Is Jose Mourinho becoming the next Arsene Wenger? Is the special one about to become a specialist in failure? A bad week does not constitute a crisis, especially this early on in the season. However, there are a few signs that Mourinho is starting to share some remarkable similarities to the Arsenal boss, a thought that would undoubtedly keep Jose up at night.
They might not play the same style of football, or share the same outlook on life but both seem reluctant to move with the times. In his illuminating book Arsenal’s emergence as a super club, Alex Fynn waxes lyrically about how Arsene Wenger came in and revolutionised the North London giants in every way shape and form.
He transformed players diets, the way they trained and as far as the likes of Lee Dixon are concerned, extended ageing players careers by a number of years. Almost two decades later, what were once revolutionary approaches to diet and conditioning have seemingly become obsolete. Wenger finds himself with a squad constantly ravaged by injuries.
Wenger hasn’t moved with the times, so much so that footballing fitness guru Raymond Verheijen has been able to predict when and how his players will get injured. Wenger’s fixed fitness philosophy transcends itself into the tactics he deploys during games. Fynn explains how Wenger will only make substitutions based on the physical conditioning of a player rather than changing system. This goes a long way to explaining why he seems so reluctant to make a change when the game is crying out for one.
This may have worked in the 90’s when managers were still coming to terms with how best to use the three man bench, which was fairly novel at the time. Once again, times have changed. Substitutions are an art form (one that Mourinho is particularly adept at), and Wenger hasn’t moved with the times.
So how does this apply to Mourinho, the ultimate pragmatist that will win by any means possible. Well for starters, both are guilty of allowing their backroom staff to become stale. Where Ferguson would refresh his coaching team every few years, Mourinho and Wenger have both kept the same coaches for extended periods of time. While loyalty shouldn’t be shunned, there is an argument for bringing in people who will challenge your ideas and breathe new life into your philosophy.
Patrick Viera is the perfect example of a man who could’ve potentially refreshed Wenger’s perspective. Yet he allowed him to move on to Man City, where he has been nurtured in a number of roles. Likewise, Mourinho seems to have sat in his ivory tower with his eye gouging goonies for far too long. Both are guilty of a stubbornness that appears to be to their detriment.
This isn’t to say that Mourinho and Wenger are failures, of course they aren’t. These are two of the greatest managers of the modern era. They are undoubtedly both genius’s in their own right. The trouble with genius is that it walks a fine line with madness. Both may have drunk from their own kool-aid one to many times.
Alex Fynn points out how Wenger’s tactical philosophy is to provide the players with a stage from which they can perform. He trusts whole heartedly in their talent and footballing intelligence. This freedom of expression gave us the invincible’s, and allows truly gifted and well coached players to thrive. Fàbregas, Özil, Santi Corzola and even Olivier Giroud are examples of well coached footballers who have embraced the freedom and belief intstilled by Wenger.
On the flip-side, some players need handholding and specific instructions. Theo Walcott, Oxlade Chamberlaine and Aaron Ramsey could arguably all benefit from a less free flowing plan. In a previous article, we discussed how Aaron Ramsey’s performances for Wales in the Euro’s were a world away from his unusual and erratic displays for Arsenal. Maybe the beneficiary of some more specific instructions?
As Thierry Henry explained last season, Guardiola allows you to do what you want in the final third, but everything up to that point is part of a meticulous chess like plan (the three P’s). Any deviation will result in your substitution even if you score as a result of your defiance.
The Premiership isn’t quite the Neanderthal league it once was, and Wenger fails to demonstrate any kind of flexibility with his philosophy. Domestically, finding himself stifled by lesser opposition, while in Europe his team often succumb to the might of a Barcelona or Bayern as the result of trying to go toe to toe with a heavier puncher.
Mourinho has a slightly different dilemma to that of Arsene Wenger. The modern era footballer doesn’t seem to respond as well to his bully boy tactics. While you may argue that it is the pampered players that need to toughen up, even the hair dryer blasting, boot kicking Ferguson admitted softening his approach with the new generation of footballers.
At Manchester United Mourihno finds himself in the perfect storm. His love for the reliable experienced player means that he is leaning upon a group who’s best years are way behind them. His reluctance to trust in young players means that the pool of undeniable talent are yet to be fully trusted. Luke Shaw is the latest example of his diststain for the inconsistency of youthful inexperience.
Mourinho finds himself at a crossroads. His experienced players past it, his young prospects ready but raw. This is the moment where we will see if Mourinho will adapt his game. You wouldn’t put it past the Portuguese pragmatist, especially if he wants to avoid parallels being drawn between himself and the man who he described as a specialist in failure.
This article was inspired by Jason Burt’s piece in the Telegraph earlier this week. While it highlighted the point that Mourinho may be passing his sell by date, the article attributes this to his age. There is a tendency in this country to write people off prematurely. This has generally applied to players, but as people start living longer you can imagine the trend will extend to the ageing managers of European football.
This unwarranted ageism is usually triggered by a players 30th birthday. We will then spend the next four or five solid years of their career pointlessly debating whether or not they are past it. Sometimes the players legs have gone, but quite often they still have so much to offer.
Jason Burnt suggests Mourinho’s demise is somehow related to being over 50. This throw away comment epitomises the anti-ageist sentiment floating around in football at present. But let’s not assume that such irrational drivel is somehow exclusive to the world of football.
We live in an ageist society, but society is changing and we must adjust our thinking. People are living longer, keeping fitter for longer, and as we all know working longer whether they want to or not. Passing your sell by date is not a sign of age, but mental agility. Are you willing to embrace change rather than batten down the hatches.
Will Mourinho reinvent himself like Fergie, or lock himself in an ivory tower like Wenger? One thing is for sure, the next few months will be fascinating.