Jose Mourinho – what went wrong in Manchester United?

Introduction

Jose Mourinho – the manager who produced good numbers, but not style. The manager who came to a wrong place for him and the better he wanted the worse it came out. Can I shortly summarize the term of office of Jose Mourinho in Manchester United? No. Why? Because in his career there always were many various factors.

But can I say Mourinho isn’t a good manager after his time spent in Manchester and him being released from there? Definitely not! Why? It is a good question…

Work ethos

Mourinho is, was and will be a great manager – in his own way. We cannot take that from him. Is it true he got old, burnt out professionally, that football went forward and he couldn’t keep up and got left far behind others? It is nice to hear such a theory that is repeated by millions of people including a lot of well known “football experts”. But in my opinion this theory is wrong. Portuguese didn’t burn out. His life is still centered around football and we could have seen it repeatedly. I think he simply missed with choosing his new club. I will explain what I mean.

Jose when building his teams always starts from defense. His tactics are based on precise defense formation where each player has his own precisely defined tasks. Unfortunately, the defense is only as strong as its weakest point. When even one element fails, the whole tactics fails.

Therefore Mourinho’s football requires total obedience from players. It would seem players don’t have any freedom on the pitch. They have to thoughtlessly follow orders received from their manager. Nothing more. Your thoughts, preferences, skills or tricks you want to show the whole world and shine thanks to them are unimportant.

This marks the beginning of Jose’s problems, because… from the point of Mourinho’s view, players have to execute his orders and follow his tactic. When you look at this situation from players’ seat… they can feel as pawns on the gaming board. This is one of a lot of points that show conflictuality of character of Portuguese who never respected ideas other than his own. This feature could also be perceived as his enormous ego. You understand what I mean – when you are speaking about Mourinho, you need to establish the point of view to better understand his work. Are you looking from manager’s or player’s place?

Jose as a manager…

Let me make a short analysis of Mourinho’s career. Everything has begun in Porto. I’m aware of how big a club it is in Portugal and the local standards. But to be honest Jose didn’t have world class players there. There wasn’t even one world class player of the sort he had in next stages of his career, etc. Didier Drogba, Cristiano Ronaldo, Eden Hazard or Paul Pogba. In Porto there were solid footballers with good skills and abilities, who weren’t able to win the league title for three seasons. They needed someone who would be able to lead them to success. That was the only desire it this club. What were the effects of that attitude? Mourinho was more than successful in Porto.

FC Porto has won two league championships and in addition has won Champions League. Players looked at his manager like at a god. If Jose told any player to run 50cm from the side line of a pitch, every one of them was ready to do it without questions. From the other side, the Portuguese manager saw the effects of his football and his inside conviction to his tactic was growing with time. To be more precise, consecutive successes and trophies were convicting Jose of his philosophy.

His next club, Chelsea, was in a similar situation as Porto when Jose came to Stamford Bridge. There were good players who needed a commander. The dressing room was calling – come here and tell us what we need to do in order to win Premier League. Mourinho actually came there, told the players what they had to do and in return he obtained their endless loyalty. Effect? Championship in the first season, championship in the second season and the second place in third season. For the next time Portuguese was very successful. This situation again showed Jose that his philosophy is the best.

But in the fourth season in Chelsea (and in third as well to be precise) Mourinho encountered a new situation. The mentality in Chelsea has changed. This club after those three impressive seasons transformed into titled team with stars in the squad. They weren’t the same footballers who desired success more than oxygen. Players weren’t able to stick to every word of their manager. They wanted something more than new orders to follow. They desired to be stars as the biggest footballers in the world. They dreamed to play as stars, have freedom on the pitch and be seemed as the real stars, not as the next element in the puzzle of some tactic genius. As effect of that Mourinho has lost his authority, lost the dressing room and was let go at the start of his fourth season in Chelsea.

