Mourinho is an exceptional manager, I think we can all agree on that. His accomplishments speak for themselves. But what is it exactly that has made him one of the most successful managers in the world? Is it purely his tactical abilities, his training regimen and coaching style, or is there more to it? It has really stood out for me over these last few months exactly how good his man-management skills are, and how effective he is at influencing the players in the squad through the use of psychology, sometimes through the media. Some examples include:
To me, the team looks really united (excuse the pun) under Mourinho. Everyone seems happy, whether they are in the starting 11 or not. I sense that players want to play for the manager and that they believe in his leadership, which is extremely important. Everyone knows that Mourinho has a knack of building teams who are willing to die for him on the pitch, who have total confidence in- and loyalty to him (barring the Chelsea squad last season). To me the team just seems more passionate, more focused and more motivated than at any other point over the last three years.
Master of the media
José is often the football villain that the media love to hate. When results go well they placate and appease him, when results go through a dip they outright vilify him. Either way, Mourinho is used to the media game, and is a master of protecting his players from the media and using the media to build his players up. There are many examples of him doing this, but I can name (1) when he shut down all attempts by the media do draw him out about the two footed tackle that Rojo made early in the season, (2) the way he protected and praised Rooney during his difficult spell, (3) the way he praised performances of the team when we were drawing matches and not hitting the target and (4) the way he has been building up Fellaini through the media lately.
Regarding the praising of Fellaini during interviews: people have commented and wondered why Mourinho is doing that when there were much better players on the pitch, some even asking "why he is sucking Fellaini's dick?", but to me it is clear: Mourinho is constantly managing players, and he understand what it takes to get the best out of players. I have never seen a player treated so badly as Fellaini at United over a long period of time. Fellaini is not our best player, granted, but he has been a useful player a lot of times when we needed him to be. Mourinho is building his confidence and protecting him. If Mourinho sees a part for Fellaini in a supporting role, I say we need to trust him.
The way Mourinho has phased Rooney out of the starting 11, while not upsetting the dressing room, the player or the fans, has been brilliant. He allowed Rooney to have a licence at the beginning of the season and had the balls to pull him when the performances were not up to standard. Yet, during this period Mourinho still protected the player in the media and praised him throughout. Mourinho understand that Rooney brings leadership to the squad, and is able to contribute from the bench when we need that something else. Getting the balance right between phasing a player out, while keeping everyone happy is something that is extremely difficult to do.
Everyone believed that there was a major issue between Mkhitaryan and Mourinho during that first month and a half. Yet, to his credit, Mourinho has introduced Mkhitaryan into the first team very effectively. Each player is unique, and some players require an initial adjustment period in a foreign country, as well as to get fitness up to the desired level.
Mourinho and his coaching staff have created a training regimen for Zlatan, completely different to all of the other players in the squad. A regimen that fits his unique requirements, one which minimizes risk of injury and allows Zlatan to play 90 minutes of almost every game so far this season. The way José is handling the Swede, and utilizing him as a leader in the squad, is fantastic.
There are more examples to discuss, so please do so.
For a great read on Mourinho's application of psychology in football, I have copied below an article written by Thore Haugstad in 2012. It is long, but some might find it interesting.
The secret of José Mourinho’s success is best explained by his deep understanding of football’s most unexploited resource: the human psychology.
William James, the distinguished American psychologist and philosopher, once wrote: “Compared with what we ought to be, we are only half awake. We are making use of only a small part of our physical and mental resources. The human individual possesses powers of various sorts which he habitually fails to use.”
The thought is as fascinating as it is true: humans operate within a small percentage of their capacity; mentally and physically. What if, say in football, someone found a way to extract some of that potential?
Ask José Mourinho about the most important thing in coaching, and he will say ‘man management’. “Football for me is a human science; it’s about man, above everything else”, he told BBC Radio 4 in December 2011. For a man who sparks such intrigue, it’s a somewhat underwhelming response, yet his reference goes far beyond ‘rotating the squad’ and ‘keeping players happy’. Rather, it’s about a deep understanding and appreciation of players as complex human beings with desires and emotions, and the knowledge of how to exploit it.
“A coach must be everything: a tactician, motivator, leader, methodologist, psychologist,” Mourinho says. ”A teacher at university told me ‘a coach that knows only about football is not a top one. Every coach knows about football, the difference is made in the other areas’. He was a teacher of philosophy. I got the message.”
Few others have. The human psyche is one of football’s untapped resources, an irony for a sport in which every advantage is exploited so thoroughly. While scientific advances are made to improve players’ capacity, motivation and management – the art of extracting it – is condensed to meetings and pep-talks. While some are good at that, Mourinho is arguable the first football manager to fully embrace – and master – the role of a psychologist.
A cornerstone in Mourinho’s ‘methodology’ (his favourite expression) is the tailoring of communication to each individual – something he admits is his hardest task as coach. Being a psychologist is complex in itself; players with a near-divine self-image are in equal need of stimulation as fragile personalities. But is it also continually challenging in that the players’ mood must be judged from game to game. Marcelo may be fired-up on Saturday and distraught on Wednesday. Balancing this motivational act with 22-23 players two times a week requires not only a masterful communicator, but someone with a deep understanding of each player’s emotions and personal goals; what drives them, what gets them going.
