While Manchester United’s 2-2 draw against Arsenal had a lot of positives for the Old Trafford faithful, one of the biggest of them was the performance of Eric Bailly. If nothing else, it was an example of how players can improve when Jose Mourinho treats them in his trademark way.
It’s well documented that the Portuguese has become a much-criticised man for the manner in which he treats players and that has only reached an unimaginable level at Manchester United. He has dropped players when they aren’t playing well and has criticised them openly. Every time he’s done that, he hasn’t been allowed a moment of peace.
And being the man that he is and the style he plays, Mourinho never fails to attract criticism on the lines of the fact that his style has become outdated just because it isn’t working out for him at United. While it’s fair to say that it hasn’t exactly been a joy ride for him at Old Trafford, saying that the game has passed Mourinho by is very unfair.
It might not be attractive football and it the kind of football that Manchester United fans would like their team to play and it isn’t reaping results, but sometimes it’s very easy to criticise a man who’s the most hated man on earth. Mourinho certainly has managers like Pep Guardiola, Mauricio Pochettino and Jurgen Klopp around him- managers who play a brand of football that’s much more positive than the one he plays. And his style isn’t reaping benefits, but let’s not follow the herd.
The way a lot of teams played in the World Cup was very Mourinho-esque. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t attractive. But it was very effective. It was smash and grab and relied on directness. Teams like Morocco and Iran dropped in and defended and took their chances up front. So did Sweden. Even Uruguay. And above all, France too took the pragmatic way out throughout the tournament.
Although playing that way and winning is one thing and playing that way and getting criticised because that’s not enough to win is another one. In today’s era, Jose Mourinho and Diego Simeone are managers who play in a similar way.
While Simeone’s system is structurally different but in terms of approach to the game, it’s similar. And it relies on dropping back and defending deep, going narrow and defending crosses to play counter-attacking football.
It’s certainly true that a team which can play both ways- attacking and be dirty, is the most complete side of all. But pragmatism and aestheticism are two sides of the same coin and very few teams seem to get both of them.
Fans don’t like the way Mourinho plays and while it has become very dull at United, keep in mind that this is the only club where he has failed to impose his style properly. Elsewhere, be it at Porto, Inter Milan, Chelsea or Real Madrid, it has always worked. And even these days, it works when it’s applied properly. The World Cup is a proof.
Agreed, he has been given a lot of money to make this team his own. But this argument isn’t about what went wrong and why he hasn’t been getting things right. It’s about proving that the style he loves is still very much in existence and will always be. If there’s a hero, there is always a villain. If there’s good, it needs an evil to become good. It’s as simple.
But if there’s any way in which the game has passed him by, is the way he treats his players. While it has worked in the cases of Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial, football has become a game in which player-power has increased to a point where anything you say about a player in the press will be questioned. And no manager is more scrutinized that Mourinho.
When Neymar, Thiago Silva and Dani Alves had created their own Brazilian faction at Paris Saint-Germain last season, Unai Emery had failed to bring them down. Because Neymar is the most popular and the most expensive player in the world and he can’t be treated rudely by a manager. Emery failed to break that personality cult at PSG and this led to his eventual sacking at the Parc des Princes.
Players have the backing of their money-laden agents, who dictate everything today. They are the money makers in today’s game at a time when money flows and seeps through like water. Players have become celebrities who are treated as Gods, even when they do something wrong.
They are always seen in a better light than the opposing force, even if no player is bigger than the club. But in today’s world, players have become bigger than the club.
For example, Paul Pogba. The Frenchman can be world class on his day and won the World Cup with France. While he wasn’t the best France player during the tournament, but he still got a lot of credit. He came back to his club, demanding respect and more trophies.
And the fans, be it United fans or football fans in general, were blinded by their view of Pogba as a demigod. Someone who had famously dabbed with the Jules Rimet trophy.
The marketable icon that the midfielder is, it is next to impossible for Mourinho to drop Pogba and criticise him in the press. Players like him are backed by massive agents who can get him a move whenever he wants. And since Mourinho knows that, with rumours linking him with Barcelona and Juventus, he can’t drop him. Mourinho knows Pogba is United’s best player and they can’t let him go.
But the man has his ways. His ways of criticising players and giving them a hard treatment to see how tenacious they are has become obsolete. Players are spoilt by the modern game. Martial apparently wanted to leave this past summer after getting Mourinho’s trademark treatment. Amidst all that, Shaw is a shining example. He showed how tenacious he is and came back strongly.
Indeed so, Shaw probably belongs to a dying breed of footballers who know what the hard way is.