Bloody hell. It’s been the best part of six months since I updated this blog. I really ought to sort my shit out.
If not for the 23-strong Facebook following. You guys have been starved of some decent football writing for six months. Poor bastards.
Anyway, blog post. About football. Sound. Here goes.
He’s struggling a bit, isn’t he? Who’d of thought that? The Portuguese has an incredible pedigree; one that barely any manager in today’s game can come close to.
Porto, Chelsea, Inter, Real Madrid – all, a few tempestuous moments apart, big successes with a lot of trophies to show for.
But recently the Jose effect has waned. Chelsea’s defence of their Premier League title last season was pitiful at best. Chelsea’s renaissance under new boss Antonio Conte demonstrates that the players certainly weren’t all bad (indeed, the majority of the group still make-up a large part of the title winning side of 14/15).
Equally, though, Mourinho’s floundering end to his second spell as Chelsea manager has showed signs of flaring up again at Manchester United. And that wasn’t meant to happen. Not with how Jose usually makes a mark on new clubs. Not after signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba.
It got me thinking, are Mourinho’s methods starting to become outdated? Has the master stifler, destroyer and defensive pragmatist been found out?
Sure, it’s still early at United and his abrupt exit at Chelsea isn’t out of character with Mourinho’s history of dressing room self-destruct towards the end of his tenures.
But if you look at the wider football landscape, it does become quite apparent at how favored open, expansive styles of football have become.
Liverpool, initially under Brendan Rodgers and more recently with Jurgen Klopp, have transitioned into a team obsessed with free-flowing, high-energy attacking football with what seems like a care-free approach to defending.
Pep Guardiola, the inspiration behind Barcelona’s revival as a possession-orientated and dominant attacking force, was brought in by Manchester City to help bring similar success.
Arsenal are, well, Arsenal and have always been more attack-minded under the leadership of Arsene Wenger while even Conte (refer to stereotype about Italian’s being particularly defensive) has lined up Chelsea in a very forward-thinking line-up of late, allowing for the creative talents of Eden Hazard, Pedro and Diego Costa to flourish.
The trend runs deeper too. Stoke City are a good example, having abandoned their overtly-physical approach in recent years with the acquisitions of Xherdan Shaqiri, Marko Arnautovic, Bojan Krkic and (who can forget?) Joe Allen.
Mourinho, and the style of football he represents is ultimately winning football – but winning with organisation, with tactical discipline and defensive security. An approach with less risk and more security.
Hey, let’s not forget he won a European Cup playing Samuel Eto’o as a right back*.
*Yes, slight exaggeration you killjoys.
This type of football has proved an effective method of winning titles; particularly since Mourinho rose to prominence after winning the 2003 Uefa Cup with Porto.
Greece won Euro 2004 with – and let’s be a honest – a shit team playing defensive football. Meanwhile, Mourinho’s pragmatism brought him a Champions League with Porto in 2004. AC Milan and Liverpool, despite that mental game, made the final of the 2005 Champions League with highly-organised and regimented teams.
The 2006 World Cup went to Italy (insert another Italian stereotype here). Even Arsenal stopped being Arsenal for a while and kept six clean sheets out of six in the knockout stages of the 05/06 Champions League to reach the final. And then Liverpool-Milan contested again in 2007.
The English domestic game was similarly awash with tightly-fought contests between the top sides with plenty of 0-0 and 1-0s. Entertainment was certainly not the primary objective; almost an after-thought.
This is a stark contrast to the madness we’ve encountered in the last couple of seasons were goals have been aplenty in the “top-tier” contests while the standard of defending has been ridiculed. Liverpool’s opening day 4-3 win at Arsenal being a case in point.
But where has this fascination and desire for relentless attacking football appeared from?
Perhaps we need to look no further than Mourinho’s arch rival; Pep Guardiola. Pep – as well as the Spanish national team – are key contributors to the football we are now served on a weekly basis in the Premier League.
High defensive lines, playing out from the back, pressing the ball in packs, domination of possession; these are all hallmarks of the Barcelona and Spain sides that made such an imprint on the game following La Roja’s Euro 2008 triumph and Pep’s treble success in 2008/09.
The football proved to be attractive and effective – setting a new benchmark.
It certainly made a case that the two characteristics weren’t mutually exclusive with the success that both sides have enjoyed in the years since.
And when something works, it’s not long before the blueprint filters its way down the football pyramid and is copied, tweaked and adapted to suit.
You only have to look at the recent phenomenon that has engulfed the Premier League – teams deploying three central defenders. In recent weeks Chelsea, Tottenham, Everton, Southampton, West Ham and Manchester City have all experimented with varying degrees of success.
Mourinho, though, appears to be one manager who is determined to stick to his principles. His rigid 4-2-3-1 system remains his line-up of choice; even if that negates the enigmatic talents of Pogba in a deeper role.
Perhaps this is just one reason why Mourinho and his teams have struggled of late. His methods have proved exceptionally effective right from his early days at Porto but 2016 represents a different time for football.
Systems are more fluid; players are more flexible, offered greater creativity and license to attack (and that’s just the defenders).
Mourinho’s credentials mean it would be irrational to write him off. But the new wave of forward-thinking football does indicate that he may need to adapt his defensively-pragmatic style to become a regular trophy-winning manager once more.
See you in six months.