David Preece: Managers like Jose Mourinho must find a cure if a virus sweeps through dressing room
The relationship between Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho and Paul Pogba is a curious one.
We all saw the frosty exchange between the two in training back in September and the recent accusations that Pogba was labelled ‘a virus’ by his boss can’t have helped to heal any rift between the two.
It’s a curious situation simply because Mourinho surely knows that the castigation of his players, both publicly and privately, will eventually wane in its effect. If it already hasn’t.
This is the major downside of the hairdryer. Criticism is always an integral part of progression.
We advance by pinpointing what can be improved upon and doing so, but it’s only when it’s done in the right manner, at the right time.
Publicly criticising a player, and that mixture of professional embarrassment and a kick up the backside, will ensure a reaction.
A second occurrence lets the player know they still have work to do and not to rest on their laurels.
A third public flogging and that’s when it begins to feel personal and relationships begin to fracture.
This is the part of management that I have found hard to come to terms with in the past.
A dressing room isn’t a kindergarten where managers have to treat players with kid gloves, but too many times I have seen a manager and player get to this crossroad in their relationship and it going the wrong way for both of them.
Of course, you are going to get clashes in personalities and opinion that get aired from time to time.
It’s not an office environment where everyone walks on egg shells over official and unofficial protocols, neither is it a place where ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ are necessary, but the best managers are the ones who have one face for the squad and a dozen more to deal with the individuals who sit opposite him in the office.
As soon as a manager jettisons a player to train with the development squad or, even worse still, the Under-18s, I’d always think too myself: ‘That’s a mistake you’ve just made, we’re going to have injuries and suspensions now’.
And that’s what usually happens.
Come the last couple of months of the season when the squad becomes threadbare, the manager has to pretend to play nice and try to get the player back onside.
Cue the player walking back into a full dressing room with the words: “He expects me to run myself into the ground for him now after what he did to me?”.
And the rest of the dressing room will be suitably understanding of his plight.
Of course, they’ll still run themselves into the ground for their team-mates and personal pride, but the manager has already isolated him from the group before and once that happens, the fractures that may have healed still leaves scars. Like a piece of cloth torn from a shirt and shoddily sewn back on again, you can see things are never quite the same.
Modern day managers are far less authoritarian in their approach. As they have to be.
Players in general are far more complex in character than they once were and on top of the talk of football philosophies and tactics, the premium on man-management skills in the game has never been higher.
Gone are the days of generals giving orders and soldiers following them. In a crisis meeting at Odense after a 4-1 defeat to FC Midtjylland, manager Lars Olsen asked the squad what we should do to rectify the situation.
After a few suggestions from different players, Arek Onyszko stood up and announced to everyone he was leaving the meeting.
“You’re the manager. You tell me what to do and I’ll do it. See you later.”
And out he walked, cup of coffee in hand, newspaper under his arm.
It’s a simpler, low maintenance form of management, but it took some responsibility away from the players when things went wrong and they could point their collective finger of blame at their boss if it did.
Back to the Mourinho/Pogba dynamic.
If the rumours are true then it’s difficult to see success in the eyes of United fans coming with both of them at the club.
And if the virus remark was meant as it’s been taken, then my money would be on Pogba being the one who leaves first.
The priority for managers isn’t only to recruit the right players, it’s also to weed out the ones whose attitude may spread negatively through the rest of the squad.