On maturity and responsibility

December 24, 2017 Tags: Opinion 9 comments
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“It is as bad as a defeat,” admitted José Mourinho after Leicester City scored a last-minute equaliser at the King Power Stadium on Saturday night. Manchester United created the best chances and spent 20 minutes with a man advantage, yet left the East Midlands feeling despondent. Two disastrous results inside three days will do that. As for José: he threw his players under the bus. Twice.

Last Wednesday Mourinho’s team left Bristol having suffered defeat to City in the League Cup following Korey Smith’s 93rd minute strike. Despite making 10 changes to the side that narrowly beat West Bromwich Albion last weekend, Mourinho named 10 full internationals in his starting line-up at Ashton Gate. Three more came off the bench and the 54-year-old coach might have expected more than Bristol’s 2-1 victory in the west country.

"For some of us it was just one more day in the office. Probably a day that some of them don’t even want to come to the office."José Mourinho

With it went United’s hopes of retaining the trophy won last season and perhaps any silverware this season. After all, the Reds will not win the Premier or Champions League titles, and the FA Cup remains a crap-shoot knockout tournament.

The reaction was predictable though. Mourinho turned on his players, not for the first time this season, claiming that his squad lacked both the physical and mental intensity required.

“For some of us it was just one more day in the office,” Mourinho noted. “Probably a day that some of them don’t even want to come to the office and for the Bristol boys was a big, big day for them.”

“You advise, advise, advise, but in the end the players are in a different level of intensity of motivation than the opponent, and sometimes this can happen. The reality is that the ones on the pitch were the ones who were not in the last match, and probably the ones who are not going to be in the next match.”

Harry Maguire

The Portuguese may well be right about the lack of mental preparedness. United gave a good impression of assuming that victory over the in-form Championship team was all but assured. It smacked of an ugly arrogance born of global status. Though what United’s manager did not admit was his part in the disaster. The very essence of his job is to motivate his players, especially against lesser teams for whom the game represents a season’s highlight. It is a description that covers so many of United’s fixtures.

True to his word, Mourinho dropped eight players for the trip to Leicester, yet the result was equally catastrophic and the performance just as chaotic.

United created and wasted chances in the west country and the pattern followed on Saturday night. Marcus Rashford, Romelu Lukaku and Jesse Lingard all missed clear-cut opportunities against Leicester, while the Englishman was denied a decent shout for a penalty.

Indeed, United’s eventual downfall was very much of the club’s own making. Leicester substitute Daniel Amartey was sent off with around 20 minutes remaining, leaving the visitors 2-1 to the good and in the ascendancy. Yet, as the clock ticked towards the conclusion, United’s players sank ever deeper, with Ander Herrera brought on to shore up a vulnerable back-four. It gave Leicester hope and belief despite Claud Puel’s team playing a man short.

Chris Smalling’s injury proved to be the pivotal moment though, with the Englishman playing out the last few minutes with what looked to be an uncomfortable groin strain. Leicester pressed despite the man disadvantage, and it was Smalling who was caught out of position when Harry Maguire side-footed home the injury-time equaliser.

“Sometimes you take a point and you accept it as it was hard to get a positive result. That is not the case. That is not the case,” Mourinho fumed in the aftermath.

“For the last two minutes the players had to immediately adapt, to read the game, which they didn’t. So we had childish decisions in front of goal and bad decisions as it was not just about the goals we missed, or dribbling or hitting the post. It was not just about missing chances with an open goal, it was also about decisions. Easy decisions.

“Some players have childish decisions and time helps them to have maturity and to decide better, but some other players stay with childish decision until the end of their career.”

Chris Smalling

Mourinho rarely tolerates the latter, and is abrasive with the former. True, Herrera failed to block Mark Albrighton’s’s right-footed punt from deep on Leicester’s left, Smalling was unable to deal with the cross, and Ashley Young at left-back did nothing about covering the far post. Poor decisions all.

Up front, Lingard’s inexplicable second half miss with only the goalkeeper to beat echoed a time earlier in the winger’s career when inconsistent finishing threaten to stall the 24-year-old’s progress. In more recent times Lingard has been far more consistent, though, both in his performances and in front of goal.

