Mar 17, 2015
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Who is the master of Premier League mind games?

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Ignored by some, abused by others. Mind games have become part and parcel of the modern game. Whether it is to get into the heads players, refs or even opposition managers, it is rare to find a managers press conference without a few carefully planned tricks thrown into the bargain.

Becoming a great manager is more than just being tactically astute, knowing how to spot potential and getting the best out of your players on both the training field and on match days. Great managers have an ability to deflect pressure in big matches to give their players that extra confidence whilst denting that of their opponents.

Here we’ll see how managers, both past and present, have been using the tricks to fluster opponents and perhaps gain an advantage for their sides, or the complete opposite!

Jose Mourinho

The figurehead of mind games. Jose has used so many over the years I’m sure he’s confused himself as much as the opposition, but hen always knows what he’s doing. Opposition managers over the years have even been admiring his ability to use his words as weapons for getting at opponents. Last year before facing them in the knockout stages of the Champions League, PSG manager Laurent Blanc admitted the Chelsea manager “is a lot stronger” than him at out-psyching opponents. But have his mind games really worked?

His most recent fling has been the ‘Campaign against Chelsea’. Mourinho has been vocal in his frustration at recent decisions that have gone against Chelsea claiming that there was a campaign from the media and the FA against the club.

However, this recent campaign hasn’t been going so well for the former Real Madrid boss, with Chelsea being denied two clear penalties in the first half in a recent league game at home to Burnley. Not only this, but Nemanja Matic was sent off for retaliating after a leg-breaker challenge from Ashley Barnes that went unpunished. This left Chelsea with a solitary goal cushion to defend with 10 men and they were unable to hold on. This prompted the official Chelsea twitter page to comment on the four big decisions to go against their side that same day!

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Potentially one of his most ambitious mind game of all was trying to suggest that Chelsea were not in the hunt to be premiership champions last season. This came about when he said “The title race is between two horses and a little horse that needs milk and needs to learn how to jump. Maybe next season we can race.” In fairness, he was correct, with Man City going on to win the league on the final day, with Chelsea finishing a disappointing 3rd.

So it hasn’t all been sunshine and rainbows for Jose recently, but he can pull off some wonders.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger and Mourinho have been locking horns for many years but since the latter returned to the Premiership they have taken a rather more personal route. Wenger initially claimed that Mourinho “feared failure” before Mourinho retorted in another interview prior to a match that Wenger was a “specialist of failure” after not winning a trophy in eight years before their FA Cup triumph last year.

Did it work? Well, I’ll let you decide. Chelsea went on to beat the gunners 6-0.

Sir Alex Ferguson

Probably the greatest manager to ever grace the game, Sir Alex always knew what he was doing.

Fergie and Mancini, during his days at City, liked to have the occasional war of words. Before the Manchester Derby back in late 2013, Sir Alex decided to target the refs before the potentially title decided encounter at the Etihad.

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Commenting on the number of penalties City had been awarded that year, the Scotsman asked the media “Twenty-one in the last year, isn’t it? If we were to get that number of penalty kicks there would be an inquiry in the House of Commons. There would be a protest.”

Even though we all like Mourinho’s insult everyone tactics, he’s got some ways to go to surpass the silver-tongued Scotsman.

Did it work? Yes. United went one to win 3-2 through a last minute free-kick by then new signing Robin Van Persie. Not bad, eh?

Roberto Mancini 

Apologies City fans, but I have to come clean. I probably hated Roberto than any other manger in the league, and this was mainly due to the amount of, well, content of the incorrect nature he spoke of during his press conferences. I hope you appreciate me holding myself back here. But I must admit, he was brilliant at it, and he showed it in the 2012-13 season.

This was a pretty ominous statement that appeared in every single interview with the Italian towards the end of the 2011-12 season. After City were behind United by 8 points with not long in the season, Mancini admitted defeat claiming: “The title race is over.”

It didn’t stop there for Roberto, no no! Even when United had dropped points to Everton and later lost at Manchester City, Mancini’s men had closed the gap to two points, but he continued the relentless games, saying City were “Not two, five” points behind the leaders, to add more pressure to the Red Devils in their game in hand, which was away at Wigan.

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Did it work? To just say yes would be an understatement. United lost to Wigan 1-0 and City went on the win their first ever premier league title on the final day thanks to a last minute goal. Agueroooooooo……

Rafa Benitez

How can anyone forget Rafa’s famous outburst back in 2009?  We were treated to one of the best mind-game meltdowns that the Premier League has had the privilege to witness and even Liverpool fans can laugh at it now.

During the 5-minute speech, he claims that Sir Alex, or “Mr Ferguson”, “was the only manager who could escape punishment” from the FA, that he “killed” referees and that Chelsea should employ zonal marking on the United staff, whilst repeating that these were facts. He even went as far as complaining about the number of early kick offs Liverpool had, and also commented on the number of home matches United had in the second half of the season, claiming they had a “clear advantage”. In fairness he did have a point, well kind of…

Did it work?

Nope. At the time of the press conference Liverpool were top of the table, but eventually surrendered their position to, guess who, United, and despite Liverpool only losing two league games the whole season, lost in the end by four points to their fierce rivals.

So that’s that. The good and the, well, not so good. Love them or hate them, mind games have become a massive part of the beautiful game, and whether you think they’re great or just downright disrespectful, they’re here to stay, and believe you me, football would be that little bit duller without them.

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