Manchester United progressed to the semi-finals of the FA Cup thanks to a 2-0 win over Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday, but José Mourinho was far from happy with his team’s performance. In the aftermath of the pedestrian win, Mourinho ripped into his players to the media, accusing them of lacking “class” and “personality.”
“A few of guys I saw them scared to play. I cannot say much more. It is a relation with personality, is a relation to trust, is a relation to class.
“When the sun is shining and everything goes well, you win matches, you score goals, everything goes in your direction, every player is a good player and wants to play and wants the ball and looks amazing and is confident.
“When it is dark and cold and in football that means a period of bad results or a bad result, not everybody has the confidence and personality to play. To be on the pitch and touch the ball every five minutes, everyone can do it, but to be on the pitch and say give me the ball because I want to play, not everyone can do that.”
This is not the first time that Mourinho has criticized his players in public - far from it, in fact. In his time at United, he has never shied away from calling out his players for either their performance or their personality; a tactic that he used throughout his career, ostensibly in an effort to get a response from them.
The problem with this tactic, however, is that Mourinho’s own performances as a manager are under scrutiny - as they should be, given that both his man management and in-game adjustments have been found wanting at times. And when you fall short of expected standards yourself, calling out others looks less like a challenge and more like throwing them under the bus to cover for your own deficiencies.
He also indicated that the players failed to execute a game plan that they had been practicing during the week. Funny how two days of good practice isn’t able to reverse the effect of months of cowardly, reactionary tactics, but never mind that.
“I think we deserved to win, we scored goals but we didn’t play the way I want the players to play. I had a reaction from some of them, some of them were mentally strong enough and with quality to play. A team of 11 if you don’t have a minimum of six or seven players playing with responsibility so I’m not happy with the performance at all.
“When I spend two days working on a faster building gap, between the lines, that depends on the defenders and the movement of the attacking players. Here attacking players hiding behind players, defenders playing square passes taking 10-12 passes to go to another line.
“Statistic is fake. Sometimes they have 10 shots and eight of them go to the stands and one goes in goal but is a shot to save. What means for me is that we prepare the team to play a different way, be aggressive, attack the last line much more, play between the lines much more but attacking players wanting the ball.”
Nemanja Matić, who scored one goal and assisted the other on Saturday, was singled out for praise, as was Scott McTominay, despite the young Scotsman having a poor game. Not for the first time, Luke Shaw was singled out for special scorn.
“It was a decision from one player to another player in the same position [replacing Luke Shaw with Ashley Young]. I want to defend better, I want my defensive line to be better from a few moves from the sides and I wanted more personalities on his own. I felt Matić was an island of personality, surrounded by not water but lack of class, lack of personality, lack of desire. McTominay lost more passes today than in all the matches together but he was a Manchester United player. When he plays bad he gives for the team.”
Mourinho acknowledged the risk in calling out his players.
“I know it could back fire [criticising the players in public] but it is my calculation that they have to be able to play with pressure. If they do not perform well with pressure, what do I lose?”
Perhaps Mourinho, in between criticizing his own players, his own fans, his employers, opposing managers, league officials, referees, and the media could find some time to reflect on the fact that organizing and motivating his players and putting in a position to succeed is precisely his job as manager.