Saturday 25 May 2019

John Aldridge: There's one main difference between Mourinho and his rivals - and it's hurting his star players

Jose Mourinho
Jose Mourinho

John Aldridge

IMPROVING players should be one of the primary targets for any world class manager and as Jose Mourinho has highlighted at Manchester United this season, it is no easy task.

Mourinho has long relied on the cheque-book to sign footballers who don’t need too much work and will make an instant impact in his team, with his masterplan working well over the course of his successful career.

He acquires proven players for huge cash, puts them into his team structure and they are expected to do the rest for him, but that policy has not been so successful this season.

Meanwhile, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola and Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino have succeeded in improving players with their hard work on the training ground and that should be the first objective for any coach.

Even if a player costs a lot of money, there is always room for improvement and a top coach will mould a player to fit into his pattern of player and get the best out of them.

Klopp has worked hard to develop young players like Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson, while Guardiola has taken Raheem Sterling’s career to a new level, but we have seen a very different story at United.

Paul Pogba, Alexis Sanchez and Marcus Rashford are among the flair players who have struggled to thrive under Mourinho, with the events of the last few months serving to highlight the difference between the United manager some of his Premier League rivals.

You might think you don’t need to give too much guidance to players who are billed as being the finished product– like Pogba or Sanchez - but I look at the case of Roberto Firmino at Liverpool as a good example of a manager improving a player and turning him into a central piece of his jigsaw.

A lot of Liverpool fans have expressed frustration over Firmino’s position as the lead forward in Klopp’s team because we can all see that he is not a natural striker and I have some sympathy with that view.

As I’ve stated in The Herald over recent months, I still believe Liverpool need a genuine centre-forward to give them a finishing touch, but Klopp has worked hard to get Firmino doing exactly what he needs from him and it has been impressive to see.

The high-energy pressing game Klopp promotes demands so much from the entire team and I see a lot of similarities in what Klopp does now and the methods Jack Charlton used to get the very best out of the Ireland team I was a part of in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

My job in Jack’s plan was to press the central defender at every opportunity and once we had him under pressure, the rest of the team were expected to close in and squeeze the space.

It was physically demanding to keep up that tempo for 90 minutes, but the reason why we had so much success was due to our ability to make the opposition feel uncomfortable with and without the ball.

Klopp is following a similar policy now and with Adam Lallana absent due to injury for much of this season, Firmino has set the tone for this pressing style that has been given a finishing flourish by Liverpool’s dynamic attacking unit.

With Salah scoring 28 Premier League goals, Firmino firing a more than respectable 14 and Mane chipping with some valuable contributions, this attacking unit has clicked and all three have played a part in the success.

Firmino is an enigma in many ways. He can infuriate at times as he doesn’t seem to be contributing to a game and then suddenly, he produces a moment of inspiration that opens the door for Salah or Mane.

He is a selfless player and he works his socks off for the team from first to last and puts in the hard yards that ensure any rewards he gets in front of goal are hard earned.

Would Mourinho have got the same kind of productivity out of Firmino as Klopp has done? I doubt it, but that is the sign of a manager keen to develop players and one that relies on different methods to get success.

I know which one I would rather have managing my team.

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