There are two sides to everything; right and left, front and back, up and down, and so on. The way one chooses to go depend on what one thinks is the best for him.
In football, a manager is tasked with planning the right strategy which he believes best suit his players and will help them achieve their goals. Numerous managers have embraced the entertaining ‘attacking’ method to win matches while others have implemented the unconventional ‘defensive’ approach. Occasionally, managers who employ the ‘defensive’ method are usually criticized as having a negative attitude towards the beautiful game.
Jose Mourinho is arguably the manager most associated with this brand of football. Throughout his managerial career, the now Manchester United gaffer have been accused of playing the negative side of the game; a boring unentertaining and unattractive brand of football.
But what his critics fails to notice is that, there is no universally approved way of playing football. The unsatisfiable and ever demanding football fans usually ask for the whole package from their team, a mesmerizing commanding and attractive style of football that they believe win every matches. But in reality, this brand of football do not win every game.
Taking into consideration the numerous records which Mourinho have broken during his distinguished career, it is mere ignorance to label him a boring or defensive-minded coach.
For example, in the 2011/2012 season, his Real Madrid side broke a lot of records in the La Liga. His team won a record 32nd La Liga title and finished the season with a record-breaking 100 points in a single season, a record 121 goals scored with a goal difference of +89, a record 16 away wins and 32 overall wins in a single season. Top scorer, Cristiano Ronaldo scored 46 goals in the La Liga and 60 goals in all competitions.
That’s some record for a team tagged as being ‘defensive’.
At Inter Milan, in the 2009/2010 Serie A season, en route to winning the treble, his Inter Milan team won 37 out of 57 of the total matches played in a season, drew 13 and lost only 7, scoring 99 times with a goal difference of +53.
His Chelsea side of 2004/2005 still remains the team with the highest points total in Premier League history, having picked up 95 points in his first season in charge.
You cannot have all these breathtaking records and still be considered a ‘defense-minded’ coach. Rather, it is safer to say that Jose Mourinho is a ‘Pragmatic’ coach.
Jose Mourinho is a coach who understands his team’s strengths and weaknesses while also analyzing his opponent’s strengths and exploring their weaknesses. Mourinho is known for taking points from grounds that are very difficult to win – lately at Anfield against Liverpool in the Premier League – with his pragmatic approach of the game and his ability to adopt a “Plan B” against possession-drunk teams. Against these teams, Mourinho allows his team to absorb pressure by allowing the other team more time on the ball while hurting them on the counter. This has helped him achieve success against teams that are difficult to defeat.
Many critics will argue that his method is not always successful, pointing to some of his heaviest defeats as a manager by referencing to the 5-0 mauling of his Real Madrid side against Guardiola’s Barcelona in 2010 and another 4-0 defeat of his Manchester United team against former side Chelsea in 2016, or the 4-1 defeat of his Madrid side in the Champions League at the hands of a Robert Lewandowski inspired Borussia Dortmund team.
It should be noted that the attack-minded team or the possession based teams too don’t always win their matches. For example, Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City team failed to win a single trophy last season with all their attractive football.
Pep Guardiola is one coach who have gained popularity for his attractive style of play. His teams are so obsessed with the ball that they hardly give it up. Although it is a joy to watch his team play, one should keep in mind that at the end of the season, a manager is always judged by the number of trophies he won – which can be achieved by winning matches – rather than how attractive and entertaining you play. A certain Arsenal team comes to mind.
Pep Guardiola, Jurden Klopp, Arsene Wenger, Maurizio Sarri, Marcelo Bielsa are coaches who are famous for their ‘attractive’ style of football. While Jose Mourinho, Diego Simeone, Antonio Conte, Massimiliano Allegri are famous for their ‘pragmatic’ approach to the game.
Out of the ‘attack-minded’ coaches, Guardiola is the most successful, while Mourinho is the most successful of the ‘pragmatic’ coaches. It is therefore normal that he faces the most criticism out of the coaches who adopts this method.
Guardiola represents a side of the coin in football, while Mourinho represents the other side of the coin.
Either way, at the end of their distinguished careers, both will be remembered for their various opposing contributions to the development of modern football and considered one the very best managers that ever grace the game.
Written by Fagbemigun Timilehin