Tuesday 21 November 2017

David Moyes can learn so much from cult of Mourinho

David Moyes and Jose Mourinho
David Moyes and Jose Mourinho
Jose Mourinho and David Moyes shake hands after the match between Manchester United and Chelsea in August – the two teams face each other again on Sunday GETTY IMAGES
James Lawton

James Lawton

Moments of truth are never far away in football and some of them have the power to destroy belief. It means that if we want to know the status of the one that comes at Stamford Bridge on Sunday afternoon we need only take a peek at the face of David Moyes.

It is bad enough that each game now has become a test of his credibility as an appropriate successor to the most successful manager in the history of English football.

Yet if the shadow of Alex Ferguson has kept him relentless company through his months of trial, his ordeal can only be intensified by the spectre of his worst nightmare since taking office at Manchester United last summer.

This is the fast-growing consensus that the rulers of Old Trafford suffered a grievous loss of nerve when they overlooked the serial winner Jose Mourinho in favour of a man, who, for all his superb professional qualities, was still pursuing his first major title.

Now that harsh comparison is threatening to overwhelm Moyes as he seeks his first ever victory over the Special One. It certainly found a new dimension last weekend when United's 2-0 home victory was greeted as nothing less than an act of deliverance.

Meanwhile, Chelsea were winning by the same score at Hull City to confirm their new ranking as the most serious threat to the rampant ambition of Manchester City.

If Mourinho guides Chelsea to their 11th Premier League win in 12 home games -- and completes a century of wins out of 142 under his command -- we can be sure he will draw from the triumph fresh evidence that his mojo has not so much been restored as given a new life of its own.

A month or so ago there was reason -- or at least some of us thought -- to believe that Mourinho was still suffering from the effects of his unique, albeit partial, failure at Real Madrid.

He was said to have been left stunned and aghast by the Old Trafford snub -- and barely mollified by the fact that when Chelsea took him away from his wars at the Bernabeu it was only after Pep Guardiola had brushed owner Roman Abramovich aside on his way to Munich.

He was agitated by his porous defence. "Too often we are giving easy goals away. We are dominating teams and then giving them life with our mistakes.

"I think it is an easy thing to win 1-0 and maybe we have to refocus our sights. It cannot go on."

Of course it hasn't. If his strike-force is still less than consistently deadly, if he appears little further along the road of some miraculous renaissance of Fernando Torres than the seat-warming Rafael Benitez, the Mourinho effect has come back on something of a flood-tide.

All the old chemistry appears to have returned, especially its darker variety as he briefs against Moyes in his patronising, ultimately destructive way.

While Moyes agrees that he has no defence against the charge that he lost his head when railing against the referee after the shocking League Cup defeat to Sunderland, Mourinho's sure-footedness is again a sorcerer's mix of almost sinister motivation.

It is as though football's most practiced predator has emerged from a brief period of hibernation.

He is not only making another team -- with the extraordinarily gifted Eden Hazard achieving new levels of both performance and hauteur -- but also shaping a following that has some of the hallmarks of a cult.

It was one that flourished in his first Chelsea reign around such dependable loyalists as Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba. In the brief hiatus that followed the formal departure of Benitez, Lampard reminded us of that old force.

"When Jose left Chelsea," said the England veteran, "I never expected to play for a better, more inspiring coach. Some of its quality was a bit mysterious, you never quite knew where it was coming from, but you could be sure of one thing. When it came to the game you were ready to play -- for the team and the manager."

Mourinho conjured unanticipated strengths -- and stature -- in Lampard and, now after all these years on, it may well be that there is at least one newly anointed. Hazard has received the Mourinho blessing -- and so has the new signing Nemanja Matic.

He left Stamford Bridge as a makeweight in the David Luiz deal. Now he comes back carrying new, Mourinho-approved status.

A coach needs a little nerve to approve a £15m loss in the transfer market, but, if Matic has improved enormously at Benfica, he is also the perfect opportunity for Mourinho to prove that he can get a lot more out of a player than, say, Carlo Ancelotti. It is how the Mourinho cult worked, at least at Porto, Chelsea first time around, and Internazionale.

RIVAL

So, why didn't it work at Real? The trouble was that there was a rival cult at the Bernabeu and it had long taken over the dressing room. It was the one of the super player, the glittering Galactico and by the end of Mourinho's time there it had plainly triumphed.

Moyes' burden was always going to be the one which asked him to supplant the winning mystique of Ferguson. Sunday will inevitably be another harsh test of his ability to step beyond the pressure that seems to have so severely worn down his old professional confidence.

With both Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney still indisposed, two big questions surround Adnan Januzaj and Shinji Kagawa.

Will Moyes play them together in this stark test of his resolve and his team's ability to compete seriously at the top of English football?

Januzaj's star quality is self-evident and he is much more likely to win his manager's vote. However for some, his Japanese team-mate has already shown an at times superior and vital instinct to read the game and operate in the most dangerous places.

Januzaj has created his own momentum. Maybe the less showy Kagawa is in need of a little anointing of his own. Certainly if Moyes has anything to learn from Mourinho today, he might start with a glance or two at how you create a working football cult.

Irish Independent

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