“Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command.”
Ozymandius is often referred to as one of Percy Bysshe Shelly’s greatest works. In the poem, the poet speaks of how Ozymandius, the legendary emperor intoxicated by his wealth and a false sense of immortality had built a colossal statue of himself. He thought that the structure would live on for ages and people would come and bow down to his greatness.
However, the arrogant ruler had forgotten that nothing lasts in front of time. Thus, a weary traveler passing through the desert now finds a broken structure, with the bust of the king now lying at his feet and with not a single person in sight to pay homage to the now-forgotten monarch.
Through the verse, the bard wants us to remember that there is no permanence in this world and everything will pass. Football is no different when it comes to this universal rule, and it seems it is time that Jose Mourinho, one of modern football’s greatest managers accepts it.
The current Manchester United manager has a long and illustrious history of his time in the game. He has won two Champions League titles, one with the little-fancied FC Porto in 2004 and the other with Inter Milan in 2010.
The Portuguese had also orchestrated numerous title-winning campaigns with Chelsea and Real Madrid. His CV makes for an extremely enriching read, having achieved great success despite not always being the outright favorites to do so. This “siege mentality” has served Mourinho well for years, but it is betraying him now, although he is too arrogant to admit it.
After Louis van Gaal was sacked following his mediocre stint at Old Trafford, his once-protégé Mourinho was handed the reins in what was, and probably still is the most challenging job in world football. The Portuguese had been given the boot from Chelsea midway through the 2015-16 season, following poor performances and a string of controversies concerning everyone from the players to the support and medical staff.
It was classic Mourinho “third-season syndrome”. But, it was hoped that he would not mess it up at the Theatre of Dreams. It was a job that Mourinho had pined for decades. And by the looks of it, it seemed like he was finally ready to drop the anchor and build a long-term dynasty at Manchester United along the lines of Sir Alex Ferguson. Two years into the job, however, all seems like a distant memory now.
The first two campaigns saw him winning the Europa League, League Cup, making it to the final of the FA Cup and finishing 6th and 2nd in the league respectively. On the surface of it, it is by no means a poor achievement given the depths of mediocrity that the club had fallen under David Moyes and van Gaal. On a closer examination, however, the flaws are revealed and they are disturbing.
Mourinho has made his name as a defensive coach, who prefers grinding out results than play swashbuckling football that leaves his side open to conceding. He has mastered the art of “parking the bus” to a remarkable extent. But, he has failed to update the philosophy as the years have gone by.
The result has been the development of a style of football that is bland, unimaginative and has failed to deliver the results when it is really needed. Add to that his obsession with causing fires both inside and outside the dressing room as well as his habit to always go for the short-term fix, you have a Manchester United side which looks like a shadow of the great teams of the 60s, 90s, and early 2010s.
The problem with Mourinho is three-fold: he has failed to adapt his philosophy as the seasons have gone by. He masterminded Inter’s famous 3-1 win over Barcelona in the 2010 Champions League semi-finals and he still persists in sticking by an eight-year old ideology.
At Real Madrid, he was openly criticized by Cristiano Ronaldo for his overtly defensive football and he has suffered the same fate at Manchester United. Time and again, we have seen 1-0 leads being defended for long periods of the game, even against lower quality opposition. This has caused the team to drop points and suffer losses again and again, with the defeat at the hands of Sevilla last season being the most disastrous one.
The manager had set the team up to defend a 0-0 away leg result at home, despite the Spanish team’s defense having a history of conceding goals. The result was that for 75 minutes, Manchester United sat back and played it safe, eventually conceding two goals. For the last 15 minutes, the Red Devils attacked relentlessly to get back into the game. They got one back and if not for Jesse Lingard’s profligacy, would have had a couple more.
The only question that came to mind after seeing the club knocked at home in the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16 was, why did Mourinho not attack from the get go when the game was there for the taking? What was he thinking in playing it safe in a knockout game against a clearly inferior side?
The same was on show against Leicester City in Manchester United’s Premier League opener. Despite taking the early lead through Pogba, the team sat back and defended for more than 80 minutes – in spite of having Andreas Pereira, Fred, and Juan Mata on the pitch – until Luke Shaw finally got the second goal in the dying minutes.
Jamie Vardy got one back for the Foxes in added time and it was a heart-in-the-mouth moment for fans across the world who would have been much more assured if the side would have gone for the kill since taking the lead in the first place.
The second flaw that comes to the fore while examining Mourinho’s tactics is his “siege mentality”. Once used successfully to divert the attention from his players to himself after a poor game or two, it now implodes on his face time and again.
From picking up fights with Paul Pogba and Luke Shaw to other managers like Antonio Conte and Jurgen Klopp, it has only weakened and deflected his attention from his primary responsibilities as the Manchester United manager and made him look like a shadow of his former self.
Finally, Mourinho seems to harbour some sort of inherent hatred towards fluid, possession-football. It seems hard to believe that someone who learned the tricks of the trade at a club like Barcelona would be so opposed to that house of football. But, that is how it has turned out to be.
It may be because of his bitter experiences against Pep Guardiola who has repeatedly got the better of him during their times in Spain and England. Or, it may be something else.
Whatever be the reason, Mourinho has kept on preaching meaningless sideways and backward passing when the team is in possession rather than developing and upgrading his style, like Klopp has done with his “Gegenpressing” and Guardiola has done with his “Juego de Posicion”.
The 55-year-old Manchester United boss plays a remarkably uninspiring kind of football built around risk-free passing and dodged defending, which is not what the Stretford End is used to and neither is it paying him dividends in the form of noticeable silverware.
When you combine all these three flaws together, you understand the picture of Mourinho that I am trying to paint. He is someone who is seemingly to be past his prime. And while he has come back from difficult situations in the past, this one looks to be quite out of reach.
His addiction with short-term fixes, be it giving Marouane Fellaini a contract extension or handing Antonio Valencia the captain’s armband or not offloading the likes of Chris Smalling and Matteo Darmian will only cause him and the fans more and more grief as the season progresses.
Manchester United had an insipid transfer window, and while the club’s board is to blame for it as well, it seems they had deemed the players handed by Mourinho as not being good enough to prosper in the long-run.
From chasing Toby Alderweireld to Willian and Harry Maguire, it is clear that some of those allegations actually make sense since all of these players are at an advanced age and have failed to be consistently world-class for their clubs.
Manchester United deserve better players and a better board. But above all, they deserve a better manager than Mourinho who seems to think that the weight of what he has achieved will make all those around him tremble with fear and just hand him what he thinks he deserves to win. Sorry Mourinho, but football, and by that extension, life do not work that way. Just ask Ozymandius, maybe?