Tuesday 18 June 2019

Comment: Jose Mourinho's demands for good football a clear attempt at self-preservation

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho. Photo: Getty Images
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho. Photo: Getty Images
Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

By the time the season finishes, 88 of the 92 league teams in England will have ended up without a title. Even if a different team wins the cup competitions available, it still leaves the overwhelming majority of clubs without a trophy in a sport that is meant to be all about winning.

But if Jose Mourinho and Manchester United have taught us anything in the last week, it's that winning isn't everything.

Mourinho, his supporters will argue, always brings trophies, but the problem is that when his teams fail, there is nothing to fall back on beyond the animosity and sniping that comes from the manager.

And, judging by his comments after the victory against Brighton, it seems the penny is finally dropping with him too.

Saturday's victory was typical of the way United have performed in the two seasons under Mourinho.

It's one thing adopting a relatively cautious approach against a team with superior, or at least equal, quality of player, but against the likes of Brighton, United should be putting on a show to quicken the pulse of those sitting through it.


Mourinho has regularly complained about the lack of atmosphere at Old Trafford but, given how rarely his team gives those supporters anything to shout about in terms of vibrant, attacking football, it's little wonder the place is quiet.

Mourinho, usually, is quite happy to let his results do the talking but on Saturday, the tune changed.

"A few of guys, I saw them scared to play," he said, as he described Nemanja Matic as "an island of personality, surrounded by not water but lack of class, lack of personality, lack of desire".

"When the sun is shining and everything goes well, you win matches, you score goals, everything goes in your direction, every player is a good player and wants to play and wants the ball and looks amazing and is confident.

"When it is dark and cold - and in football that means a period of bad results or a bad result - not everybody has the confidence and personality to play."

Mourinho seemed particularly upset that his team had not followed his instructions after he had "spent two days working on a faster building gap, between the lines, that depends on the defenders and the movement of the attacking players".

But it is not the two days on the training pitch that have been the problem - it's the previous two seasons. Because Saturday's game was no different to so many others in his tenure - and this is the first time he seemed unhappy about it.

It seems peculiar that just a few days after picking Marouane Fellaini in the centre of midfield for his team's most important game of the season, Mourinho is now bemoaning the fact that his players don't seem to want to get on the ball.

He is simply reaping what he has sowed.

In the previous round against Huddersfield, United took the lead after three minutes, yet instead of pressing the foot down and crushing a team with vastly inferior players, United sat back, invited pressure and attempted to hit on the break.

This, by way of a reminder, was against Huddersfield.

In the end, the defence coped with reasonable comfortably with what little Huddersfield threw at them. United won 2-0 but it was notable that, even against Huddersfield, the players and manager were either unwilling or unable to let off the handbrake - they had only two shots on target.

In European elite terms, Sevilla are at a slightly higher level than Huddersfield but it was the same fearful approach that ultimately killed United's ambition in the Champions League, with Mourinho desperately referencing previous seasons to downplay just how poor a defeat it was.

As he pointed out, Mourinho himself had knocked United out at Old Trafford with both Porto and Real Madrid but, at least in those instances, United had reason to feel aggrieved with officials rather than driven to distraction by their own team.

But for a poor offside decision to disallow a Paul Scholes goal, Mourinho may never have been in a position to launch his famous celebratory sprint down the Old Trafford sideline, while comparing his Real team to Sevilla's is bordering on delusional.

United started the 2013 home leg against Madrid with Tom Cleverley in their midfield against a Madrid team containing Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil, Xabi Alonso, Gonzalo Higuain and Angel di Maria - a line-up in a different league to the team which sent United packing last week.

And even against a team of that quality and with 10 men after a controversial red card against Nani, United went out on their shield.

Because it didn't happen very often, Mourinho has never had to worry about how his teams play when they lose, but given how far behind the elite he seems to think his current crop are, self-preservation is probably the reason for criticising the style of his players even after Saturday's victory.

Mourinho has been baffled by the lack of criticism the likes of Arsene Wenger or Jurgen Klopp face given their relative lack of trophies, but it's hard to imagine either of those two rivals having Paul Pogba, Alexis Sanchez, Anthony Martial, Romelu Lukaku, Marcus Rashford and Juan Mata at their disposal, and producing the sort of dull football that has characterised this Mourinho team.

For many years, good football has protected Wenger from the sack when results weren't going his way which, in part, led to Mourinho describing him as a "specialist in failure".

As Wenger has shown, however, and Mourinho is now learning, if you want to keep your job when your team starts to lose, your philosophy can't be built on believing that winning is all that matters.

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