That was a new situation for him. For the first time someone didn’t want to follow his orders, didn’t want to listen to him despite the fact he showed the whole world his philosophy is the best, is the key to success. Thanks to him two clubs grew to be great clubs and won the titles about which they dreamed. Can you imagine a story when owner of a sport racing team comes to his best driver and tells him – you are fired, because your mechanics don’t like the way you drive? Boss, I’m the best of all drivers and make the best times of all, so… what is going on?

I suppose these kind of situations are hard to accept. Every success gives more conviction to your belief about established attitude and philosophy. I’m not surprised that Mourinho wanted to continue his tactic and was opposed to make any changes by the players who became stars. Players who became stars thanks to… him.

The next step in him career was Inter Mediolan. For the first time Jose came to titled club, but… this was an Italian club. Italian football is famous for defense playing style. It was the best situation for Mourinho. In addition he met footballers who were ready to die for their manager. There weren’t super stars and celebs.

It could seem strange for people who don’t know Italian football, but there never was admiration for one person, one footballer, like it took place in other countries, especially in Spain and England. Two seasons before Jose signing in, Fabio Cannavaro had won golden ball and he was a footballer to follow in Italy, while the rest of the world was admiring the new super star Cristiano Ronaldo. In Italy individuals didn’t count. Most important were great spirit on the pitch and collective, especially in defensive formation. That was wonderful environment for defense tactic genius that Jose Mourinho is. What were the effects of his work in Inter? Two seasons – two league championships and Champions League victory.

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Mourinho was again perceived as a perfect manager and tactician. When the world sees you this way, it means the time has come for Real Madrid. There Jose had only one goal – dethrone the mighty FC Barcelona. With that in mind Jose was able to convince the dress room to his playing style and… they did it. In second season Mourinho has won the league title in magnificent style! Real Madrid gained 100 points and scored 121 goals. Footballers needed someone who would be able to become their leader and as same as in Chelsea, restore them back to glory. In Madrid everyone believed in Jose’s words, all were listening to him and… once again Jose was successful.

In the third season footballers wanted something more than just football success. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? I can compare this situation to premium cars. I have heard very smart words – there could be a better and more exclusive limousine than currently available limousines, but no one would buy it. Why? Because owner of such car desires something more than only physical luxury. That person also needs mental comfort of owning a car giving him admiration and prestige. No-name limousine, even if physically better and with better performance, cannot provide prestige. If you don’t have renown and fame, you aren’t able to get prestige. The same situation is with footballers. When they get successful, they desire to be stars and celebrities, not only their manager’s soldiers.

For that reason Mourinho again lost the dress room and in a consequence his job. The next club in his career was Chelsea once again. In there once more everyone believed in Mourinho, the club won Premier League, conflicts appeared and dismissal. Jose’s career is made of repeating cycles. When footballers are winning trophies, they want to be stars, but Mourinho doesn’t want to change his philosophy. This is making conflicts, but… when footballers have an argument with the manager, the can be only one winner – the dress room.

I can divide Jose’s employment period in clubs into three stages – believing in the manager in the first season, full understanding of his philosophy and success in the second season (if they weren’t successful in the first season) and surfeit of his tactics in third season, which in consequence starts conflicts. Mean people divide these stages to – buy a bus, park a bus and crash a bus 😉

Backing to the topic, similar situation took place in Manchester United. The first season was quite good, because footballers believed in his tactics and finally won a trophy – Europa League. In the second season, the best season for Mourinho in every club, because footballers see his tactics is working, Man Utd finished the league on the second place. It was the club’s best score since sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement. In third season once again everything crumbled, because a lot of footballers didn’t want to be only pawns on the board. Mourinho was fired in his third season in the club, but… there is one detail that distinguishes Manchester United from other Mourinho’s clubs – the lack of a big success. Manchester United didn’t win Premier League or Champions League. The question is – why?

Keeping one’s ear to the dressing room. Phoey… Keeping one’s ear to the ground

It’s an uncommon situation for Mourinho that he didn’t win the league title with Manchester United, because he had won league titles with every club he managed. For sure there is a reason for that. There is something that distinguishes the team from Old Trafford from other teams – too much commerce, too little football. In Manchester United there were too many stars per square meter and when there were  stars… looking at abovementioned, Mourinho’s defeat is certain. He never changes his tactics and stars will never cooperate with him.

