Everybody gets tired after heavy exertion and in the end they were no different. 5live said they’d had enough of it. Print journalists said they’d had enough of it and so had many of us on the terraces.
Jose Mourinho’s cult of personality (who made it is arguable) seems to be waning. The man himself seemingly as tired of the world he helped engineer as those who (also arguably) willingly engaged in its construction.
5 live refused to discuss him on their “Teamtalk” section last night. The Times’s Matt Hughes irritation at having to even discuss the Portuguese was clear weeks ago on “The Game” Podcast. Manchester United struggle weekly as their flavourless football sets (and then mimics) the tone of the club.
About the man then. I’m happy to make the acknowledgment, as a Chelsea supporter, that Jose Mourinho is the greatest manager my club has ever had. Still. And yet, that was never going to be enough for him- because of the era that he helped instigate. As soon as he was calling himself A “Special One”, it was clear he was going to be in for special treatment. And initially it seemed an ingenious strategy that played to his best technical contributions to his teams.
When all is said and done, Mourinho’s force of personality was what drove his Chelsea, Inter and even Real Madrid teams to the trophies that they won. Why? Because the demands that he made of his teams would never have been followed by players who didn’t respect the man who gave them. Why would Eden Hazard track back? Why would Zlatan accept cold shouldering? Why would Luke Shaw remain reasonably tight lipped in some particularly controversial circumstances last season? Answer: a basic respect for the guy managing them and a trust in the fact that he knew what he was doing. Here was a guy who could make these people better footballers.
But you see, there was always going to come a time when football itself must be the lead actor in the show. Whether you argue that Mourinho courted attention or not, attention came to him (ironically through the efforts of more than a few of those attacking him now), there should have been more about the footballing world that had cast him centre stage. A press room should not have been the main attraction in a sport where the pitch is the place where things are settled.
Football’s obsession with personalities was always going to create the sort of culture that is scapegoated onto the person of Jose Mourinho. As the wider media looked to the individual and not the collective, the football media joined in.The focus on mind games, the showy gestures, the spin. All this was feted and encouraged as “box office”. Almost perversely given Mourinho’s insistence on the star placing his energies and abilities at the total service of the team.
However, in hanging on every quip, in celebrating every “special” rhetorical device, where consideration of the flipside? Was it any wonder that Mourinho’s weaknesses (and we all have those) would spill out via the same platform and with same force?
An irony arises from the similarity of the situation that both Mourinho and his media critics find themselves in. Ultimately both will need to return to the plan that they ought to have originally followed: focusing on the football.
A Manchester United side concentrated on the still staggering plethora of talent in its squad can surely be synthesised to better heights. Look at the talents: Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku, Marcus Rashford (and so many more). Surely their abilities, rather than their behaviours, are where the action is. Isn’t that the reason Mourinho got into management? To make players and teams better? Why throw it away for personal beef?
It’s hard not to see a similar dynamic emerging for those who report on these exploits. Even in the most aesthetically displeasing of games, the ball and players do a lot of things in and around an hour and a half. If the focus returns to that, there ought to be less time for football’s great actors to deviate from their main parts: to play, to manage and hopefully to entertain in so doing.
It was apparently 19th century polymath William Blake who said that, “the road to excess leads to the palace of wisdom”. For United fans and perhaps all the rest of us, it’s probably for the best if we reach that destination. When we realise it is located on the pitch rather than in the press conference.
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