It has been a mixed week for Manchester United. Defeat of their long-time rivals Liverpool and victory over Brighton to reach the FA Cup semi-final sandwiched a limp Champions League exit to Sevilla. It was manager Jose Mourinho that made the headlines though. A mid-week rant was followed up by another scathing critique of some of his players on Sunday. Is Mourinho using his infamous mind games or is he just losing his mind?
Jose Mourinho is well-known as being a proponent of mind games throughout his managerial career. One of his continued go-to ploys was installing a siege mentality within the clubs he has managed. This tactic has undoubtedly helped bring success across many clubs in several countries. After two trophies in his debut season Mourinho could argue that his methods have worked at United too but he never really went into ‘full siege’ mode last term.
A former United manager warned Jose that this ‘siege mentality’ wouldn’t work at the club and his warning seems particularly relevant in light of this week’s events. “I don’t think that approach would work at Manchester United because it could lead to the club being claustrophobic”, warned former United boss Ron Atkinson early in Mourinho’s tenure. Atkinson was speaking to ESPN about the then new Old Trafford boss when he added “It is a global brand and you cannot run it as your personal fiefdom”. It would appear that Big Ron might be right and that, in failing to make Old Trafford his ‘fiefdom’, Mourinho may be turning his mentality to a one-man siege.
The Manchester United manager took the opportunity at a press conference before his sides FA Cup tie against Brighton to launch into an astonishing 12-minute, pre-prepared diatribe. Mourinho’s ire had clearly been raised by criticism of his sides performance in the 2-1 defeat to Sevilla in the Champions League. The basis of what Mourinho appeared to be saying was that his side was one that is still in transition and that he very much feels that they are where they should be, if not ahead, given the time he has had to build the squad.
In a bid to back up his assertion Mourinho spoke of ‘football heritage’, he conceded that he struggled to translate his thoughts from Portuguese and that heritage may not have been the best word. His example of heritage though is one that may not sit comfortably with United fans. He compared the Reds’ record over the last few seasons with that of neighbours Manchester City. Admitting that you are behind City is not a particularly good look for a United manager. Former boss David Moyes came under heavy criticism for doing something similar in his time in charge at Old Trafford. “We have played a good side, playing at the sort of level we are aspiring to”, Moyes told Sky Sports after City demolished United 3-0 in their own back-yard in March of 2014. Just one month later, Moyes was sacked.
The rant at the FA Cup preview press-conference wasn’t the first time Mourinho made the headlines for his comments last week. In the immediate aftermath of the afore-mentioned Sevilla defeat Mourinho sat before the media again, “I’ve been here with Porto and won. I’ve sat here as manager of Real Madrid and won. They’re used to it” said Mourinho of United following their European exit. An incredible example of narcissism and self-preservation, it would seem Jose’s ego just wouldn’t let him accept defeat without reminding everyone of his past successes.
He was at it again following a victory over Brighton which saw United reach the FA Cup semi-final. Accusing his players of “a lack of personality, lack of class and lack of desire” Mourinho, not for the first time, singled out Luke Shaw for particularly harsh treatment. The England international was hauled off at half-time with his manager insisting that he had to defend better. This has led to reports today that ‘some United players’ believe Shaw is being bullied by his manager.
If it is the case that some United players feel one of their team-mates is being bullied by the boss, this isn’t the galvanizing, siege mentality mind-games that Mourinho is known for. Just maybe, it is all a big tactic from Mourinho. The Portuguese is maybe singing a very different song behind closed doors to the one that we are hearing in public. United fans will certainly hope this is the case. With their noisy neighbours City looking a certainty to add the Premier League title to their League Cup success and the Reds only having an FA Cup to play for, Jose certainly needs some kind of master-plan.
It could be the case though that Jose has had enough, that he is frustrated with his team and the criticism of him and his playing style. Maybe Jose’s mind games just don’t work anymore. If United come up short in the FA Cup it may well become a ‘one-man siege’ for Jose over the summer.
What do you make of these thoughts? Let us know in the comments below!