Basically I leave unsaid about the club management, directors and another structures in the club that in the last years were focused on profits and money, but not on sports results. A whole book could be written on that: “how to play nothing and earn the biggest sums of money in the world”. I will not delve into this topic, because I want to write about football, not marketing.

What is your first thought when you hear Manchester United? Devilish football, crazy offense formation, incredible comebacks, success, ecstasy, top world-class football stars admired by whole generations and greatness that couldn’t be described by words. Sir Alex Ferguson has built a force, that was even more impressive thanks to the history of the club. He created something great and impossible. This ”something” was in the hearts of all fans and footballers alike.

If I were transferred to Manchester United (number 17 if someone asks 😉 ), I would have exactly those expectations. I would like to play offensive football, squash rivals and show my devilish skills, but never would play in defense and kick long balls to Lukaku – maybe he wins an aerial battle, ball falls to any of our players and we score a goal? Who could have believed in Mourinho’s words and tactics? Let’s shortly analyze the dress room.

Again, exactly as in his previous clubs, ready to hear Jose out were solid footballers, but not stars. Not world class players who desired to shine on the pitch. Let’s take a closer look at Ashley Young’s situation. He lost himself and wasn’t able to find his form since Aston Villa before Mourinho’s employment. Press speculated Young’s quick departure from the club. What did he decide to do? He became Mourinho’s supporter and… started to be a very important player is his tactic. Ashley was reborn. Mourinho built Young, because the latter did exactly as the Portuguese told him to. Young followed all orders from his manager. When Mourinho told him to run in a specific sector of the field, he did so without questions. His task wasn’t to think on the pitch, but to execute the manager’s every order. That’s it. Nothing more. This is exactly why Ashley Young started thriving as a footballer thanks to Mourinho.

Fellaini is a very similar case. He also was Mourinho’s supporter in the dressing room. Additionally he saved his manager in more than few matches in the closing minutes. Therefore Mourinho wanted to stop Fellaini in the club last summer and fought hard for the Belgian’s signature on a new contract. The same situation happened with Lingard. Portuguese wanted to have his own soldiers in the dressing room. Lingard is a guy who was out of form for 25 years, had just one good month (December) and came back out of form for the next 25 years. Now he is 27 years old and has statistics from his whole career in Premier League like Sterling has from just last season. He wouldn’t have any chances to sit on Manchester City or Liverpool bench, but continues to wear Manchester United colors… Nevertheless Portuguese holds onto his supporters.

If Jose had only such players, he certainly would be successful. He needn’t artists for his tactic but rather craftsmen. A solid craftsman often isn’t enough for Manchester United. This club was built by real visionaries and artists, therefore today in the dressing room there are a lot of them. Players who are transferred to Old Trafford desire to be visionaries, not craftsmen. They want to shine in front of the whole world, be admired by generations and make history, not simply be pawns on someone else’s board.

Marcus Rashford is trained the same way as Cristiano Ronaldo. Rashford follows his example and works with a lot of people who trained Ronaldo. You can see it for example when Marcus is performing a free kick. He touches the ball with his feet in a similar way. He really could be one of the best players in the world (Marcus was born in 1997, Lingard in 1992, should someone ask), but… let him develop his skills. Mourinho was accused a lot of times that he is blocking Rashford’s development. He refused to listen to any of the arguments supporting that. One time he even brought a paper sheet with a detailed description of all the minutes played by Rashford. The trouble is Marcus was blocked by Mourinho due to his tactic and playing system. Playing in defense without freedom will never develop players like Marcus. He needs to feel more free on the pitch, enjoy the game and express himself in the offense. Rashford is an artist, not a craftsman. No visionary will ever develop his skills if he thoughtlessly follows given orders.

