By Louis Gibbon
“They showed more desire, more ambition, more motivation. In this case, the fault is of the coach.” Antonio Conte’s reflection after Chelsea’s 2-0 defeat at Old Trafford on Easter Sunday. A refreshing response. The Italian could have blamed the handball in the lead up to the first goal, he could have even blamed it on his players, say that Hazard lacked the ‘footballing brain’ for not drifting wide to escape Herrera. But, no instead he took full responsibility, moved on and his side are flying again.
This is quite the contrast to the man in the opposite dugout, undoubtedly a United loss would have been attributed to fixture congestion, a piling injury list, Luke Shaw or in Mourinho’s latest revelation, the fans.
The relentless ‘blame game’ from the Portuguese manager is becoming somewhat tiresome, and goes to show just how open the scars still are from his last year at Stamford Bridge. In Chelsea’s fall from grace in 2015, Mourinho stood by his players, diverted responsibility for big defeats away from them going as far as to blame the club doctor for a 2-2 draw at home to Swansea. Consequently, he was left feeling stabbed in the back when it was those players whose poor performances led to his sacking in December.
United currently sit fifteen points behind league leaders Chelsea and are left battling for top four, or a Europa league win in the concluding weeks of the season. An immense failure, considering United’s spend and calibre of players, and yet Mourinho’s constant divergences has allowed it to go somewhat unnoticed. After countless tame home draws, for instance, the tabloids are usually discussing his post-match press conference comments about Luke Shaw, endless referring decisions, and generally how unfair it all is on Mourinho, rather than addressing his underachievement.
A prime example was last Sunday when after getting outplayed by Swansea at Old Trafford, and only getting a point due to an appalling Marcus Rashford dive, Mourinho took a new angle, today it was time to turn on the fans. He claimed they could have done more to get his side over the line. Alternatively, having spent £200 million in the summer, Jose should be able to get his own side over the line at home to relegation strugglers. But this is the tactic Mourinho has adopted, blame everyone but yourself.
Sunday’s events also saw two more defenders limp off, adding to United’s injury crisis, Eric Bailly and Luke Shaw both had to be withdrawn leaving Mourinho fielding a back four of only full backs. The manner with which he has responded to these injuries was quite typical, saying “I think Luke Shaw’s must be a big injury, because to leave the pitch after nine minutes, I am expecting a very big injury.” It would be naïve to interpret these comments as anything other than sly and manipulative, essentially having yet another pop at the Englishman. There is no doubt that such comments would not have been made in response to an injury to a senior player like Ibrahimovic or Rooney.
These next few weeks are crucial for United. If they are not in the Champions league next year, this season will have been an abject failure, and Mourinho’s job should be being called into question. You can blame injuries, the quality of opposition goalkeepers, your own players, but ultimately Mourinho will have achieved the same amount as Van Gaal and Moyes in their first seasons, having spent far more money.
It is far easier for the press and fans to go after managers like Wenger, who maintain integrity in defeat, but in doing so we are letting Mourinho’s blame game win. In focusing on the endless nonsense, he brings up after games, we ignore the overriding issue that Mourinho has failed massively at United so far. He looks a shadow of the manager who arrived in the Premier League thirteen years ago, and if he fails to turn draws into wins, he risks losing the patience of his players, the fans and ultimately the board.
Photograph: Flickr (Aleksandr Osipov)