Jose Mourinho has picked fights throughout his trophy-laden coaching career, typically against football authorities, match officials, the media and opposing managers.
Now, he’s increasingly taking on his own players.
The joyless, turbulent opening months of his tenure at Manchester United have been pock-marked with public outbursts against the team in general but also against specific individuals.
England defender Luke Shaw has taken the brunt of it.
Six weeks ago, Mourinho was openly critical of Shaw’s defensive work in United’s 3-1 loss to Watford in the Premier League. On Sunday, Shaw was one of two players the other being Chris Smalling criticized by Mourinho for failing to play through the pain for a league game against Swansea.
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“There is a difference,” Mourinho said, “between the brave, who want to be there at any cost, and the ones for whom a little pain can make a difference.”
Usually, the Portuguese coach makes such comments after a loss or poor performance, using them as a kind of diversionary tactic in classic Mourinho style. Except on this occasion, United had just won 3-1, meaning the remarks in some respects sabotaged what had been an important win for the club after a recent run of poor form. Also, Shaw was a strange target, given the left back missed most of last season because of a broken leg and has felt discomfort since.
There are other examples of Mourinho’s attacks. After United’s 2-1 loss to Manchester City in the derby at Old Trafford on Sept. 10, Mourinho was openly critical of the displays of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Jesse Lingard, who were substituted at halftime. He also said his center backs, Daley Blind and Eric Bailly, appeared to be “trying to do what I told (them) not to do.”
Some will argue that there is little wrong with a manager pointing out a player’s mistake, that the pampered modern-day player needs to have a thicker skin. Yet, a coach rarely goes down that route, at least in public.
Even Alex Ferguson, United’s often-volatile managerial great, would protect individual players from criticism at all costs.
“I could criticize my team publicly,” Ferguson said in his recent autobiography, “but I could never castigate an individual after the game to the media. The supporters were entitled to know when I was unhappy with a performance. But not an individual.”
Mourinho used to abide by this unwritten managerial code.
Frank Lampard, one of Mourinho’s disciples from his two spells at Chelsea, explained in 2013 how the Portuguese coach used his outbursts in the media to create a storm deliberately.
“But he does protect his players,” Lampard said.
Nowadays, it seems he does it to protect himself.
Before the win at Swansea, United was eighth in the 20-team Premier League and had slipped to third place in its Europa League group following Thursday’s 2-1 loss at Fenerbahce, after which Mourinho attacked his players’ “global attitude” and accused them of being “fragile.” This is United, the record 20-time champion of England which spent about 150 million pounds (about $185 million) on new players in the recent transfer window.
Things aren’t going to plan for Mourinho he still, for example, doesn’t appear to know his best team _ and it’s showing in his unraveling of his personal discipline.
He was recently charged twice by the English Football Association, for commenting about a referee before a game and then verbally abusing a match official at halftime of a game. The latter offense meant he had to watch United’s victory at Swansea in the director’s box rather than the dugout.
He has repeatedly railed at the “Einsteins” in the media world who have been critical of his lineup selections and his team’s displays.
He even said in an interview with British broadcaster Sky Sports last month that his living situation _ he currently is staying in a Manchester hotel “is a bit of a disaster.”
It’s the personal attacks so early his United tenure that stick out, though, and it’s a worrying echo of the final days of his most recent job. His second stint at Chelsea ended sourly in December 2015, when he was fired days after saying his players had “betrayed” his work by defending so poorly in a 2-1 loss at Leicester.
Chelsea said there had been a “palpable discord between manager and players.”
It could be heading the same way at United.