In his post match conference after Manchester United’s goalless draw against Crystal Palace, Mourinho mentioned that his players played without heart.
Of course, heart is important to winning a game, but even more important is skill and talent. More important than heart is the actual ability to play the game. SHOCKER! You will never beat Lebron in a dunk contest regardless of how much heart you have. More heart could help Kevin DeBruyne play better than Luka Modric in a game but all the heart in the world will never turn Mousa Sissoko into Lionel Messi.
When you consider all the teams in the premier league top 10, you will not find a team with less cohesion than Manchester United. When you have a striker whose first touch is so abysmal that he sometimes trips on it, or a right back who cannot cross to save his life, or a centre back who is literally terrified when it’s time to make a forward pass, or a bunch of midfielders that consistently ignore runs by forwards. All these flaws compound and demanding more heart will never fix them.
This might look like a support for Mr. Mourinho but it is far from it. The manager says that the player’s are not good enough and the board will not let him get the players that he needs. He complains that the financial game has changed so much that it is impossible to get quality players. All of these complaints are mere excuses. They indict him more than they help his cause.
The players do not select themselves. It is ultimately up to the manager to select the players on the pitch and Mourinho has done a terrible job of doing this. His major flaw has been buying and selecting players based on secondary traits. Traits that are not fundamental to actually playing the game.
Fellaini is tall and causes problems in the box but the manager ignores his positional awkwardness, lack of dynamism and inability to play a simple through ball.
Ashley Young is vocal and knows what Manchester United is all about but the manager ignores the fact that he has completely lost his basic footballing ability and should be playing in Australia.
Lukaku is very intelligent, speaks 6 languages, plays his heart out and puts in a shift for the team but the manager ignores his inability to control a moving ball, low energy to make runs in behind, and zero sense of proactivity as a forward.
Matic is extremely loyal to the manager and a leader in the dressing room but the manager ignores the fact that he has made only 183 forward passes compared to 291 and 418 made by Fernandinho and Jorginho respectively. Even Etienne Capoue of Watford and Idrissa Gueye of Everton, who play very similar roles, have made more forward passes than Matic.
The Problem with Secondary Traits
…if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will live its whole life believing that it is stupidAlbert Einstein
The common thread here is that these are all first names on the team sheet and Mourinho picks them. He picks all these players and complains that they lack heart when they fail to break down the opposition.
The first measure of a player’s quality shouldn’t be how tall he is, how fast he can run, how passionately he screams, how much blood he would shed for the badge, or how many languages he can speak.
Can you control a moving ball? Can you hold it up? Can you make a forward pass? Can you do a quick one-two?
These are better questions and unless the players have satisfied these basic concepts as Pochettino calls them, it is useless to talk about heart, desire, attitude, passion and all the other similar intangible qualities. Intangible qualities have to rest on a foundation of measurable ones.
When you select based on secondary traits, you end up with one dimensional men with nothing else to offer. You end up with a team that has zero cohesiveness. You end up with fishes trying to climb trees (that’s exactly how Manchester United looked against Man City). You might as well go out to pick the 11 loudest fans from the stands and ask them to play because they have heart.
…if you buy players and pick lineups based on secondary traits, they will look stupid trying to string two passes together and you will look stupid too
Forgive me, Professor Einstein.
Bereft of ideas?
Maybe Mourinho is all heart now and no ideas. For three consecutive years, the Mourinho of old schooled the Premier League on the art of game management. He went to the La Liga and built a counter attacking machine that scored 121 goals in a season. He even taught the Italians, famous for their Catenaccio, how to defend.
Yes! There were slides down the touchline, eye pokes, taunting of rival fans, loads of fines, and tons of heart but all of these passionate expressions were built on the successful execution of great ideas on the pitch.
Today’s Mourinho is empty. He is lost. Yes! We love the occasional bottle smashing, and ear cupping but that is all there is now. Heart and passion without substance. He’s hired a young and modern coach in McKenna. He’s played some daring attacking formations at Manchester United. He’s even had some stellar team performances. But it all looks like clutching at straws. He looks caught in an interstitium between sticking to his old ideas that don’t work as well and embracing modern ideas that he has not completely internalized.
Look at Liverpool to see what running into the half spaces look like. Look at Chelsea to see what verticality looks like. Look at Manchester City to see what overloading the flanks and switching play looks like. Look at Arsenal and Spurs to see what pressing looks like. Look at Liverpool and Manchester City to see what counter pressing looks like.
Don’t look at Manchester United. Don’t look at Manchester United unless you want to see what confusion looks like.
Manchester United’s problem is not heart. It is the lack of quality in the players and the lack of ideas in the man that manages them.