Sport Soccer

Sunday 17 November 2019

Dion Fanning: Mourinho is a manager on the treadmill trying to catch an even break

Dion Fanning

By the end of the week, some said Jose Mourinho was putting on an act. One reporter relayed the view of a TV presenter who had spent time with him and noticed that the minute Mourinho was placed in front of a camera, he became sullen and melancholic. The rest of the time, the story went, he was in perfectly good spirits.

There will be those that argue convincingly that the mood of Mourinho is irrelevant if Sergio Ramos can't defend corners properly but Mourinho is probably not among them. He may be overdoing it a little, like Manuel in the 'Basil the Rat' episode of Fawlty Towers who is told to stop hamming up his distress at the loss of his hamster-rat while the hamster-rat remains alive on the premises.

There is nobody to tell Mourinho to stop. More precisely, he doesn't listen to the armies of people who tell him how he should behave. He has things to be sullen and melancholic about, including – but not restricted to – Sergio Ramos's defending at corners.

So when we learn that Mourinho is not as depressed and weary as he appears to be on camera we begin to wonder at the motivation. Is he now so divorced from this Madrid side that he is thinking entirely of his next job or is there some advantage to be gained for his current side in his posture? Mourinho has forced us to think in these terms because so often there has appeared to be a link between what he says and what his team does.

Yet it has worked most spectacularly when the trust between him and his players was absolute. Perhaps the trust was never absolute between Mourinho and all his players but while Ronaldo may like the idea of the manager depending on Ronaldo, traditionally his support has been more widespread.

Jamie Redknapp, who had been hailed by Mourinho at the pre-match press conference and left the room in conversation with him, announced on Sky that the egos of the Spanish players at Real Madrid had been upset by the attention Mourinho and Ronaldo received. While nobody can deny the undoubted self-regard of the Spanish players, this version portrays Ronaldo and Mourinho as Matt Talbots, selflessly doing charitable deeds for which they receive no thanks from a Spanish establishment which merely resents these good works.

Again, there is majesty in the nerve and courage of the performance. Jose Mourinho, the most famous manager in the world, is coach of Real Madrid, the most illustrious side in the history of the game and he passes himself off as Willy Loman, a man struggling against the machine and frustrated with the many Biff Lomans in his life.

He is just a man on the treadmill, trying to catch a break, wondering about lost opportunities for him and those close to him.

Mourinho announced last week that his next job would be in England and it is to this audience that Mourinho is addressing his comments while simultaneously hoping that it has some effect on his current players. If Mourinho could win a Champions League with Real Madrid, the victory would be swell. His greatest accomplishment would be in portraying winning the Champions League with Real Madrid as a triumph for the little man.

Then, like Willy, he can return to England. He knows England is anxious to hear from him and he can return whenever he likes. Like Willy, he can walk back in the door and say, "It's all right, I came back".

* * * * *

Perhaps there is a future for Stephen Ireland in management. He excels at delivering the ambiguous message and can be at turns coquettish and direct. He would be excellent at mind games, although he could conceivably become the first manager to respond angrily to a taunt of his own as if Kevin Keegan had reacted to a barbed comment made by Kevin Keegan.

Ireland's ability to hold two apparently conflicting opinions simultaneously has always impressed. I can recall sitting in his press conference when he arrived at Villa and listening to him talk impressively and dismissively about the culture at Manchester City where young players were wearing ten grand watches and acting as if they'd played 200 league games. Meanwhile, his two-tone Bentley waited in the club parking lot for him.

Last week, it was revealed that Ireland has been training with the youth squad at Aston Villa, a sign of the mutual disenchantment between the two sides in this dispute, as well as some disenchantment with Ireland's large salary.

Ireland's high point at Villa was arguably that press conference – again, perhaps, another indication of his potential as a manager where communication skills are so prized. He has disappointed Paul Lambert and all who hoped he could bring some class to the Villa side. Yet there have been so few high points at Aston Villa this season, it would seem unfair to single out Ireland alone for not having provided any.

Ireland is cursed, unlike some of his team-mates, with talent and the accompanying expectation that he may provide a rare moment of relief, unlike, say, Barry Bannan.

Now he is reduced to training with kids, reminding them of their responsibilities while being both an inspiration and a salutary tale, maybe for the same achievements.

Ireland is 26 years old so if he was an ordinary footballer, it would be too early to think of coaching. But he has never been an ordinary footballer so now may be the time for him to consider his badges.

Career coaches who have never played the game are said to have an advantage over ex-players who can only devote themselves to studying and taking courses when they quit football at 35. Having retired from international football at the age of 21 and effectively played part-time ever since, Ireland could become a poster boy for all sides in the debate about coaches: he would be an ex-player who has never played the game.

More importantly, he has never played by society's rules and management belongs to the iconoclasts. He is unlikely to be part of that group tipped to succeed in management which is also an advantage as they always fail. He knows his own mind which may seem like a burden but it is essential to a manager. He has the lot and there is no chance he would be driven mad by management.

Irish Independent

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