Tuesday 16 January 2018

Old Trafford problems mount for Mourinho

Jose Mourinho. Photo: Reuters/Andrew Couldridge
Jose Mourinho. Photo: Reuters/Andrew Couldridge

Jose Mourinho has never been a great man to hand around praise when success comes his way but he has no problem spreading the blame when things go wrong.

Right now, thing are going badly wrong for him and his first response is to single out individuals and drop responsibility in their laps.

Jesse Lingard and Henrik Mkhitaryan felt the lash first and at the weekend, Luke Shaw got both barrels.

Mourinho is quite comfortable breaking a fundamental rule of the dressing room that a manager does not criticise his players in public. Usually, there is only one outcome when he does.

Mourinho has form in this. His time at Real Madrid started well but his behind the scenes battles with players began to dominate headlines in Madrid until he was at war with Iker Casillas in particular and ultimately Cristiano Ronaldo

The same happened at Stamford Bridge a year ago when he singled out John Terry for some very harsh treatment and then moved on to Cesc Fabregas and Eden Hazard.

Hindsight tells us that Mourinho probably had good reason to be upset with meddling from above at both the Bernabeu and Chelsea but it was surprising that this manifested in his treatment of players.

So Mourinho is following a now familiar path and I firmly believe the reason he is doing it is the same reason he looked so lost when his second spell at Chelsea began to go wrong.

He has never had a run of adversity. This current streak is alien to him and he is struggling to fix it.

By the time he was finished at Stamford Bridge, players had stopped playing for him and that must have been a massive blow to the confidence of a man who had previously enjoyed nothing but full control.

The first cracks in his seemingly bullet proof ego appeared in Spain, widened in London and from what I am seeing now at Old Trafford, he has not found a way to repair them. He is under mental stress.

After losing three on the bounce his immediately reaction was to deflect responsibility away from himself.

The referees are to blame. Luke Shaw is to blame. Anyone but Mourinho himself.

He cannot hide, however, when there's a game on and when his big signing Paul Pogba continues to underline what I have believed about him all along. He is no midfield playmaker.

He is not the player Mourinho described to us when he explained why he was prepared to pay so much.

Mourinho told us he would run the show for Manchester United and that he was, in every important aspect, the complete midfielder.

Most people didn't make too much of those comments at the time but they stuck out like a sore thumb to me because it sounded like he meant it.

Whether he believed it or not, Mourinho told us that Pogba would solve any problems Manchester United had in midfield and quite clearly, he has not solved any problems.

Pogba will never be the player Mourinho so badly needs and I think there is a good comparison to be made with Ronald Koeman at Everton who signed Idrissa Gueye from Aston Villa for a fraction of the Frenchman's fee and got exactly what he wanted.

I'm not saying Pogba was a bad buy but to get the best out of the Frenchman, he needs a player beside him.

N'Golo Kante can do the job and Gueye does it very well too and without someone like these players to lay the groundwork for Pogba, the vast fee paid is being wasted. The point about all of this is that these are football problems which must be solved in the mind of the coach first, then on the training ground and then in a match.

This should be meat and drink for Mourinho. I have always admired his ability as a coach and man management was a big part of that.

Yet we see him firing off grenades at his players with barely a month gone in the season and plenty of time to fix things.

Perhaps Mourinho is now realising the scale of the task he is facing after three rudderless years at Old Trafford and is daunted by it.

And perhaps his once impenetrable armour now has chinks which will be mercilessly exposed in the Theatre of Dreams.

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