Saturday 21 September 2019

Stephen Hunt: 'United need to be brave in derby but Mourinho is just too stubborn'

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho. Photo: PA
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho. Photo: PA

Stephen Hunt

The smile was back on Jose Mourinho's face in Turin and that can only be good news for Manchester United and their supporters, and bad news for the rest of us.

Still, I think the Manchester derby is coming at the wrong time for Mourinho and Pep Guardiola will wipe the smile from his face today.

The win against Juventus was incredible. The performance, for 82 minutes, was absolutely shocking. At that point, when the group standings came on the TV screen, United were eight points behind Juventus and in third place. Now they are second and two points behind, with the most difficult game won. His reaction at the final whistle was typical Mourinho. If it was me, I'd be like Jurgen Klopp in those circumstances and run out to embrace my players. Enjoy the moment. Mourinho wanted to wind up the Juventus players and have a fight.

Everything he does is calculated so what was the message here? Only he knows what he was thinking but an educated guess is that he was making sure the focus, and cameras, were on him, not his players.

Maybe he was making sure all the attention was on him because he didn't want his players to have the limelight at the final whistle and get carried away by such a fantastic result. He knows it is Manchester City next and maybe he wants to keep them focused.

Could it be he got lost in the moment and the adrenalin took over? I experienced this after my collision with Petr Cech. He criticised me minutes after the game, without watching the replays, and had a real go on Match of the Day that night. When he saw me in Harrods on the Monday morning, he came over and shook my hand.

He is under intense pressure every minute of every day as Manchester United manager, trying to live with the extraordinary success of Alex Ferguson, and forever being accused of playing negative football compared to Fergie's title-winning teams.

He can't even spend a weekend with his family in London after the Bournemouth win without being pictured getting off the train on Monday morning, and people asking why he still hasn't moved out of his hotel.

This is a guy who won the Champions League and Premier League and threw his medals into the crowd. Is he going to change? No.

And it is the same with his football. Wednesday's night performance may have been far from entertaining for the fans, but the win justifies his tactics. The approach today will be exactly the same.

The best managers are stubborn. He is the boss, no matter what. I came across this several times with Mick McCarthy, most memorably when we were at Ipswich. We'd lost badly on the Saturday, and I was the guinea pig sent in to ask the manager if the lads were still OK to go to Cheltenham races that week. Mick went purple with rage. I thought he was going to tear my head off.

I said we hadn't played that badly, but it didn't help and we were on a lousy run. Mick said he was putting his foot down and cancelled the trip, sending me out to tell the lads. He wanted us to feel the pain and have a good think about why he was so pissed off. He had us for an hour or so and then sent along Terry Connor, his assistant, to tell me the lads could go.

Mourinho is a master of football psychology but Manchester City are a different kettle of fish.

Maybe Mourinho should look at Liverpool's success in two games against City last season, the only team to beat and outplay them, and be brave. United have to score to get something out of the game because stopping City from scoring is nearly impossible.

It would be great to see United's players try to open them up and press, but they can't do it. It is not natural for them under Mourinho because they know what he wants them to do. He is not comfortable controlling his teams any other way.

City are nearly back up to speed, and that is without the heartbeat of the team, Kevin De Bruyne, which is a scary thought. They are already close to the levels they reached last season and every player Guardiola selects is contributing.

How long they maintain the quality will determine how much they win. It is difficult to keep improving, but you know that is what Guardiola strives for. If his team are winning 4-0, he wants five. Then he wants six. He is never satisfied.

His Barcelona team proved you can only stay at that level for so long and win things. It is hard to sustain it, no matter how good your players are. How long City stay there will depend on long Guardiola is prepared to maintain his own intensity.

And if you can't enjoy it, what's the point? I think Guardiola loves being the manager of Manchester City and watching his team play. I'm not sure you can say the same about Jose Mourinho.

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