Tuesday 22 January 2019

Blaming players in public never a good idea

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho looks on from the stands during the Swansea City v Manchester United game at the Liberty Stadium. Pic: Reuters
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho looks on from the stands during the Swansea City v Manchester United game at the Liberty Stadium. Pic: Reuters

When Alex Ferguson took a shoe to David Beckham and then issued a public dressing down after he missed training to go shopping, he had plenty of justification for his actions.

From what Ferguson could see, Beckham was on a bad path and shortly afterwards, he was sold.

That was good management. Ferguson had a reason to do what he did and history tells us that Manchester United and indeed Beckham, both moved on and flourished.

The issues at stake in that row were about events off the pitch. I can't ever remember Ferguson lashing players in public for what they did on it or certainly, never in a way which humiliated them.

When Jose Mourinho took a scalpel to Luke Shaw and Chris Smalling's professional reputation at the weekend, he may have wanted to look tough and ruthless.

He didn't. This was schoolyard stuff not worthy of a manager. Worse than that, the implicit suggestion in his rant after beating Swansea 3-1 was that there were some players who were feigning injury.

That is the one accusation in professional football which makes a player's blood boil and it is a very serious allegation.

In effect, he is accusing them of fraud by taking wages but pretending to be injured and there is no greater insult.

It was a stupid thing to say and it was an accusation which will do him the most damage among the Manchester United squad.

Faced with two hugely expensive but under-performing star signings in Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, he chose to have a go at two lads he didn't sign and it was a cheap shot.

They could not offer a defence without themselves going public and bringing further abuse down upon themselves.

For me, this was a major sin by Mourinho. Sure, give the players a proper going over in the dressing room or in your office but not in the papers or on television and never accuse a player of pretence.

I've seen managers deal with players in many different ways over the years but I've never yet seen one who chooses to publicly humiliate grown men do well.


It's fine when you're winning because people will put up with a lot from a manager if the team is doing well and that has undoubtedly been the case with Mourinho. But once the results stop flowing, cracks begin to show.

This time last year, Mourinho was doing the same thing at Chelsea. He singled out John Terry, then Cesc Fabregas and finally Edin Hazard for some bitter, bitter stuff and inevitably, lost the respect of the dressing room.

At the same time, his general behaviour began to disintegrate and the fallout from his truly awful treatment of the club doctor Eva Carneiro meant that it was only a matter of time before Roman Abramovich acted and sacked him again.

I see the same pattern here. Since Christmas last year, when Mourinho was actively canvassing for the Manchester United job, and the early part of 2016, when he found out that he was almost certain to get it, he has known the players he would be dealing with.

He was able to watch Manchester United with a critical eye and no responsibility while Louis van Gaal was in the hot seat and that's a great advantage for any manager going into a new job.

If he thought he was light at the back, he should have taken steps to address the problem in the transfer market in July, when money was no object.

Jurgen Klopp also had time to survey the scene at Anfield and he was able to do it on the run. He got six months with Liverpool to work through problems before anyone expected anything of him.

He is reaping the benefit of that now and Daniel Sturridge is a great example. There were moments last season when we all wondered whether Sturridge had some sort of mental block about playing football.

He had recovered from injury but didn't seem to want to play. It was almost as if he was afraid of it.

But Klopp, who needed him fit and playing because he has so few options up front, nursed and cajoled him until he was ready to play. He did speak in public a few times about how players sometimes needed to play through pain but he had earned the room to do that by managing the player with care and consideration.

I actually thought there was a bit too much care and concentration and that Klopp's arm around the shoulders approach was a bit to close to Brendan Rodgers' style for my liking.

But I was wrong. Klopp has transformed the dynamic of Sturridge's relationship with Liverpool.

He did it while many headlines were telling him he should get rid of him as soon as possible..

Now Sturridge needs Anfield and has players in front of him in the first team, a complete reversal of the position from six months ago and a lesson in man management.

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