Rashford, too, will question his decision-making after Leicester. In particular, the forward’s choice to delay and then play a through-ball towards Lukaku late in the game, when running the ball into the corner might have been the mature choice. The forward had earlier attempted to take on the Leicester ‘keeper Kasper Schmeichel when a square ball to Lukaku would surely have resulted in a decisive goal.

"I am constant as the northern star,
Of whose true-fix’d and resting quality
There is no fellow in the firmament."Julius Caesar (III, i, 60 – 62)

Yet, Rashford is not the only United player unable or unwilling to show leadership on the pitch and take control of in-game situations. It is almost as if Mourinho’s players are too afraid to take a lead lest the manager take public issue or send somebody into exile with the reserves. Automatons bound to follow the manager’s every whim.

The worst decision, however, might have been taken by whomever allowed Smalling to remain on the pitch so late in the game, or at least in an area of such defensive vulnerability. That, presumably, was the same manager who once mocked Luke Shaw for limping out of a game against Swansea City with what proved to be a serious injury.

It is not as if Smalling’s state was a secret’ the player spent some time holding the inside of his left thigh, having broken down in the United area, leaving few in any doubt about the defender’s ability to effectively complete the game. As Albrighton’s deep, almost straight ball, reached the United box it floated over Smalling who was unable to get off the ground and was two yards the wrong side of Maguire. The clearance should have been routine.

Jose Mourinho

Amid Mourinho’s rage at his players this week, the Portuguese has taken little responsibility for his part in what may prove to be two pivotal results. Nor has he after other defeats, including the meek performances against Manchester City and Chelsea this winter.

It is, after all, fundamental to the managerial role to both motivate his players and make key in-game changes, pick the right substitutions and manage the workload. In two games this week both Mourinho and his players have been found wanting. Only one party has faced the manager’s ire.

It is this hubris that may one-day be his undoing at United. We have seen this film before. Mourinho is never constant as the northern star. The ending was unpleasant at both Chelsea and Real Madrid.

Meanwhile, the Reds have tough fixtures against Burnley, Everton and Southampton to complete the festive programme. There are few guarantees that Mourinho’s team will respond. Nor the manager change his approach as we welcome 2018.


Tony Carroll - December 24, 2017 Reply

I think he should go. He seems to have put a gloom over the club. Potentially great players like Rashford Martial and Shaw are being held back. De Gea is still being overworked. Theres a great panel of players there but they need to be let off the leash

subterranean steve - December 25, 2017 Reply

I know that Christmas is traditionally a time for giving to others, but did we really have to hand Bristol City and Leicester City their pressies so neatly gift wrapped?

Billy - December 26, 2017 Reply

Nailed it. You just don’t motivate players by using the language he did. Same applies for anyone at their place of work. Imagine if your boss spoke to the mass media and described your performance like that. He is creating fractions in the dressing room, you win and lose together. I’d get Ancelotti in if things continue like this. Buying players isn’t the answer. You can’t keep on buying the next 35-40 mill every time you lose. We’ve done that over the last 4 seasons.

Muzo - December 27, 2017 Reply

great piece, Ed!

For me, Mourinho will forever be a failure because of his inability to bring out the best from his players. We have an amazing squad, and the players United have lend themselves to ultra attacking football.

When you have cowardly, cautious tactics and mentally it inhibits the players. No matter what the numbers say and whoever is playing, United always look shaky. So why attract more pressure to the back allowing teams possession and chances.

Yes, Pep has spent more but everyone in his team are playing better because of the encouraging, progressive, proactive and attacking mentally Pep instills in them.
Remember last season, Pep said, “these guys don’t know how good they are.”

Contrast that with coward-bully Mourinho. There are so many examples of Mourinho PUBLICLY berating players.

