Revealed: The ruthless, relentless methods Jose Mourinho will impose at Man United
Here is a breakdown on what Manchester United staff, players and fans can expect from Jose Mourinho's regime at Old Trafford.
'In the boat or off it'
There is a saying that Jose Mourinho uses when he first addresses the players after he takes over at a football club. Those at Manchester United will hear it when they arrive for pre-season training: you are either in the boat or off it.
There is nothing surprising in that. Other managers say similar things. But Mourinho really means it: in or out, you decide. Although, in fairness to some players, the decision will have already been taken for them as Mourinho will have spent the past six months analysing and updating his laptop files and Powerpoint presentations – he remains a devotee of such software - on what he wants at United.
Mourinho will have sat at his computer and reviewed the United squad – analysing its strengths and weaknesses and which areas needed to be improved. He will have put down in writing the style of play he wants to implement, the identity he wants to create, the approach he will take and what he thinks is achievable - and when.
In his presentations to United’s executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, there will have been a heading at the beginning of each of them: that the concept of the club is more important than any player. This is a familiar template for Mourinho, one he initially learnt and then adapted from his work as assistant to Louis Van Gaal at Barcelona.
There will be individual meetings with his new squad. Mourinho, early on, likes to see the whites of his players’ eyes. He firstly does this as a group – to see how they respond, who speaks, who is quiet. And then one-on-one in his office in chats that he even refers to as ‘interviews’ as they are his way of finding out more about players, their character and motivation – and how they react to being quizzed by him. Mourinho will invite them to ask their own questions while he makes it clear that he can be “very nasty” as well as a “sweetheart”.
The messages will be unequivocal. Mourinho will promise to be direct and say what he means to their faces; he will tell them he will not tolerate gossip and, even less so, leaks from the dressing room - which can become a damaging obsession for him, as witnessed at Real Madrid and Chelsea; that the door to his office is always open; and that it is compulsory to wear shin guards during training because they will be working hard. “I only go to war with those I trust,” is another phrase the United players can expect to hear.
Watch and learn
Mourinho will then observe. He knows that in the first days at a football club everything usually works perfectly. Players arrive early for training, they do as they are told and there is total effort. But he will be looking for signs to indicate who is buying into this willingly and who is doing it under duress in the hope that it will not continue.
Mourinho’s observations will only last so long. He is the opposite of Arsene Wenger in that while the Arsenal manager does not specifically instruct players during training – he puts on sessions and expects them to come up with answers, which is why he is so keen on five-a-sides – Mourinho is much more about giving the players options and then stopping training. The method – and Mourinho is into methodology, calling his trusted assistant Rui Faria “the methodologist” – is called ‘guided discovery’ in the coaching manuals.
It may explain why he can be criticised as a little mechanical, and why he is more comfortable working with older players.
Training by 'the Bible'
Training is precise, intense and everything is with the ball; the session is still defined down to the exact number of minutes and Mourinho has his stopwatch and his clipboard. Mourinho also still has a ‘Bible’ which he began to compile when he was coaching the juniors at Vitoria de Setubal back in Portugal and which is the ‘training file’ that is made up of his ideas. He used to meticulously update it every day although given the body of work he has now achieved and his experience that is unlikely to still be the case.
Mourinho will sketch out a basic drawing of how he wants training to go – even where the equipment will be placed and so on – he will meet with the medical staff every day and he will even go out on to the training pitches to inspect the length of the grass and make sure they are properly watered. He will, he says, never be late, either, although that is not always the case given the demands upon a modern-day manager.
Choreographing his players - and staff
Mourinho’s match preparation is legendary. He learnt from Van Gaal the importance of analysing the opposition and while some may shudder at the prospect of another manager more obsessed by stopping the other team playing that getting yours to play, Mourinho is far more aggressive than his mentor and has also learnt to cut down on the information given to the players.
There will be detailed analysis, video clips, emails and even text messages to individual players but they are much shorter and sharper. At Real Madrid Mourinho began to boil it down to two or three key video clips about the team they would next face and play them in a loop in the dressing room, medical room, gym and canteen during the week before the match.
Mourinho firmly believes in what is termed charismatic leadership. It is why on his first arrival at Chelsea in 2004 he used the phrase “a special one” to refer to himself because he did not believe he was being given enough respect in his opening press conference.
He also allowed that to be adapted into “The Special One” and he has always had a taste for the theatrical – he remains a movie buff – and will expect total devotion from his backroom staff, for example, who he almost choreographs. If he protests at a referee’s decision, they all protest.
A 'burnished' squad
Pre-season training is vital, which is why he pushed hard to be quickly installed by United at the end of the season. The word former Chelsea doctor Bryan English used to use to describe the state Mourinho got the players into was “burnished” and, when he is working at his best, his teams hit the ground running. Sir Alex Ferguson was one of the first to cotton on to this and changed his training methods because of it.
United will work very hard pre-season, which will contrast sharply with the mess Mourinho made of Chelsea’s preparations last summer when the players came back late, were not ready and appeared unfit and still exhausted from the exertions of the previous campaign. There was mitigation for Mourinho in that he was dealing with the serious illness of his father but he still got it terribly wrong.
And that will be the most fascinating thing of all as Mourinho takes over at United. His way of working is clear and while it is precise and demanding it is not revolutionary. Indeed, other managers such as Mauricio Pochettino have taken this on to another level which begs the question as to whether football has moved on and Mourinho has not.
It will also be interesting to see whether he can temper his behaviour – he will undoubtedly do so in the short-term - and has learnt any lessons at all from the collapse at Chelsea. That is still, despite the fall-outs and the way in which the players stopped responding to his intense, aggressive approach – hard to explain. He needs to re-assert his authority.