Friday 22 February 2019

Comment: Jose Mourinho has shown no capacity to handle a crisis – he needs to take leaf from Ferguson’s book

Jose Mourinho, manager of Manchester United. Photo: Getty Images
Jose Mourinho, manager of Manchester United. Photo: Getty Images

Miguel Delaney

The relationship between Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho has never been as warm as made out, but this is one occasion when the current Manchester United manager could really do with his grand predecessor's wisdom and experience.

There is something Ferguson can teach the current head coach, even if so many of Mourinho's problems come from the feeling he knows best about everything.

Sir Alex Ferguson. Photo: PA Wire
Sir Alex Ferguson. Photo: PA Wire

The Portuguese manager doesn't, however, have any idea how to handle a downward spiral like this. The brutal reality is that Mourinho has never recovered from any kind of proper crisis, any prolonged spell of bad form.

It has always just led to the end game.

He has never shown he has the flexibility or nuance to actually come out of a negative period on the opposite side.

That was far from the case with Ferguson. Part of his greatness - and a huge part of the narrative of his career - was how he responded to failure.

And Ferguson suffered spells a lot worse than this.

While he has often spoken about his depressed moods after defeats like the 5-1 at Manchester City in 1989, and on so many occasions in the four years before he won that first trophy at Old Trafford, what is really instructive is his response to the failures that came after success.

Take that week in the autumn of 1996. Mourinho's United may have just conceded seven goals in the opening three games for the first time since 1969, but Ferguson's United in 1996 conceded 11 in two games - 5-0 to Newcastle United, 6-3 to Southampton. That was followed by a 2-1 defeat to Chelsea at home.

It was some way to "celebrate" Ferguson's 10th anniversary, a spell where he had become infamous as an intimidating figure who so often detonated. That, however, was always a caricature.

Ferguson was never the regularly-erupting volcano so many presumed. There was so much more flexibility to him, and he really was the master of psychology that Mourinho thinks he is.

Ferguson could have tried to fire the United side out of that crisis through sheer fury, but he did not. He gathered them together and assertively told them "it stops now", before seeking to restore a confidence, and steadily build them back up. There was a definitiveness to it, and a deftness.

This is something Mourinho badly needs to learn, because he has shown no capacity for it so far.

When things started to go wrong at Chelsea and Real Madrid, his response fell into two categories.

He has occasionally gone apoplectic, like when he accusingly asked the Chelsea players in 2015-16: "are you trying to kill me?"

More often than not, though, it has been an icy cold silence.

That was what the Chelsea players particularly became used to in that calamitous campaign.

Such an approach served to make clear his disappointment in them … but didn't really address the situation.

It just increased the tension, making players more fearful of errors and thereby more prone to them, ultimately creating a tentative team.

That meant that, even though they started some games well and general performances were often good, they struggled to recover from any setback. There just wasn't the same belief. Something was broken.

Sound familiar?

So, Mourinho must now really do what is unfamiliar; what may not come easily to him.

He must take a more easy-going approach with a squad he has been so hardline with.

The irony is that, amid the bizarre face-saving rambles of his post-match media, there was merit to some of what Mourinho said.

There was something to build on in the performance. There was a successful press and more intensity.

But then there's another question connected to Mourinho's unwillingness to deviate from his own script.

Since they conceded three goals on Monday night, with two on the break, because of a defence that he clearly has no confidence in… will he just revert?

And what of the attackers? It is remarkable that, in a top-six match where all of Anthony Martial, Juan Mata, Alexis Sanchez and Marcus Rashford were on the bench, Mourinho only brought on one of them and picked Marouane Fellaini over the rest.

What's more, as promising as some of the first half was, it was somewhat undercut by how tentative so much of the second half was. There often seems a trepidation about getting on the ball, with so many backpasses to David De Gea.

That's not all down to Mourinho, since there was a passiveness about a supposedly newly ebullient Paul Pogba. There was no bravery to the captain's performance.

But then that just reflects the team.

The club do not want to sack Mourinho, and want to give him the opportunity to turn it around.

It just might require an about-turn in his thinking.

Irish Independent

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