There are many examples. At Chelsea, Mourinho told Frank Lampard he was the world’s best player but needed to win trophies – challenging his ambition while exploiting the fact that, until then, Lampard had won nothing. At half-time during an Inter game, he told an under-performing Zlatan Ibrahimović, soon to receive the award as Serie A’s best foreign player, to hand the prize to his mother – “someone who actually deserves it”. In saying so, Mourinho was playing on the Swede’s pride. Ibrahimović returned to the pitch, promising to run until he tasted blood.
Clearly, in terms of motivational techniques, Mourinho operates on a much deeper level than other managers. His methodology surpasses pep-talks and hair-dryer treatments, primarily because one message can only speak to so many individuals. Players are different – indeed, humans are different. They have good and bad days – highs and lows. What inspires some may lead others to switch off. “There are many ways to become a great manager,” Mourinho says. “But mostly I believe that the most difficult thing is to lead men with different cultures, brains and qualities. And I think to manage this is the most important thing.”
This also partly explains Mourinho’s ability to succeed in different leagues. He absorbs the cultural values, dismantles the players’ minds and deploys his strategies accordingly. His pragmatism applies not only to tactics.
Connected to motivation is the question of how much success means to a player. Everyone wants to win the league; what they are willing to sacrifice varies greatly. This might be speculative, but Mourinho’s players appear to invest more into his projects than anyone else’s. ”From here each practice, each game, each minute of your social life must center on the aim of being champions,” Mourinho wrote to his players before meeting them at Chelsea. Such commitment goes beyond professionalism; in fact it nearly eclipses the players’ reality. Football becomes not just work, but the scene on which the meaning of 95 per cent of their day-to-day actions unfolds. Naturally, once the players have invested this much, they will fight to get just rewards.
While Mourinho tirelessly follows his own mantra – current and former players say he works harder than anyone else – he recognizes when his players have had enough. At Inter, he noticed Wesley Sneijder was exhausted and encouraged a holiday. “All the other coaches [in my career] only spoke about training”, said Sneijder. ”He sent me to the beach. So I went to Ibiza for three days. When I got back, I was prepared to kill and die for him.” At União de Leiria, Mourinho asked David Barreirinhas, a member of the backroom staff, to become a spiritual and religious counsellor to the first team. Barreirinhas said: “I discovered a José Mourinho who was concerned with the fact that players were human beings as well as sports men and that they could have good and bad days.”
Open any footballer’s autobiography and you’ll find a catalogue of emotional tangles tearing down their psyche. People forget that players are humans, they say. Appreciating this not only makes Mourinho popular with the players, but also frees up their energy to concentrate on football. While acknowledging the importance of eating and sleeping right, Mourinho also focuses on elements like emotional energy and self-esteem. Staying sober isn’t enough. The players must be happy in all aspects of life.
Throughout the press, the tribalism of Mourinho’s methods is well documented, inclusive of the “us against them” theory. But another interesting technique is spotted in a blog by James Hamilton, a sports psychologist, pointing to Mourinho’s insistence of a 24-man squad. Aside from involving every player, it means that, when the squad is slashed, those left are “survivors”. Rather than simply being inherited, the players get a feeling of value, of being chosen for a reason. This psychology is very powerful. As Mourinho once told the Portuguese press, “I only go to war with those I trust.”
In such press conferences, Mourinho’s vocabulary is also interesting. Whereas British managers refer to their players as “boys” or “lads”, he calls them “men”. Watch or read any Real Madrid post-match event and the word occurs throughout. This fuels the sense of tribalism, making him sound almost like a war general speaking to his troops. Yet it also testifies respect towards the group, a treatment of players as grown-ups; men on an equal footing. By calling them men, he invites them to act maturely and take responsibility.
One of Mourinho’s potential problems with not having played professionally was to win players’ respect, yet his excellence at man management has helped him past that obstacle – and well beyond. His first work with real stars was at Barcelona. “When you coach players of this caliber, you learn about human relationships,” he says. “Players at this level don’t accept what they’re told simply because of the authority of the person who’s saying it. We have to show them that we’re right.
“The tactical work I encourage isn’t about there being a ‘transmitter’ on the one hand and a ‘receiver’ on the other. I call it ‘guided discovery’; that is they discover according to my clues. I construct practice situations that will lead them on a certain path.”
This is as clever as it is important, because instead of being told what to do, players get a cognitive sense of creating the ideas themselves. Inevitably, they buy into them. Anyone who has read the excellent The Italian Job, co-written by Gianluca Vialli and Italian journalist Gabriele Marcotti, will know how in England, loyalty to the manager is taken for granted, whereas in Italy, and potentially Spain, there is more scepticism. Mourinho could not have succeeded in four countries without his ability to make players believe in his work. “I don’t know how he does it,” says Karim Benzema. “He has some sort of trick and everybody listens to him.”
In a field like football where so much has been tried and tested, Mourinho’s remarkable success would not be possible without an exclusive advantage. Quite rightly, the supremacy of his attention to emotional, mental and interpersonal issues is roughly proportional with the success he enjoys over his peers. It is what makes him genuinely special. Attributing his results fully to man management would be wrong, though it is clear, even from what Mourinho says, that it is the most important one.
Whether he will become a revolutionary figure inspiring a more all-encompassing approach to football management is less certain, though younger managers could do worse than embracing the advice Mourinho’s teacher gave him: “Every coach knows about football. The difference is made in other areas.”