Jose Mourinho has frequently confounded football pundits with his statements and decisions. He may be still be a chess grandmaster of football strategy
Jose Mourinho’s track record as a football manager is beyond dispute. Since his first appointment, he has won leagues and international trophies with remarkable frequency. He attracted attention of the leading clubs in Europe and continued on his winning ways throughout his career.
I began researching Jose at a time when he was arguably at the height of his career, as manager of Chelsea. The book, Mourinho Matters, has surreptitiously found its way into several football dressing rooms. A copy acquired in Manchester was passed on in a readership exchange scheme in Japan and was last seen at a Tokyo rail station, recently. (A footballing message in a bottle story).
Jose’s stay at Chelsea ended sadly. the book hinted that unconfirmed media stories suggest he might next take up the challenge of managing Manchester United. This is indeed what happened. His challenges included getting MUFC back into the premier league by the end of the 2016-17 season. Failure to achieve this goal ended the brief periods at the club of David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal, the two successors to the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson.
A roller-coaster ride at Manchester United
Jose’s first season at Manchester has been a typical roller-coaster ride. He is currently at risk of missing his prime target.
A particular frustration has been drawing ten home games to date at Old Trafford, often allowing a won game to drift like the disappointed crowd towards the end of matches. This was only partly a consequence of some serious injuries to key players, culminating in a season-ending one to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, far and away their top goal scorer.
Increasingly the strategic decision was to win the lesser trophy of the Europa Cup, at the expense of resting players in Premier League matches. The strategy, while obvious still required courage and may not pay off.
Carrot and stick
Mourinho has appeared increasingly truculent at press conferences, and has openly criticized players whom he considered had let down the team and himself. The carrot and stick approach may be one among a range of leadership options, and this seems rather too often applied rather than an unusual if rather desperate last resort. But flashes of tactical and strategic mastery have still been seen. In April, the goal of Championship football was increasingly threatened.
A strategic masterstroke
As this strategy was becoming more painfully necessary, Mourinho’s side took on Chelsea, in a Premier League match, whose form has been outstanding. Jose’s humiliation appeared likely to be completed.
In the game, Jose succeeded spectacularly through a strategy which had not been achieved before. Chelsea’s successes had often been inspired by the mercurial talents of Eden Hazard, a player who, ironically, had fallen out big time with Mourinho as Chelsea’s fortunes had declined last season. This time he found a way of shackling Hazard through a remarkable display of personal attention by the under-rated Ander Herrera.
One more test
But Mourinho was already signalling that his team could not fight on two fronts for the return to European Champions League football. His gamble will soon be tested as his team seeks to advance to the Europa Cup final this Thursday.
YOU CAN READ ABOUT JOSE’S LEADERSHIP AND HIS TIME AT CHELSEA IN MOURINHO MATTERS