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The End of the Mourinho Aura, & can his Manchester United still win the Premier League this season?
A lot happens in 12 months……
This time last year Mourinho was out of work after been unceremoniously sacked by Chelsea before Christmas. As they languished above the relegation zone in the Premier League.
In what is clearly a results game, his players had almost certainly let him down.
Players of Costa’s, Fabregas, and Hazard’s quality had disappeared in such a strange and peculiar fashion that it felt like the ultimate act of betrayal.
The dressing room and player mutiny seems all the more evident when you see how well they are now performing a year on.
Mourinho must feel sick to his stomach when he looks at the top of the league table.
Of course the seeds of it lay in their disjointed and badly prepared pre-season a year and a half ago. While also taking into account that Mourinho was unhappy with the lack transfer activity due to the lack of funds available during that same period.
Then throw into the mix, the treatment he dished out to the club doctor – Eva Carneiro – on the opening Premier League fixture. She ended up quitting the club shortly after the incident.
It seems that the wheels had already come off before the campaign started.
Some of the players, on that afternoon, I think lost all respect for Mourinho. And probably rightly so, he had clearly humiliated the Club Doctor in front of thousands, and on live TV.
He then subsequently failed to apologise to her publicly.
Of course, football is a results game, and Mourinho’s head is on the chopping board when it goes all goes pear shaped.
But you need to conduct yourself with a degree of integrity and responsibility when you are such a public figure.
For me what happened last season at Chelsea with Mourinho raised a few questions and observations.
The Aura of the Special One
One of Mourinho’s biggest strengths early on in his management career was man management. Getting the most out of his player’s talents.
He was able to instil in them a superior sense of belief. That they were unbeatable, that they were world class.
He could make them feel that they could walk on water and achieve anything. Just ask Frank Lampard, or Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
I remember Mourinho claiming that Ibrahimovic was the best player in the world when he played for him at Inter Milan. When he clearly wasn’t. But it certainly wouldn’t have done Ibrahimovic any harm.
Mourinho was good at instilling a siege mentality in his teams. They were hard to beat, and they would fight for each other.
The Porto’s, the (first) Chelsea, the Inter Milan’s. These teams were hard to play against, hard to beat. And Mourinho had an impeccable home record with all of them.
He then went on the Real Madrid, and to be fair, managed to beat the best Barcelona team that the world has ever seen to one league title.
He also managed to get his Real Madrid team to 2 consecutive Champions League Semi-Finals.
Cracks start to appear
But what’s interesting is that the cracks of the special ones aura started to appear in his last season with Real Madrid.
There was unrest within the squad. It was becoming clear that Mourinho and Casillas were no longer seeing eye to eye in his last season there. Mourinho was annoyed with him for approaching Xavi and Puyol of Barcelona.
Casillas did so to try and make the peace with them after a few bad tempered El Classicos.
Due to this Mourinho felt he had betrayed him and the team, and the 2 did not speak for Mourinho’s last season in charge.
However Casillas’s popularity and status within the team was held in high esteem. He was after all a World Cup & European Cup Winner (twice), and Champions League Winner (twice at the time).
It was suggested that other senior players such as Sergio Ramos sided with their close colleague – Casillas.
For the first time, Mourinho had lost the dressing room. For probably the first time in his career he did not have all of his players singing from the same hymn sheet.
Not much was made of this at the time, as it only really became evident toward the end of his last season before departing to Chelsea.
His planned departure may also have been a factor of the unrest within the squad. As there is no doubt it would have created an atmosphere of instability and indiscipline.
But Mourinho must have left Real Madrid thinking that his aura had been broken. And once it happens once, it can happen again……
I remember him when he first arrived back at Stamford Bridge to his heralded homecoming. And at the time, he seemed somewhat morose and distant, and felt saddened.
I wondered at the time was this because, for the first time in his managerial reign since Porto, he had not left his previous club entirely on his own terms?
While also leaving a lingering piece of self-doubt in his mind, he was no longer as invincible as he first thought.
After all, Mourinho was never even a professional football player. Never mind playing at the highest level, unlike Guardiola, and many other top level coaches / managers.
Some players may have used this against him. Or at the very least, not having sufficient respect for him for not having any experience of playing at that level.
Return of the King
He returned to his first love Chelsea with a much loved and heralded home coming.
He then went about building, and tweaking his team to create a Premier League winning team in only his second season back.
It took him under 2 years to bring them back to their former glory they had been accustomed to under him in his first reign – Premier League Champions.
Some achievement when you take into consideration it’s the most competitive major football league in the world.
The Wheels come off
But then, on their return the following season, to defend their Premier League title, the wheels came off, spectacularly.
Mourinho, was unhappy with the pre-season preparation. Restricted funds for transfers and was unable to make a few signings before the new season – such as John Stones. He then went and lost the plot with the Club Doctor on the opening day and completely mis-managed the aftermath.
It was clear in the weeks and months that followed that he lost his players and dressing room. That they had no wish, desire or drive to continue to play under him.
Ivanovic, along with Costa seemed to be 2 of the more obvious instigators, while Fabregas seemed to just slither along under the radar.
This must have clearly hurt Mourinho, both personally and professionally.
It was the first time that he had been clearly let down by his players publicly by of way of their performances. And most probably privately also.
It must also have left some deep scars to his own self-belief and ego, in how he so quickly and easily lost all of the discipline within his squad.
For me at least, for the first time in his life he handled the whole debacle when he was fired with a real sense of humility and decency.
He didn’t turn around and take a swipe at anyone. Nor did he try and hold anyone else accountable other than himself. He left his post with an eerie sense of silence, and integrity, which seemed to surprise a lot of people.
The Chelsea fans were not so forgiving to the players at the time, and rightly so, claiming they had betrayed Mourinho.
Which when you look at the current league position they clearly had.
Maybe Conte is what this current crop of Chelsea players need. A man that is a disciplinarian and physcopath moulded into one. Somebody that commands respect, and fear.
They probably looked at Mourinho as a bit of a soft touch.
Mourinho’s Dream Job
So maybe it wasn’t that bad for Mourinho in the end. He gets fired from his adopted home, and ends up in the dream job he had always wanted.
If there is one club, and fans, that Mourinho has always admired and a job that he has always coveted. It was Manchester United.
It’s early days yet as to how it will go for Mourinho, but the initial signs are good.
Firstly, for the first time he is in a high profile management position, where he has a degree of control and freedom. While also having access to huge transfer funds to sign who he feels is necessary to bring then back to the Top.
Pogba, a case in point, where Manchester United literally bent over backwards to get Mourinho their man.
The only compromise Mourinho has to make, is that he has to bring a more attacking style of play to his teams. In keeping with the Manchester United philosophy and identity.
As obnoxious as Van Gaal was, he has definitely laid the footprint there for Mourinho to follow. As some of his signings look to have been good acquisitions.
After a patchy enough start this season, they seem to be settling into their stride now.
I know nobody is talking about them as title contenders. But if Chelsea start to slip up and drop enough points I expect Manchester United to go all the way and win the Premier League this season. At time of writing (14th of January), Manchester United trail them by 13 points with a game in hand.
I think the other teams above Manchester United (other than Chelsea), Spurs, Arsenal, Liverpool, and Man City are all too unstable, too unpredictable. As a result, for me they will all drop a lot of points in the coming months.
I don’t think Man United will though. I think they found a way to play now and a winning formula, and I expect them to gather a lot of points between now and the end of the season.
That said, it’s Chelsea to lose.