Is Mourinho a Man Out of His Time?

Jose Mourinho

Mourinho’s time at Old Trafford was heavily laced with accusations the modern game – in the shape of managers such as Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola, and Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool – had left the 55-year-old Portuguese behind.

And games in opposition to Guardiola and Klopp that are fresh in the memory intensify the image Mourinho, once the trailblazer, is light years behind the modernisers.

Guardiola’s City outclassed their neighbours two months ago and it was symbolic that the sight of United cowering as Klopp’s Liverpool blew them away at Anfield on Sunday was the final straw.

The intense, attacking, easy-on-the-eye approaches of Guardiola, Klopp, and Mauricio Pochettino at Tottenham have been used as sticks to beat what is regarded as Mourinho’s more pragmatic strategy.

In Mourinho’s defence, it should be stated he won more trophies in his first season at United (the League Cup and the Europa League) than Klopp or Pochettino have in their whole time at Liverpool and Spurs – indeed they are still waiting for their first trophies in England.

Football’s landscape moves swiftly, however, and while that trio are fresh and innovative, Mourinho has cut a tired, careworn, negative figure out of touch with their vibrant approach.

So is it fair to say he is now yesterday’s man?

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Mark Schwarzer joined Chelsea a month after Mourinho returned for his second spell in 2013 and spent two years working under him during which they won the Premier League.

The former Australia goalkeeper told BBC Sport: “Yesterday’s man? Not at all. He is still very relevant no matter what has happened at United, and his methods are modern in his training and approach to tactics.

“People talk about his style compared to the likes of Klopp and Guardiola but everyone has a different interpretation on how football should be played. If everyone played the same way as Klopp or Guardiola’s teams I think it would be pretty boring after a while with everyone doing the same thing.

“This is what makes football so appealing. There is such a variety of styles, and just because one manager employs a different style to another doesn’t make them outdated or yesterday’s man.”

That support is in contrast to some players under his charge in recent years who, while privately accepting he always had a plan and was tactically meticulous, often felt he leaned too heavily towards the defensive aspects.

Schwarzer added: “You can argue all day long, and if you are one of those people in the camp who say the way the modern game is going it is all about the way Manchester City and Liverpool play then they might say he is past it and his methods are old.

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“I don’t agree. I am a firm believer there are a variety of ways you can play football. Yes, one is more appealing on the eye than the other but ultimately it is about delivering results, performances and trophies.

“This is how you are judged and he has won trophies everywhere he has been, including Manchester United.”

South African striker Benni McCarthy, who played in Mourinho’s Porto team that won the Champions League in 2004, agrees.

He told BBC Sport: “I don’t think you become outdated all of a sudden. I just think it is down to the players not applying what the manager’s expecting from them.

“Mourinho is still one of the best in the world. He has not become a bad manager overnight.”

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The narrative surrounding Mourinho’s decline at both Chelsea and United has involved friction – and often friction with star players.

Michael Emenalo, Chelsea’s technical director when Mourinho was sacked in December 2015, lifted the lid on problems behind the scenes when he said: “There obviously seemed to be a palpable discord between manager and players and we felt it was time to act.”

Mourinho’s dealings with Chelsea forward Eden Hazard were often seen as one of the difficulties there, and the manager’s relationship with midfielder Paul Pogba has provided a constant backdrop to the unrest at Old Trafford.

The sight of Mourinho’s £89m marquee signing sitting forlornly behind him at Anfield – unused and seemingly not to be trusted in the sort of game that shapes United’s great players – could almost be used as an image to illustrate the manager’s downfall.

It is believed Mourinho’s relationship with Hazard collapsed during his third season at Stamford Bridge after Chelsea regained the Premier League title – the Belgian’s sunny, humble nature at odds with the ‘win-at-all-costs’ pragmatism of his manager, who was prepared to – as one insider put it – “get nasty” to get results.