There’s been a lot written about Manchester United over the last few months, with Jose Mourinho, the manager taking most of the focus. His antics on the sideline, provocative statements in the press room and even his facial expressions have been and will continue to be analyzed to death. Why? Quite simply put it is fascinating watching a man of such great repute struggle so badly. Ten years ago, he was revered as one of the greatest managers in the world and was seen as one of Europe’s shrewdest tacticians. He was even affectionately termed as “the Special One” by the doting English sports media. So a decade on, what exactly has changed? Nothing really. His biggest motivation is still winning over everything. That’s the problem.
The video below is courtesy from our friends at Tifo football which explains Jose Mourinho’s tactics since he joined Man United.
Putting Manchester United aside, it is interesting to note the similarities that can be found between the top 6 clubs in the English Premier League. Aside from the general air of optimism that can be found among the fanbases (and this includes Tottenham), they are all managed by coaches with system-based approaches. We all know Sarri, Klopp, and Guardiola are sticklers for a proactive 4-3-3. Emery prefers 4-2-3-1 (from his stints at Sevilla and Valencia) and Pochettino alternates between 4-2-3-1 and 3-4-2-1. But this is deeper than just formations, as all 5 managers prefer their teams play in a proactive, aggressive fashion. This high risk-high reward approach is not only very effective in terms of getting wins but it’s also entertaining for the fan and the neutral. This is not a coincidence. After all, Sarri is the man who said, “Tactical rigor is important, but we must never lose sight of the game and making sure the child inside is enjoying himself.” Guardiola said, “The result is an empty thing. What satisfies me the most in my job is to feel emotions, the way we play.” It’s not so much that these managers care less about winning than Mourinho does – if that was the case they wouldn’t be successful. It just seems that unlike these managers, Mourinho sees winning as his sole objective while his opposing managers see winning as just part of the objective.
Understanding Mourinho’s obsession with winning helps with understanding why he never seems to last longer than a few years at a club. Having a boss who drives you to achieve your best the way he does is clearly vital. At first. When he handles a team of players hungry for success, trophies inevitably follow as he understands how to manage different personalities and mindsets. Unfortunately, after a period of success, it is common for comfort to creep in and for the players to lose their edge. At this point, Mourinho’s brand of motivation can chaff and leave players disgruntled and irritable. In his defense, there are not many managers who have been able to keep winning in successive years (he and Sir Alex Ferguson are the only managers to have won successive Premier League trophies). But it does seem that he is repeating patterns that might end up costing him his job at Manchester United. Manchester United are clearly in a period of transition and Mourinho doesn’t have the patience to handle a transition. That’s why he brought in Sanchez, Matic, and Ibrahimovic. That’s why he also wanted Willian, Perisic and Alderweireld.
So what exactly is the problem at Manchester United? Why does it seem that after almost two and a half years at the job, the 20-time Premier League winners are as far from the top as they were before his taking over? For starters, he isn’t the only one to blame. Moyes failed. Van Gaal failed. Although Moyes’ failure was somewhat expected, Van Gaal and Mourinho both came in with enviable resumes (certainly more than the likes of Pochettino and Sarri). There seems to be an embarrassing lack of structure behind the scenes at England’s most popular club and most fans have their eyes focused on Woodward, the club’s chief executive officer. But he isn’t totally to blame either – after all, it’s not his fault that he doesn’t understand football as much as other football CEOs. I would suggest Manchester United step into the 21st century and bring in a respectable football man to serve as a director of football. This person would serve as a link between Woodward and the new coach and give the club a specific direction. New coach? Yes. For while it might not be all his fault, in two and a bit years, Mourinho hasn’t built a typical United team. He hasn’t even built a typical Mourinho team. Right now, he’s treading water and a January war chest is not going to change anything.