Football

Mourinho's Mind Games: This Weekend in the Premier League

It might have been a truncated weekend of Premier League action, but oh boy was it a good one.
March 19, 2018, 10:31am
Photo: UKKO Images / Alamy Stock Photo

While there was a diminished Premier League fixture list this weekend on account of the FA Cup – truly the competition of Brexit Britain, struggling on despite most people giving up on it ages ago – the craic was still mighty in the top flight as fans celebrated St Patrick’s Day.

Not everyone was having fun celebrating Irishness, of course, with a festive post on Chelsea’s Twitter account causing an outpouring of anger from people with handles like @EDL_Phil and @Blues_Brothers_Loyal – but bonkers and intermittently sectarian Twitter storms aside, what a weekend of football.

The Last Days of Charlie Adam

There is an old cliché in football, where a tackle – and, by extension, the tackler – can be described as "agricultural". This is to say that the challenge in question is like a rusty old scythe, hewing down human corn in an imprecise sweep of blunt-edged violence. If some tackles are agricultural, the studs-up lunge on Wayne Rooney which saw Charlie Adam sent off against Everton this Saturday was the most bountiful of harvests.

Rather than hold it against Adam, we should really savour his agricultural style of play for as long as we can. Stoke look increasingly likely to be relegated at the end of the season, and it seems highly unlikely that Adam will find another club in the Premier League. In a game where the best teams now field 11 technically excellent No 10s who, rather than pass to each other, simply teleport the ball via an invisible web of telekinesis – thanks again, Pep Guardiola, for ruining English football – Charlie Adam is an ever-more obsolete piece of equipment, with his crunching tackles and hardy brutality.

Salah Says Sorry

While it would require a near-total failure of perspective to compare him to Lionel Messi, as many have been doing recently, there's no denying that Mohamed Salah is ridiculously good.

So good, in fact, that he actually feels quite contrite at this point. After putting four past Watford this weekend, he was caught on camera apologising to Hornets goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis. Imagine being so masterful at your job that you had to apologise to your competitors on a regular basis. That is the life of Mo Salah, a guy who is living the dream.

Jose Mourinho’s Mystery Mind Games

Manchester United might have been on FA Cup duty this weekend, but Jose Mourinho’s rant after they beat Brighton & Hove Albion is surely going to have lasting implications.

"I want more personality in the team because many times I felt [Nemanja] Matic was an island of personality, desire and control surrounded by not water, but lack of personality, lack of class, lack of desire," Mourinho told BT Sport after, believe it or not, a 2-0 win for United. "I have to say that," he added, even though he really did not have to say anything of the sort. He then laid into breakthrough youngster Scott McTominay and left-back Luke Shaw, with criticism of the latter seemingly sustaining Mourinho’s life force at this point.

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An alternative theory, perhaps more plausible than Mourinho drinking Shaw’s tears in a vampiric ritual of eternal youth, is that laying into his own team so viciously is just another of his managerial mind games. What he is trying to achieve by suggesting his players are personality-less automatons without the capability for desire is another question entirely. The problem with being a master manipulator is that, eventually, the second guessing and double bluffing get so intense that nobody knows what’s going on anymore. At this point, Mourinho – the keeper of secrets – wages psychological warfare against friend and foe indiscriminately, and all because he wants his left-back to bomb forward a bit more against Brighton.

If publicly undermining his own players leads to a Premier League collapse – only by finishing fifth can Mourinho emphasise the need for a new centre-back, or something – sympathy outside Old Trafford will be absolutely miniscule.

Please, Please, Let It Be Pearson

Look at West Brom’s Premier League form since Alan Pardew took over in late November, and it reads: DLDLLDDLWDLLLLLLL. Though the problems at the Hawthorns started long before Pardew arrived, the man who once danced on the Wembley touchline as his team lost the FA Cup final has not inspired the desired turnaround, amazingly. This Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Bournemouth leaves the Baggies emphatically bottom of the table, seven points adrift of second-bottom Stoke.

With Pardew’s sacking surely a matter of "when" as opposed to "if" – and perhaps even a matter of "don’t turn up on Monday, security have been authorised to rough you up" – the speculation over his successor is rampant. While there are several banter candidates on the bookies’ shortlist – a Steve McLaren and Harry Redknapp relegation dream team, anyone? – none of them have the comedy potential of 25/1 shot Nigel Pearson. Pearson’s managerial persona may be a cross between a vindictive prison officer and a rogue bailiff, he may look like a recurring antagonist from The Bill, but he is nonetheless very, very funny, even if it is entirely inadvertent.

Here’s hoping we get to watch him barely contain his frustration as he attempts to salvage West Brom's last few games of the season, before finally losing it, choking an opposition player and then calling someone an ostrich in his post-match press conference.

@W_F_Magee