Sunday 25 February 2018

John Giles: It is insulting to my intelligence to hear Mourinho talk about a player in exaggerated language

Read John's column every week in the Herald

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho and Paul Pogba
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho and Paul Pogba
John Giles

John Giles

After events in the Manchester Arena on Monday evening, it is almost indecent to talk about Jose Mourinho and the Europa League final.

Another terrible atrocity and this time on the most vulnerable of all, children.

At times like this sport often helps bind people together and while it may be a stock phrase now for all of these evil acts, the show must go on, normality must be sustained.

I have no doubt that both Mourinho and his players will have this in their mind when they go out to try to finish the season in the right way.

It was always going to be a tough season but Mourinho brought a lot of trouble on himself. He wants everyone to believe that he has done a big job of management to get Manchester United to the Europa League final. That’s simply not true.

His team may well beat Ajax and win the trophy to stand alongside the League Cup and Champions League qualification and he will claim that he has had a great season.

But I don’t see it that way. I see a manager who struggled to find consistency in the Premier League after talking up his new signings so much that they were unlikely to ever match his spin.

I see a manager who has the most expensive player ever and told me that he was the complete midfielder when the evidence of my eyes told me that this was total nonsense.

I don’t know the circumstances which led to Pogba’s huge transfer fee, other than that the agent got half of it, but no matter how it came about, Mourinho is not responsible for the record-breaking amount.

But he is responsible for Pogba when he is on a pitch and it is insulting to my intelligence to hear Mourinho describe a player’s performances in the exaggerated language he used.

That was enough to mark Mourinho down as unrepentantly blinkered and it told me that he would not change his spots to suit Old Trafford.

If anything, he’s got worse. The line he has pedalled all season is that he has been handed poor tools and will get them over the line by hook or by crook. I see a manager who has lashed everyone around him as sub-standard, even the fans, which tees him up very nicely if he does deliver in Stockholm.

Then the narrative will be all about how Jose pulled off the impossible, won against all the odds and saved the day. The way I see it, he’s the manager and if the team is not performing, it’s down to him.

He had four new players, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitarayan and Eric Bailly and two of the brightest young strikers in world football – Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial.

Ultimately, results are his responsibility. He can’t be divorced from his players when they play badly and  joined at the hip when they win.

By the standards of the club he manages and with the resources in play, the minimum requirement for any Manchester United manager is to finish in the top four.

David Moyes got no help and was thrown to the wolves when he couldn’t do it. Louis van Gaal did it in his first season and was sacked because he couldn’t do it in his second.

But Mourinho has tried to make a virtue of abandoning the chase for a top-four finish as a pragmatic call based on circumstances.

There is an ounce of truth in that. I’m sure once he was out of the group phase and saw the teams remaining, he chose to gamble that he would do better against ordinary European sides than he would in the dog-eat-dog environment of the Premier League.

But that is the crux of his failure this season. His team should never have been in that position if he was doing a good job and I don’t accept that he didn’t have the squad to do it.

Even with three or four weeks left in the season, it seemed obvious to everyone except Mourinho that Liverpool and Manchester City were as prone to the same brittle performances against weaker teams as his own players were.

The chance was there to go for fourth place but Mourinho waved the white flag and went looking for Europa League scalps.

He did lose his key man, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, at exactly the wrong time but I don’t think that was a good enough reason to abandon the fight and take a punt.

There were times against Celta Vigo at Old Trafford when it looked like a very bad punt but he muddled through to the final.

If he pulls it off, it will look like an achievement and he will deserve the credit any manager gets for winning a trophy but no more than that.

I would hesitate to make United favourites. In fact, I think Mourinho  has every reason to be very worried about Ajax, the first decent team his players will face in this competition.

Ajax have already qualified for the Champions League by finishing second in the Eredivisie to Feyenoord.

But there is a good chance that many of the players who play in this final will be sold in the next two or three transfer windows and Mourinho might even buy one or two.

Danish striker Kasper Dolberg is on every big club radar now.

So this might be their moment and manager Peter Bosz will sell it that way to them.

Ajax are young, they are mostly Dutch and they play like you expect a team from Amsterdam to play. They’ve beaten Schalke and Lyon to get to the final and if they have a weakness, it would be their away form.

But they are on neutral ground in Stockholm and if they click, they could run Mourinho’s players ragged.

I wonder whose fault it will be if that happens and Mourinho’s bonus bet doesn’t come off?

No prizes for guessing the answer to that one.

This is a big moment for Mourinho. He has exposed himself like never before by chastising players and fans in a very public way and if he can’t deliver, all bets are off.

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