There are very few football managers who master the dark arts of psychological warfare and even those who do can have their hard work undone by a poor performance or freak deflected goal. In his two stints in the Premier League Jose Mourinho has shown his worth when it comes to this craft, cleverly drawing media and press attention onto himself in times of defeat or a bad run of results. As journalists fall over themselves to lap up Jose’s flippant, often contradictory, headline grabbing comments, far less is written about potential frailties within his team.
Sunday’s community shield provided a prime example of this. Whilst the season’s curtain raiser is usually taken with a pinch of salt, it must be pointed out that Chelsea looked a shadow of the side that made the procession to the Premier League crown last term look embarrassingly comfortable. Instead of the majority of journalists pointing this out far more was written about handshakes (or the lack there of) and post match press conferences. Ordinarily after a performance as laboured as Chelsea’s on Sunday the press would be dissecting the club’s decision to bring the players back from their holiday late and have only a very short pre-season. Instead in the minutes, hours and days afterwards the papers, radio and tv news reporters are still trying to fathom what Jose meant by the backhanded compliments and handshakes delivered to the Arsenal team post match. As if all that wasn’t enough Mourinho pulled out his trump card and threw his runners up medal to a young Arsenal fan as he made his way down the Wembley tunnel. You would think that managers across the world would take note, especially those for whom Jose has worked under.
There are very few clubs in the world who come under the sort of scrutiny and press attention that Manchester United do which was surely a contributing factor in the dismissal of David Moyes in April of 2014. Louis Van Gaal has managed some of the world’s finest clubs and as a result is used to the focus being attributed to his place of work although at times you wouldn’t know it. At the end of what was a spluttering and ‘bare minimum’ sort of season for United last year Louis Van Gaal celebrated with one too many at the end of season party and whilst many found his long (and at times incomprehensible speech) funny there were plenty of fans embarrassed by it.
His press conferences at times have served to do the exact opposite of what Mourinho achieves with consummate ease. Whilst he gets people talking, too much of that focus is on specific players or units within the team. At the start of last season his famous ‘philosophy’ had the defence at sixes and sevens when all that was really needed was a settled back four. Injuries played their part in the side’s slow start to the season but the added pressure of being singled out in LVG’s pressers can’t have helped some of the players.
Usually when a new star name is brought into a club there are afforded a little time to settle and the odd mediocre pre-season performance can be forgiven. Not for Van Gaal who told the world’s press that Bastian Schweinsteiger had ‘played bad’ in what was only his second 45 minutes of football for his new club. Criticism before the season has even started and with that comes pressure. Not for the first time a player had been singled out for not doing exactly as LVG would have liked. Last season most defeats or disappointing results were blamed on the players inability to buy into his philosophy and as a result several popular players have been put out to pasture and moved on from the club.
If Manchester United’s players are to win trophies this season they will have to do so under intense scrutiny not only from the country’s journalists but their manager too. Other teams and managers will have their say too in the coming season but in the end it might come down to ‘the special one’ versus ‘the Philosophy’ where surely there can only be one winner.