Manchester United sacked Jose Mourinho recently after two and a half years in charge. It was reported that senior figures at the club were unhappy with a lack of progress in form, style of play and development of their younger players. The club felt they had sufficiently backed Mourinho with £358.7million in the transfer market on 11 players during his time in charge and that they expected a greater measure of progress within that time-frame.
He was relieved after a poor performance against Liverpool, where Liverpool had 36 attempts at goal to United's 11. United lay mid-table with a goal difference of 0 almost halfway through the 2018/2019 Premier League campaign. The United players were believed to have wanted a change of manager as far back as September 18 and were said to have felt very restricted with the rigidity of team structure imposed on them by Mourinho.
Some former players with a strong media presence (Roy Keane, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes) had questioned the lack of leadership within the playing staff and the souring of the relationship between manager and players.
Reports suggest that senior figures at Manchester United were concerned that Mourinho's ego was jeopardising the harmony at the club. He had stripped Paul Pogba of the second captain's role in September and after a recent team meeting, some players reported that they had gone beyond the tipping point in their relationship with Mourinho.
Incidentally, Manchester United replaced him with fan favourite Ole Gunnar Solskjaer who started his reign with seven comprehensive wins. After an initial 4-1 win against Bournemouth in Dec 2018, Paul Pogba was asked what has changed. He said that "a team needs to enjoy playing football and we are doing that now while working hard for each other to get results"
It isn't the first time that Mourinho's ego has been a cause of discussion around dismissal.
In 2015, Mourinho sat with an unshaven beard at Chelsea FC's Cobham training ground for the club’s annual Christmas meal just hours before he was sacked. He was in a disheveled state compared to the one we had come to know as the self proclaimed “special one”.
He had taken the club from the top of the pile as champions in May 2015 to relegation strugglers within 6 months. In other articles, we have discussed the importance of key characteristics of an effective coach. These scientifically validated characteristics are ones that a coach MUST maintain to get the most out of a group. They are as follows.
Inspirational Motivation (where leaders inspire followers with their vision for the future), He set the standards for those to follow.
Individual Consideration (where leaders show concern for followers individualistic needs),
Intellectual Stimulation (where leaders challenge followers to assess their methods and how to improve them).
High Performance Expectations (where leaders promote excellence and performance criteria for followers in the attainment of set goals)
Intellectual Stimulation (where coach challenges players to assess their methods and how to improve them)
*Fostering Acceptance of Group Goals* (where leaders incorporate followers in the devising of, accepting of and striving towards a common agreed goal),
*Appropriate Role Modelling* (where leaders lead by example in the way they conduct themselves and live their lives in the manner that they would like their followers to do).
Jose Mourinho has exuded charisma throughout his coaching career. This was always backed up with being ultra prepared. However, towards the end of his Chelsea reign, he sold commanding dressing room leaders in Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and Peter Cech, leaving the leadership qualities of the group diluted from the team that won the title the previous May.
In the leadership vacuum left behind, Mourinho's was the dominant voice! By all accounts there was little done to Foster Acceptance of Group Goals in a managerial climate where the coach's voice was the dominant one - there appeared only room for one true leader - the self proclaimed “special one”.
Throughout his successful years, Mourinho rarely had to work with a group of leaderless players. This is where he found himself at both Man United in 2018 and Chelsea in 2015 at the end of both reigns. One little discussed issue is that within the player leadership vacuum, his autocratic managerial style failed to empower his new recruits to have or develop those necessary leadership skills that he needed them to have.
Losing the dressing room and staff
Earlier in his final season at Chelsea, he dismissed a very respected member of staff - his doctor Eva Carneiro for entering the field of play to tend to Eden Hazard as he lay in pain on the ground. In the process he castigated her in the media for not fully understanding the intricacies and subtleties of the game – when she entered the pitch, the player had to leave the field of play and the opposition (Swansea) scored against 10 man Chelsea.
It wasn't just the doctor he fell out with either! At Chelsea, there were strong rumours of a bust up between him and another member of staff – his goalkeeping coach. After an injury and against the goalkeeping coach's best wishes, Mourinho apparently tried to fast-track the recovery of star goalkeeper Courtois over-ruling his professional opinion and undermining him in the process. Such a decision wouldn’t have sat well with other staff members especially in light of what had happened with the doctor.
That October (2015), Mourinho lashed some of his players when he suggested in the media that “rats” around the Blues camp had given away confidential team information – he had become obsessed with the fact a close contact from Porto (former club) knew of his plans to drop Cesc Fabregas before a recent Champions League game. As a result, he became guarded over how he set his team up during training, so that players were guessing over who would be starting games.
There were some public scoldings of his players too towards the end of his reign at Man United - none of which would have sat well with those he was trying to "manage".
There was the constant berating of referees and laying of blame at their hands for losses. He even suffered fines and touchline bans for such outbursts on a few occasions. His decisions, selections, tactics or behaviour could never be in question. He was the self proclaimed “special one”.
He always commanded his players respect. At the end of both reigns however, it appeared that he has lost the respect of the players and the performances have plummeted accordingly.
In contrast, a recent BBC documentary on ex Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson, “Secrets of Success”, revealed that that one of his primary objectives was that his players would be respectful to the club they played for – a behaviour he himself also espoused. Part of that revolved around being appropriately dressed when travelling away from home while representing the club – suit and tie.
However, a bigger part revolved around being humble to those they met in the football environment when away from home and around the environment at their Carrington training ground by greeting the cleaning and restaurant staff by their first name. In fact Alex Ferguson once said that he knew he had a player if he had the same manner and personality at 21 as he had at 16 when he left his mother. There would be no room for ego and this proved very wise as he became the greatest manager in the history of the British game. You never got the impression that Mourinho was cut from the same cloth.
Mourinho undoubtedly has certain qualities of a top coach with many from a football knowledge perspective. He may also be able to espouse a lot of the factors listed and may provide Inspirational Motivation and have the ability to set High Performance Expectations for players. However, his self portrayal as the all knowing, self obsessed “special one” that he portrayed himself as in the media may not have sat well with his players over the course of time. In short, for them, he wasn’t exactly an Appropriate Role Model.
Mourinho’s narcissistic personality and brash arrogance may make for good entertainment and media copy, but it is the antithesis of the grounded approach Ferguson brought that made Manchester one of the biggest and most successful clubs in the world.
It appears that the Man United and Chelsea players could no longer warm to his self obsessed manner and came to resent him more than respect him. His treatment of both players and staff in various instances would appear to accentuate this and he lost the group as a result. Unlike Alex Ferguson’s obsession with keeping both himself and his players as grounded as possible, Mourinho believed himself to be above all around him – players, staff and referees alike.
He was a long way from an appropriate role model and it appeared that his goal was more important than Fostering Acceptance of Group Goals. He fell down badly on the last two key characteristics and lost his coat in the process.
Keith Begley is an accredited performance psychology provider with the Irish Institute of Sport under the Professional Quality Assurance Programme (PQAP).
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Below is a comical song by comic mimic Mario Rosenstock on Jose Mourinho's managerial reign at Chelsea.
Performance psychologist - accredited with Irish Institute of Sport