Put yourself in the shoes of Jose Mourinho during United’s defeat at the hands of Chelsea. 4-0 down against his former club Mourinho could clearly see a relatively positive media reaction to United’s start the season slipping away. Most managers at this point would probably be focusing on what tactical change he could make to turn things around, or where it all went wrong, or even questioning if this job is even right for them. But not Mourinho. Chelsea’s manager was already working out what he wants you to read tomorrow. There’s a lot of skills required to be a top class manager. Tactical knowledge, good man management, an eye for talent. But Jose has found another one – an eye for narrative.
When Mourinho sparked a ludicrous story by confronting Antonio Conte at the end of the game, you know he knew exactly what he’s doing. He may well have felt that Conte was humiliating him (he wasn’t, by the way), but even if he did, it would have very easy to confront him in the tunnel. But that wouldn’t be the point. Mourinho already knew his players would have been mercilessly criticised on Monday. Big name signings like Pogba and Ibrahimovic could have been ripped apart by a British media that loves to tear into the biggest names. Instead, an entirely inconsequential story about a managerial bust up was all over the media.
Mourinho may be the master of this, but he’s certainly not the only one that does it. Jurgen Klopp’s comments about his team’s defending took pressure off their shaky win against West Brom, and Slaven Bilic did all he could after West Ham’s win against Sunderland to convince us all that all wins matter, even if they are secured at home in the 94th minute.
In today’s saturated media environment, the Premier League is examined and analysed more than ever before. Premier League managers have identified that it’s not enough just to get on with managing the game anymore. Mourinho and the rest of the Premier League have found a way to use a media hungry for new angles to their advantage, to use their own comments to guide the narratives in the media. And more power to them. If it helps your players, it’s just another way to help your team improve, and that is ultimately the point of being a manager.
By James Fenn