Why Jose Mourinho is possibly frozen in time
What would happen if, hypothetically, a tense football match played in the 1970-80s era of the English top flight were to be put up for display right next to a football match played in 2018 between two top English sides?
To put it simply, it would be simply unrecognisable. To put it elaborately, the former would seem outdated not just in terms of the chronology, but in terms of the ever-evolving intricacies of football.
A decade after Jose Mourinho made a dramatic entrance at Stamford Bridge – proclaiming himself to be the ‘special one’ – he amassed a trophy cabinet that few managers can even dream of. Some of the greatest players of a generation publicly stated that they would bleed for Jose Mourinho on the pitch.
Mourinho’s most defining quality is his knack for winning, making winning a habit, and instilling a thirst to keep doing it. His most iconic sides such as Chelsea 2005-06, Internazionale 2009-10, and Real Madrid 2011-12 had ‘warriors’ (as he described them) on the pitch to carry out their duties by whatever means necessary.
His title-winning Chelsea side in 2014-15 was another perfect defining example of a Jose Mourinho side, with very few changes throughout the 38-game league campaign. A reliable goalkeeper with a no-nonsense defense, a mix of silk and steel in the engine room, a trident of pace, power, the stardust of Eden Hazard, and a phenomenal goalscorer (a key Machiavellian figure) in Diego Costa.
A quick look at such a side brings to mind the term ‘balance’. It’s also a term that the former Chelsea boss reiterates constantly.
The interesting question now would be, is this ‘balance’ enough for a side to compete for a Premier League title?
Ever evolving rivals
The answer most certainly is no, because the bitter truth is that football has changed, it has evolved. The Premier League alone has seen resurrections so powerful, they serve as ominous signs for a diminishing Manchester United side under Mourinho.
Mauricio Pochettino inherited an absolute mess of a club – Tottenham – and now has them playing a commendable brand of football nearly every week. Their players under the Argentine have improved significantly, with a spending that would put even clubs like Everton and West Ham to shame.
Harry Kane went from being a ‘loan ranger’ – four loan spells in five years – to arguably one of the most complete centre forwards on the planet. Christian Eriksen, Heung-Min Son, Dele Alli, and a host of players have significantly shown huge signs of improvement under the former Saints manager.
Liverpool went from utter mediocrity to a Champions League final under Jurgen Klopp, and were beaten by one of the best European sides in the history of the game. Much like Spurs, they play an electrifying brand of football, and they’ve got players of high calibre to believe in their project and join them.
Mohammed Salah, Roberto Firmino, and Sadio Mane have under the German become one of the most feared attacks in Europe.
Chelsea won the league as recently as two seasons ago, and now have one of the most exciting, progressive managers in the Premier League (Maurizio Sarri), though largely untested in the English top flight.
This is Arsenal’s first season under a manager other than the legendary Arsene Wenger, and they’re currently on an 18-game unbeaten streak, playing some excellent football. Unai Emery has spent peanuts in comparison, has had less than a quarter of the time, and has yet gotten off to a flyer in North London.
Manchester City are the undisputed best football club in Europe at the moment, along with the Cristiano Ronaldo clad Juventus. They are the football equivalent of the biggest bully on a school playground.
They’re THE TEAM to beat, and no one knows how to (bar a slip-up against Lyon), and we’re in December. They play the most beautiful brand of football in Europe at the moment, while leading the Premier League table, and have a habit of putting four to five goals past the opposition for fun.
Where do Mourinho’s Manchester United come in, especially when you factor in that they boast the second most expensive squad assembled in the league? Nowhere.
Ever spiraling Manchester United
Granted, it’s not all the Portuguese's fault. The Glazers, Ed Woodward, and the rest of the hierarchy have an unjustifiable amount of blood on their hands. But when will there be a change of fortunes?
When the players played for 90 minutes against, say, Crystal Palace at Old Trafford – a team that hasn’t taken a point away from Manchester in over 20 years – it seemed like the players would’ve rather been relaxing in their condos, or at the luxurious Lowry Hotel in Manchester, than play for the badge on the shirt.
It was, quite literally, a stroll down the park, and United’s blushes had to be saved by the linesman’s decision to rule Cheikhou Kouyate's goal offside. The same could be said about a number of performances this season, which makes it all the more worrying.
It isn’t the manager’s fault when players miss guilt-edged, and embarrassingly easy chances which cost them games. The same could be said when a defender loses his man at a crucial moment to trouble David De Gea. But at the end of it all, if the players (evidently) aren’t playing for their manager, who is there to blame?
Three years into his Old Trafford stint, Jose Mourinho does not know his best starting XI. Evidently so, there is no given system, and no cohesion. The most hurtful of all though, is the lack of initiative from the players of Manchester United.
Louis van Gaal was maligned for a similar approach, spent significantly lesser, relied on academy graduates, and still got the job done for the club. If Mourinho is the man to take the club forward, is three years too little a while to ask for progress? Three years on, is hoofing the ball up to big burly players upfront the only solution to breaking teams down?
Right at the start of the season, the question was whether United could catch up with cross-town rivals City. At this rate though, saying that a top-five finish is unlikely will be putting it mildly. While they cut through teams like a hot knife on butter, United have resorted to throwing a Hail Mary and hoping for the best.
The conflict between the 'modern footballer' and Jose Mourinho
Jose Mourinho was once lauded for his unrivaled ability to motivate his players psychologically, and getting physical responses from them on the pitch. He extracts the very best from mediocre players, and gets the results of dreams, much like his Champions League victory with FC Porto.
But when you have a squad boasting of Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, and a host of players who under the right guidance can all blossom into phenomenal players, the football played by the team pales in comparison not only to their rivals, but even Jose Mourinho’s sides of old.
A match between the dreadful Chelsea 2015-16 side and this United side would be the test-match equivalent in football.
Jose Mourinho’s perception of an ideal footballer traces back to the era of Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, John Terry, Javier Zanetti, Ricardo Carvalho, and so on. Footballers that he constantly refers to as ‘men’ and not ‘boys’. Unfortunately for him, he isn’t able to conjure up the performances, the style, or the results this side should be capable of.
“I have had to adapt to a new world and what young players are like now,” Mourinho said in an interview with France Football.
“I had to understand the difference between working with a boy like Frank Lampard who, at the age of 23, was already a man – who thought football, work, professionalism – and the new boys today, who at the age of 23 are kids.
“Today I call them ‘boys’ and not ‘men’. Because I think that they are brats and that everything that surrounds them does not help them in their life nor in my work. I had to adjust to all of that”, he said.
If Jose Mourinho is unable to adapt to the methods of modern day footballers, he is unfortunately no longer the figure to take a languishing Manchester United forward. As sad as his comments about modern footballers was, they’re true, and it is undeniable.
Right now, it is this lot of 'boys' putting up a tribute act to primitive 1970-80s English football week in, week out, while they are capable of reaching the very top.
It is up to one of the best managers the game has witnessed to alter his approach on and off the pitch, to regain that success he is so coveted for. If that isn’t a possibility, then the sad truth remains that football has evolved, and Jose Mourinho has not.