley tomorrow when the author of Schweinsteiger's Old Trafford humiliation leads his Manchester United team out against, of all people, Claudio Ranieri's already mythical champions Leicester City.

Ranieri has been enshrined across the football world for some time now as the manager with a supremely human touch - a man well equipped to make a distinction between an athletic machine of variable performance and a vulnerable human being.

By comparison, Mourinho has never been more entrenched in his role as the ruthless arbiter of all that surrounds him.

Mourinho, of course, never reached the foothills of playing proficiency. Indeed, his father, the coach of a minor Portuguese team, was warned that his job would be at risk if he picked his son to play again.

Who knows what demons this stirred in the fiercely ambitious, and football-besotted, young Mourinho?

Certainly it was hard not to recall that episode when the details of Schweinsteiger's brusque dismissal from first-team status by Mourinho was revealed this week.

Of course some are saying, inevitably, that the German world champion's old club Bayern Munich should keep their noses out of the internal affairs of United and the manager whose huge job is to re-shape them as serious contenders at home and abroad.

Bayern, after all, sold him on, they said their auf wiedersehen, did the necessary business, and should they not now properly allow Mourinho his right to dispose of his playing possessions in any way he chooses.

The problem is that we are really talking here about something other than merely employee relations.

We are discussing something rather more than United and Mourinho's rights over their legally and extremely expensively acquired assets - and specifically a multi-millionaire footballer who at 32, and indeed plainly only a remnant of arguably the most driven competitor of his entire generation, seemed less than mortified as he flew to Venice for his nuptials with his Serbian tennis star bride, Ana Ivanovic.

No, it is not simply a question of facing up to certain realities of both football and life.

It is maybe recognising what is most valuable in a game now awash with money, one with values so twisted that a football agent can wrangle his way to a £20m-plus share of the cost of Paul Pogba's move into the first team dressing room so recently occupied by Schweinsteiger.

It is saying that certain men - of the achievements and nature of a Schweinsteiger - have earned a certain dignity, a natural standing.

This, of course, would never take them on to the field of action when a professional manager has decided there are stronger candidates.

But to dismiss a Schweinsteiger so roughly, to march him out of the company of his equals and into a room occupied by younger player who might never even touch on the potential for his huge accumulation of football honour.

Certainly it is not so hard identifying with the clatter of protest that has risen in Munich - and indeed across swathes of the European game.

If there are two ways of dealing with the human crisis of a once-great but now failing performer the consensus has been strong this week that Mourinho has chosen the wrong one - and at the same time reignited suspicions that the brilliant instincts which first brought him such huge success have been increasingly besieged by evidence of an ego running out of control.

That, anyway, was the feeling last season when he appeared to have lost, just about completely, the Chelsea dressing room which had been awash with conviction and power in the previous, title-winning season.

Now there is a strong tide of opinion that in his dismissal of the meaning of Schweinsteiger he has provided another example of his growing remoteness from the players on whose support he sooner or later depends.

It was, of course, natural that the most serious criticism of Mourinho's behaviour should come from the player's old Munich empire because, if Bayern are proud of anything more than an astonishing record of 26 Bundesliga titles and five European Cup and Champions' League wins, it is their fidelity to the influence of their great players - men of the stature of Franz Beckenbauer and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.

Some might say that it is hard to number Schweinsteiger among the victims of a sometimes heartless game.

But that might not be the most pressing consideration for those who yearn for the revival of Manchester United. The deeper worry might be that in his tossing aside of Schweinsteiger Mourinho might be making an unwelcome statement about the depth of his regard for the greatest of players.

That, at Old Trafford, is surely the ultimate heresy.

Irish Independent

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