The Jose Mourinho Debate: Is the Manchester United Manager Ruining His Players?

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho
Since legendary boss Alex Ferguson retired from managing Manchester United, each of the three managers that have been appointed to try and repeat his successes have come under constant scrutiny from pundits and fans alike.

Of course, managing the worlds most supported football club is no mean feat, especially with the high standards that the supporters have gotten used to after the past few decades. The incumbent manager, Jose Mourinho, has achieved the most success so far, winning three major trophies with a hope of adding to that collection when The Red Devils take on Chelsea in this seasons FA Cup final. Despite this, the experienced Portuguese manager has not completely won the trust of the clubs fans. This is partly down to his defensive ‘anti-football’ tactics, but one criticism Mourinho has constantly received is that he is ruining some of his key players. Players such as Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford have all been stated to have seen a decline in their performances since Mourinho took over at the beginning of the 2016/17 season. 

Infographic by Seb Maxam

Mourinho’s unique management style involves him repeatedly criticising his players in public, and in an article for GQ, ex-Premier League midfielder Jermaine Jenas questioned this tendency, particularly in the case of full back Luke Shaw, stating that the united manager has ruined the player. Shaw has had an up and down time at United. He displayed his best football in the 2015/16 season under Louis van Gaal, before he broke his leg against PSV in the Champions League just a month into the season, an injury that would see him ruled out for 7 months. His bright start to the 15/16 season might be down the the difference in management styles, as Shaw was known to be a keen admirer of Dutchman Van Gaal, but surely cannot have the same relationship with Mourinho. 

Another way in which Mourinho’s management has been criticised is how his defensive tactics have limited some of the sides more creative attacking players. Paul Pogba is one example of this. The Frenchman divides opinion amongst football fans, but it is hard to deny his skill and creativity on the ball, and with an average whoscored.com rating of 7.54 per game across the 17/18 season, the 25 year-old is undoubtedly one of the teams best players. For the most part of season, Mourinho has tended to favour a 4-2-3-1 formation which has seen Pogba slot in as part of a midfield two. This has meant that Pogba has been asked to defend a lot more that he did at his previous club Juve, where he was consistently touted as one of the best midfielders in the world. When he arrived at United, Pogba stated in a Sky Sports interview with Thierry Henry that he preferred playing on the left of a midfield three, which was the role he played at Juventus. This more defensive usage of Pogba could explain the slight dip in performances that he has displayed whilst playing under Mourinho. 

However, on the other hand, Mourinho’s infamous defensive tactics seems to have improved the performances of several defensive players, namely Nemanja Matic, who has been ever-present in the league this season for the Salford-based side. Matic, who won the Premier League on two occasions at Chelsea, worked with Mourinho whilst at Stamford Bridge and is one of the few players Mourinho is known to trust, and has really kicked on this season thanks to the tactical setup of Mourinho’s United.

So the answer to the question is yes and no. As could be expected, Mourinho has really helped a number of his defensive players kick on whilst at United, something he has done throughout his career, but whilst doing so he has simultaneously limited the performance of some of the sides more attacking players, something that any football fan can see.