Though broadcasters are keen to advertise the Premier League as a drama, in reality it takes the form of an episodic soap opera. Storylines have to be constructed on a week to week basis to supplement the real action that takes place on the pitch. By the time each week’s story arrives, you have already forgotten the story that raged throughout the previous week. On Monday morning, it was decided that the verbal flogging administered by Jose Mourinho to two of his medical staff, Dr Eva Carneiro and Dr Jon Fearn, was to be this week’s storyline.
As a story, the episode is not without its merits. Though Pep Guardiola was involved in a high profile rupture of trust between him and his medical staff at Bayern last season, to see a manager publically rage at members of his own staff as Mourinho did was pretty unprecedented. He was unhappy that having received physio treatment, Eden Hazard might have to leave the pitch and reduce Chelsea to nine men, albeit temporarily. Mourinho’s argument was that, knowing that the team were down to ten men already, Fearn and Carneiro should not have gone onto the pitch to treat Hazard.
The facts of the case are that the referee beckoned the physios onto the pitch, thereby making it an obligation of the medical team to treat Hazard. If Mourinho should be angry at anyone it should be Hazard, who knows that he has to leave the field if he receives treatment. If he wasn’t in pain, he should have made it clear that he didn’t need any further attention.
There was also the sub-text of sexism within Mourinho’s actions and words; his main reproach to the two Doctors being that they needed to ‘understand the game.’ It may say more about our own prejudices that many have assumed this criticism to be aimed at the female Carneiro. It is also alleged that he used the Portuguese equivalent of ‘slut’ in the tirade that was aimed in her direction. A few weeks ago, in his response to a jibe from Rafa Benitez’s wife, he suggested she should focus on her husband’s diet; a joke this may have been, but it contained the assumption that it is she and not Rafa who does the cooking.
Only those people who know Mourinho personally can attest to what his social attitudes are, so the ‘is he or is he not’ speculation about sexism can never be really answered. The saga is more instructive for the football follower regarding Mourinho’s managerial style. It reveals a trait that is both integral to his success as well as a cause of his demise at clubs. He is constantly looking for a fight.
Mourinho appears to relish working either in a state of conflict or in a conflicted state. Though Sir Alex Ferguson utilised spurious accusations of ‘agendas’ against Manchester United to create a siege mentality in the dressing room, he didn’t publically seek confrontation to the extent that Mourinho does. In fact, one of his most famous pieces of advice for young managers was not to go looking for conflict, because as a football manager it will almost certainly find you.
Mourinho is different. Conflict to him is a fuel, it is an essential component of his method of work. To the outsider, he is a superb coach and tactician in charge of an excellent group of players. The best coach added to the best players should be all that’s necessary for success, without the need for the extra-curricular carry on that Mourinho brings to every job. Clearly however, he doesn’t think this. Mourinho is constantly searching to add heat to the environment within a club.
A good analogy might be the way in which the best bands produce great music despite the fact that individual relationships within the band may be fraught. ‘Creative tension’ is journalistic shorthand for this idea. Mourinho likes a dose of creative tension within the club’s he is employed at. However like many of the great bands who thrive on this tension, the conclusion of Mourinho’s assignments is usually an acrimonious split at the end of a few short, successful years.
In his first era at Chelsea the fatal conflict was with the owner Roman Abramovich regarding the style of play and control over transfers. At Inter it was a fight with the Italian sporting press. At Real Madrid, Mourinho fell out with several of the senior players by the end of his time, most symbolically long serving goalkeeper Iker Casillas. This is not to mention the obiqutious conflicts with opposition managers, footballing authorities and referees. During his current tenure at Chelsea, he notably dug out Eden Hazard for neglecting his defensive duties at the back post during the Champions League semi-final defeat to Atletico Madrid in 2014. The positive effect this had on Hazard’s performances last season is evidence of the benefits such a managerial style can bring.
That Mourinho thrives on conflict is not just speculation on the behalf of the author either, it is something he himself has spoken about. In March of this year as Chelsea were heading towards the league title having already bagged the League Cup, Mourinho was asked what he thought confrontational leadership meant. He replied ‘I’d have to go to a university to make a speech. Basically, it’s when you are ready to provoke your players to try to create some conflicts with the intention to bring out the best of them’. An example of which might be to ‘criticise a player in the media. Try to provoke a reaction from him, of anger, of not being happy with his manager, of trying to show that I’m not right.’
In Mourinho’s eyes, just as his players are fair game to be visibly criticised so too are his medical and technical staff. They are viewed as one collective, working towards the supreme goal that is silverware. Any tactics that can assist him in achieving this goal are permissible, and that includes wrongly criticising the medical department for running onto the pitch to treat Hazard.
The great paradox of the situation is that much of Chelsea’s success last season was built upon the consistent presence of six or seven key players in the team, thanks no doubt to diligent work behind the scenes by doctors and physios. Many a rival club wondered why they suffered more injuries than Chelsea.
For Mourinho however, there is still room for improvement on the medical side. He stated today in his press conference that improvements are brought about by disagreements. Due to the lack of major investment in the squad, another issue that is no doubt nagging away at him, Mourinho knows that Chelsea may have to be on the right side of the marginal factors in order to retain the title. These factors are the things than can make a 1 to 2% difference to a team, and the medical department could be one such area where incremental improvements can be made. This is especially important given that Chelsea are rather light on numbers, relatively speaking.
Those around and above him at the club however, could well grow tired of acts of psychological warfare such as the one we saw on the touchline on Saturday. If this is the case, the epitaph on the gravestone that marks Mourinho’s second stint at Chelsea could make for familiar reading; trophy laden but brief.
(Quotes Courtesy of The Daily Telegraph)
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