Tuesday 24 October 2017

A good man is not enough to make a good manager

Jose Mourinho: 'I have a big self-esteem and a big ego, I consider myself the best, living the worst period of my career, the worst results of my career'
Jose Mourinho: 'I have a big self-esteem and a big ego, I consider myself the best, living the worst period of my career, the worst results of my career'

Tommy Conlon

Everyone who knows Stuart Lancaster says he's a decent bloke, but rightly or wrongly it's not a word used often about Jose Mourinho.

Both managers were faced with crisis situations within a few hours of each other last Saturday night.

The England rugby team was hosed by Australia and dumped out of the World Cup; Chelsea were beaten 3-1 at home by Southampton earlier that evening. The defeat left the Premier League champions fifth from bottom in the table.

The contrasting response of both coaches was night and day. Lancaster faced the media firing squads wearing metaphorical sackcloth and ashes. In keeping with his reputation for humility, he accepted ultimate blame for the fiasco. "The responsibility and the accountability lie with me, clearly."

He further admitted that he would be haunted to his dying day by the outcome. "I don't think I'll ever come to terms with this, personally," he said in a press conference on Sunday morning. "This is going to sit with us all forever."

He sat there and listened to questions such as, "Is this the darkest day in England rugby history?" And: "Do you regret giving (Chris) Robshaw the captaincy?" And: "Stuart, you are an honourable man, how closely have you thought about walking away?"

He replied that any decision on his future would be deferred until after the final pool match, against Uruguay last night. So instead of retreating to the privacy of his home and the sanctuary of loved ones, Lancaster had to spend another week wearing his raw wounds in public. It can only have been a hellish seven days.

Mourinho, meanwhile, hasn't been seen since last Saturday evening. Conveniently for him, the international fixture schedule took over and left Chelsea's dramas cooling in the background.

But before he disappeared, the Portuguese auteur delivered one of his most brazen performances in front of a microphone. His platform was the post-match interview on Sky Sports. He was asked one question. He ignored it and spoke for the next seven minutes uninterrupted. Then he turned on his heel and walked away before the stunned reporter could muster another inquiry.

The expected interrogation of a beleaguered manager never happened. Mourinho's anticipated explanations became instead a speech. He turned an inquisition into an opportunity. Sky's probing microphone became a pulpit.

He offered himself as a victim, almost a martyr. Yes, he would take responsibility for results. But, "I think the players should assume their responsibilities, there are other people at the club (who) should also assume their responsibilities . . ."

And then there was the familiar, utterly unselfconscious immodesty. "If the club sacks me, then they sack the best manager this club has (had) . . . I have a big self-esteem and a big ego, I consider myself the best, living the worst period of my career, the worst results of my career."

It was Mourinho at his charismatic best and spinful worst. It was a monumental attempt to control the agenda and preserve his position.

It is almost an article of faith in sports psychology that players respond to humility in a coach. In the battle for their hearts, it is an important emotional ingredient. But Mourinho's towering arrogance, and Lancaster's apparent modesty, would seem to contradict this.

Maybe players respond to greatness in a coach, irrespective of his personal disposition. And maybe they perceive too much humility as a lack of self-confidence. And if the coach isn't transmitting self-confidence to his players, he is doomed.

Virtually every newspaper profile of Stuart Lancaster makes a nod to his upbringing on a farm in Cumbria. It is seen as a formative influence; it's what made him the grounded, self-effacing man he is today. He has been referred to as a "stoic Cumbrian", and "of good Cumbrian stock."

When he took over as England coach he emphasised values such as good behaviour, pride in the red rose and players staying close to their roots. Danny Care was dropped from a squad because of drink-driving charges; Manu Tuilagi for assault charges.

But the pundit and former England international, Stuart Barnes, stated in The Times last Monday that too many rugby writers had jumped on "the Stuart Lancaster Virtuous Bandwagon".

Barnes seemed to be suggesting that this emphasis on good values was a smokescreen for Lancaster's fundamental flaws as a manager. "He's not paid a pretty penny to be a genuine guy. He is paid to make England a great team."

Mourinho appears never to have had much truck with notions of virtue. Maybe he would say he can't afford them. He is all about talent: his own, and that of his players. John Terry, for example, is nobody's idea of a saintly human being. But the Chelsea captain has been at the heart of the greatest teams the club has ever known.

And Mourinho by his own admission is no paragon of human honour. He has a gigantic ego. He is on occasion ruthless, shameless, Machiavellian. He is also brilliant at what he does. He is a truly great builder of teams. He is a master of the art of winning. And obviously it doesn't bother him who gets hurt along the way. It doesn't bother his chosen players either. They have gone through fire for him over the years.

Lancaster last week epitomised the brutal truth that being a good man is not enough to make a good manager.

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