Paul Pogba is the next person who desires to be admired and to shine. In Mourinho’s tactic there can be only one such person himself. As nowadays we admire great tactics of kings and commanders, after matches we could have admired Mourinho. No one remembers common soldiers, but it’s then who were winning battles and wars. They gave up their lives on the battlefields while kings were watching all from the side. Pogba isn’t a soldier who will allow to be forgotten. The Frenchman needs all the lights focused at him. He wants to play his football, express himself on the pitch and show his best, not be an anonymous soldier working for Mourinho’s glory.

There are a lot of such footballers in the dressing room at Old Trafford. Is it bad? Not necessarily, because Manchester United is a club where eleven footballers and even three more from the bench can shine in every match. However for Mourinho it was unacceptable because his tactic works only when all the footballers are obedient to him. A lot of successes have caused Mourinho to never change his tactic. He is a specific kind of manager – either we play my tactic, or we play nothing. Portuguese never was and never will be a manager who can match his tactic to his footballers. He does nothing to bring out the best in his players. Generally I can divide managers into two groups:

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1. Someone who wants to have thoughtless players who will follow all his orders and will be hanging on his every word.

2. Someone who want to have intelligent players with some freedom on the pitch and only gives them tactic tips in order for them to give their best.

Which group in your opinion is going to be successful and which is doomed to failure at Old Trafford? Manchester United isn’t Porto, Inter or Chelsea. This is a great club built on success and trophies that were raised by the best players in football history. Everyone who is playing in Manchester United wants to be that kind of a star, not some thoughtless pawn.

Jose Mourinho definitely belongs to the first group. Therefore he is doomed to failure in all clubs where there are stars and players desired freedom on the pitch. In his tactic players are to follow his orders. In fact, this is a successful tactic if players are ready to do everything that Jose says.

Jose’s problems

Problem number 1 – show me even one footballer except Fellaini who would come to Manchester United knowing he will be playing boring and defensive football. Pogba? Martial? Maybe Rashford loves that tactic? Or Lukaku who is beating record after record in Belgium because his national team plays offense?

Mourinho wasn’t able to convince all footballers in Manchester to his philosophy. There always was someone who wasn’t glad and wanted to play in other style. Portuguese for the first time in his career has met the situation that he wasn’t able to convince all players to his tactic. As I mentioned earlier – defense is only as good as its weakest point. It was enough to collapse Mourinho’s tactic when only one element didn’t work as it should.

Problem number 2 – at the start of his job Jose met with situation that he had to deal with in other clubs at the end of his job. After Mourinho’s employment he discovered a lot of players wanted to be stars there and then. Some players didn’t accept defense playing style, where they wouldn’t have any freedom. This is Manchester United and here we are playing for scores like 4:3, not 1:0. Those were the expectations of players and fans, but not of Mourinho and club management. Therefore Manchester United didn’t play good football.

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Problem number 3 – Portuguese never convinces his players, he always requires obedience.  He know he is a great tactician. I agree with this fact, he indeed is. But you can’t come to the dress room, show your tactic and say – I don’t care who you are, you have to do what I say. Therefore in the team there were a lot of unresolved problems which Mourinho didn’t use to solve.

For instance – Martial. The person with huge problems, because he didn’t have anyone who could set him in order. He became millionaire very quickly, sired children and started his clothing line AM9 and then… number 9 was taken from him without any prior consultations with him. Anthony was treated by the club very unfairly, but it was just the beginning of his problems. His personal life has collapsed, as did his business (let’s imagine you opened business related with number 9 and suddenly you must change it) and in addition he lost his dreams about being offensive super star player, because he had to play in defense in Mourinho’s tactic. Try to put yourself in his shoes for a moment. His entire world has collapsed. Later it turned out he has a mistress and illegitimate child with her. He fell into a spiral of problems. Any one problem generated the next one. He was only a teenager. And there wasn’t a good soul who could have helped him. For Mourinho he was only a pawn in his great tactic. From Jose’s point of view Martial should have followed his orders and that’s all. Nothing more. What if you don’t? You don’t get to play. That is how Jose works.

