Why Mourinho had to go

For the first time in my memory, a victory by a club team has been greeted mostly with derision, even anger, by the team's own partisan fans.

Joe Mourinho

Joe Mourinho in his final Chelsea press conference Source: Getty Images

This was the case with Chelsea after they won 3-1 agaist Sunderland, after a long string of miserable results which left them languishing in the relegation zone.

'Where were you when we were shit?' was the common chant from Chelsea fans as they questioned the sudden turnaround in player performance after the sacking of manager Jose Mourinho.

The supposition was that the players had long before run out of a willingness to perform for Mourinho and had effectively got rid of him. Given that Mourinho's management had delivered the club more titles than it won under any other manager, he was revered by the fans who, in turn, were wounded by his sacking.

The fans' response, and that of many commentators, is valid. Perfectly legitimate is the view that highly paid footballers are paid to deliver loyalty to their employers and should endeavour to perform to their highest level, no matter if they like the coach or not.

Indeed it is instructive that fans, who are ordinarily brutally impatient with coaches who don't deliver results, were in this case so loyal and forgiving to Mourinho. But this is an ideal not the reality.

Dressing room unrest has been a regular occurrence in football, and other team sports, since time immemorial. And the Chelsea experience will no doubt be repeated. The expression that so and so 'has lost the dressing room' will be heard again. Indeed such a suspicion is as I write hovering around the Manchester United manager, Louis Van Gaal.

The reality is that dressing rooms can be 'lost' at the most elite levels of the game and no matter how highly the players are paid. It is not uncommon in any team environment, including the workplace. It starts with players, just a small number of them at first, losing respect for the boss for some reason. If it is not immediately stopped it spreads like a toxin through the team until collective morale is lost and the team dynamic totally collapses.

It is difficult to know exactly where the rot started and with whom in the extraordinary case surrounding Mourinho. It may have been with the bad handing of the Eva Carneiro case where the manager publicly humiliated the popular team doctor. It may have been just some bad early results with three losses in five games, accompanied by some erratic pitch side behaviour by Mourinho. But it's now clear the rot set in early and respect was lost months ago.

Mourinho either didn't see it or just handled it badly. People are amazed at how such even an immensely successful manager can be sacked. But the truth is Mourinho's unique personality makes him especially vulnerable to dressing room dissent.

There is only one thing players hate more than being blamed for losing rather than the coach., and that is the coach always being credited with a win rather than them. Mourinho's special brand of arrogance and narcissism always leaves him open to this kind of danger.

Mourinho also has a propensity for breaking the cardinal coaching rule of never criticising the players publicly. He did this at Madrid, where he also only lasted two seasons, when falling out with Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos. He also did it early this season when bagging out Eden Hazard. By the time he accused the players of putting in a performance that betrayed him he was gone. It was almost a death wish.

The problem with Jose is that it had to be always about him more than about the players. This never sits with well with the playing staff and he eventually got found out, as he no doubt will at his next club. The players, if the results come, generally don't mind letting the coach have the glory. But if he bags them out publicly all faith and respect is lost.

It's fine to say multi-millionaire players have a duty to give of their best. But they also have a right to being guided, coached and led by a man they can respect. Above all they need coaches who can manage a crisis, something Mourinho was clearly not, at least this season.

Mourinho has been a remarkably successful coach and it's perfectly understandable that Chelsea's fans regret that he is gone. But, on form, he was never going to last much longer. Manchester United might be salivating at the thought of getting him. My advice is for them to be careful about giving Mourinho longer than a three year contract.

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5 min read
Published 26 December 2015 at 11:11am
By Les Murray