Mkhitaryan, Shaw, Herrera, Martial, Pereira, Wilson……wasted Talent at United. Just wasted

Please no more - December 27, 2017 Reply

So true Muzo.
I have no joy watching them, no joy looking at our manager.
Our status, our history and our identity flushed down the drain together with £500mln. Club is worse than before even with better players.
I do hope we fall out of top four. It is the only hope to get rid of mourinho and woodworm.
I would rather watch Wilson and Pereira play 120% than Pogba at 65%

Billy Shears - December 28, 2017 Reply

Spending more money isn’t the answer. United has squandered hundreds of millions since Fergie left. Van Gaal wasted plenty and Mourinho has done the same. Look at the defence.

Van Gaal let centre-backs Michael Keane and Jonny Evans leave the club. Then he and, subsequently, Mourinho brought in six new defenders: Bailly, Blind, Rojo, Darmian, Shaw and Lindelof. Yet United’s current backline is likely to include Smalling, Jones, Valencia and Young. All of them Ferguson signings.

That’s just the defence. It’s not hard to find similar wastage of talent and money further upfield.

Denton Davey - December 28, 2017 Reply

Lots of negativity directed at Jo$e but let’s take a closer look at the “S goals” that TheLads have given up recently:

Both of ManShitty’s goals;
Both of Leicester’s goals;
One of Burnley’s goals – the other was a fantastic free-kick that came after a very questionable foul given against RockyRojo.

It’s pretty obvious that Lukaku was at fault for “defending” one of the ManShitty goals and also for his “defending” the free kick that resulted in Burnley’s first goal. The first goal by Leicester (Vardy) was simply a clusterfuck; their second goal resulted from a collective bout of amateurism by UTD’s defenders.

For the life of me, I have been impressed by Jo$e’s “restraint” in his post-match comments regarding these appalling defensive lapses which have not only undermined UTD’s chance of threatening their cross-town rivals but have also thrown TheLads back into a ruckus for second/third/fourth/fifth/sixth place.

By my count, that’s five points that were simply thrown away – one point against ManShitty (who also collected two more for their victory @ Old Trafford) and two points from the draws with Leicester/Burnley.

Of course, shit happens BUT these “S goals” have been really, really, really shitty. For a team that is set up to defend to give up these five goals is just about unpardonable and I don’t think that the manager is to blame for these unforced errors.

Perhaps a case can be made that the Leicester equalizer (by Harry Maguire) was the result of poor organization by the manager but from what I’ve read the manager’s instructions – and MrJones’ attempt to implement them – were countermanded by Ander Herrera which left a clearly impaired BigManSmalling completely vulnerable and without any aid/assistance from DDG who (again !) was passive when he needed to command the box.

The same criticism could be made of DDG with regard to the first Leicester goal when he passively waited on the line instead of pro-actively sensing danger and acting to challenge Vardy for the ball.

DDG is a great shot-stopper but he’s clearly inferior to his predecessors – Schmeichel and Van der Saar – in commanding his box. His passive timidity in that regard seems to transmit uncertainty to the guys ahead of him who clearly are NOT confident that he has their backs.

This notion that Mourinho is a “bully coward” or “coward bully” is ludicrous – these players are supposed to be top-flight professionals and it’s just impossible for me to defend them when/if they’re being singled-out because they have NOT done their job. In fact, I would suggest that rather than mentally inhibiting the players, Jo$e has been far too polite in glossing-over their atrocious mistakes/mental errors.

Andre Josè - December 30, 2017 Reply

The players have been awful..and Mourinho and his tactics have been awful….very well below Par performance against Soton,,completely no rhythm nor style of play..I don’t understand why a team would keep swinging in crosses over and over again with neither Lukaku,Zlatan or Fellaini on the pitch….absolutely senseless play..Shaw seemed hellbent on just crossing the ball. ..We should be performing way Better..with the quality we have
…when you have miki,mata,lingard,pogba, & rashford on the pitch surely swinging in crosses into the box isn’t the best style of play with these guys….Mourinho should see that and if he doesn’t I’d expect the players of a big club like Manchester United to be brave and bold and take Chances with a style of play that will bring goals….. if you win the game 3-0 with a bit more creativre direct style football not even Mourinho will complain about why you ignored his negative defensive type of football….

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