Now let’s look from Martial’s point of view. What are you able do to when your whole world collapses? When your boss keeps sending new orders and doesn’t see your problems? If in the club there was a manager who would be like a father and helped Martial with all his problems, then maybe we would have another Mbappe, because Anthony really has a great potential. Mourinho didn’t help his footballers solve their problems. Martial’s case is only one of many cases in the club. Should there appear someone who would help Anthony, you shall see how good a player the Frenchman is. I hope Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can do this.

Problem number 4 – inadequate selection of training staff. Sometimes I have a feeling Jose especially didn’t employ people who could have been smarter than he was. There isn’t a worse situation than the lack of a person who could look at you from the side and say– oh man, what are you doing? In one of his interviews, Sir Alex Ferguson said the most important decision was the one concerning staff selection. People who will be working with you and influence your actions are the key to success. Mourinho has only one right – his. It made him a successful man, so in his  mind it was… right.

Problem number 5 – years of success made Mourinho believe in himself more and more. Therefore he has an enormous ego. Sometimes I get a feeling it kept increasing to unimaginable proportions. In his opinion he was a genius – “the special one”. In the effect he often blamed footballers and referees for bad results. You understand, “it wasn’t his fault”. In peoples’ eyes his behavior and his ego grew, grew… and still keeps growing.

In my personally feelings the apogee peak of his ego was reached after defeat against Sevilla in Champions League. At the after-match press conference he said this club should be accustomed to being eliminated from European games. His later weak excuse that he was thinking about a past match against Porto didn’t convince anyone. I need to admit I was defending Jose until the Sevilla match. I believed in him and his tactic, believed he was able to achieve good results. After said disaster at Old Trafford I lost my belief in Portuguese and started waiting for his dismissal. Unfortunately, I had to wait quite a long time.

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I’m also embarrassed by a situation from Turin. Manchester United has defeated Juventus 2:1 and then after the last whistle Jose came out to the pitch and put his hand to the ear. In my opinion this gesture was so petty that I cannot express this by words. If his team had squashed the rivals, such gesture would have been understandable. But… even Ronaldo after this match said – Manchester United did nothing to win, we have given them that victory. Instead of showing swagger himself and bathing in his enormous ego, an honest manager would have lowered his head, shaken hands with the other side and come out from the pitch to the dress room. Why with the head down? Because a great manager would be aware of the real situation – I have won a match, but it was an accident. I should improve my game for the next matches, I have to find my mistakes. Is there any difference between Mourinho’s behavior and the attitude I expect?

Problem number 6 – lack of respect for others, especially for club employees. I’m a true supporter of Manchester United and all of club’s matters are interesting to me. Sometimes I even know who is participating in club’s Christmas Eve. Just imagine Mourinho has never been on even one such celebration. What did Ole Gunnar Solskjaer do shortly after his employment? He went to club’s Christmas Eve with a big smile. It is just one example out of many that could have been raised here, but I will stop on this one because this text is already long.

Summary

Jose Mourinho is a genius tactician. He is also a person who loves himself the most and requires obedience from all footballers and basically from all people. Unfortunately that’s why he treats them subjectively. This all underlines the fact that he missed his calling coming to Manchester United. This club isn’t one to accept Portuguese’s work conditions. Old Trafford requires beautiful offensive football, respect for all people and creation of world-class stars. This club isn’t made for craftsmen ready to play boring football. History of this club was written by artists and visionaries. Footballers coming to Manchester United also want to be that type of players. They desire to show their possibilities on the pitch.

I wanted to write this column from a neutral point of view. I needed to show two mindsets – Mourinho’s and footballers’. In my opinion he didn’t burn out professionally. He just made a bad choice, because his philosophy didn’t match this club. If he decides to come back to football to lead a club with solid footballers, I think he will be a great manager there. These clubs want to be reborn and in there footballers could see at him the way he wants. If they are be ready to become his pawns on board, the Portuguese once again will be successful.

Thus, is Mourinho a good manager? Yes.

Was he good choice for Manchester United? No.

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