Wednesday, 29 January 2014

The creation of a genius

There is little doubt that Jose Mourinho is a genius. Success in four nations - Portugal, England, Italy, and Spain - attests to that. He will, in time, become a sparring partner of Ferguson, Herrera, Michels and co in the greatest ever bar-room discussion.

His cleverness, his almost Clausewitzian approach to management, has led to some unreal claims. I don't doubt he is clever. I don't doubt he manipulates situations for his own ends and does so superbly well. 

But if Mourinho truly is thinking about the war with Manchester Untied in the way that some attribute to him then one can only assume he doesn't have a brain but, instead, a mind that is like some permanent version of Inception.

The British footballing press generally fails to understand one thing that is so obvious it barely needs spelling out and also rarely learns from a common feature of continental football.

The thing they've never understood is every single player has a price. Every one. They've all - allegedly - read Moneyball but they've never got that each player has a price and, tellingly, any manager or club worth their salt should know what they will sell a player for. This is absolutely basic. It is my guess that Chelsea believe that Juan Mata is worth less than £37m and they are quite happy - in these days of Financial Fair Play - to take £37m for a player who isn't performing at a level they believe is appropriate, doesn't fit into the manager's vision for the first team, and who they bought for considerably less some time ago.

The thing journalists have never noticed from continental football is that it is perfectly possible for a player to move from one elite club to another. It is seen as a more continental activity like wearing espadrilles or having a mistress but actually happens relatively frequently in England.

Italian clubs, in particular, show movement from one elite club to another frequently: Baggio from Juventus to Milan (1995), Davids from Milan to Juventus (1997), Ibrahimovic from Juventus to Internazionale (2006), and Pirlo from Milan to Juventus (2011) all spring to mind without too much recall. In Spain, high-profile players have moved from Barcelona to Real Madrid (and, less frequently, the other way).

Even in England, transfers have occurred between the largest clubs in the land or, on occasion, big clubs have tried to prize assets away from rivals.  In the last decade, if you look at the (now disbanded) 'Big Four': Juan Sebastian Veron moved from Manchester United to Chelsea, Robin van Persie moved from Arsenal to Manchester United, Ashley Cole moved from Arsenal to Chelsea, and Daniel Sturridge moved from Chelsea to Liverpool (Sturridge is probably the lowest profile of those - my guess is United would love Mata to have the same impact).  
If you included Spurs in that analysis you'd see Carrick and Berbatov moving to Manchester United amongst others.
In 2005, Chelsea were very close to signing Steven Gerrard from Liverpool and, in 2013, there were moments when it looked like Luis Suarez would move from Liverpool to Arsenal.

So it isn't totally uncommon for a star player to move from one big club to another. The difference is this is the first time in a long-time that Manchester United have bought a player from one of their rivals when they are in a position of comparative weakness. When van Persie moved North it was to win trophies. When Gerrard was courted by Chelsea it was for same. With Mata, it seems trophies aren't the immediate target but, rather, saving a season (and showing to the world that Moyes has the board's faith).

But back to the the feverish imaginations of the press and the blogosphere. What do they think Mourinho is up to? Many have made bold claims as to the reasons why Jose Mourinho is willing to sell this player.

The first conspiracy theory is that, having played Manchester United twice, this season Mata cannot return to haunt Chelsea but - tellingly - might do some damage against numerous other challengers to Chelsea. Whilst this is true, it seems remarkably short-sighted.

Under this view, Mourinho doesn't view Manchester United as a credible short-term threat but thinks - with Mata - they might disrupt the title challenge of other teams. It shows a remarkable short-termism. It may be that Mourinho is a Keynesian that is 'in the long-term we are all dead'' but it would seem odd to think that he thinks Mata is so good that it will undermine Chelsea's title rivals in the next few weeks and months but isn't so good that it will matter to Chelsea's title challenge next season.

The more outlandish claim is that Mourinho wants the Manchester United job in due course and thinks that, at some stage, the Manchester United board will realise their folly, bin Moyes and select Mourinho. This claim is most remarkable. It suggests that Mourinho doesn't rate Mata, sells him (at top dollar) to Moyes, help get Moyes the sack and, in due course, Mourinho will come presumably to, erm, bench Mata.

The most bizarre claim to his genius is one that falls apart when anyone with a brain considers it for a second. This one is that Mourinho wants the Manchester United job but wants it filled with talent. He rates Mata but - tellingly - doesn't think he works in Chelsea's system. Whilst Mata is a good player he won't be enough to save Moyes but, here we go, will excel under Mourinho at Manchester United.

Others have claimed it is sending out a message that he doesn't rate Mata and he doesn't see Moyes as a threat. This sends out a message that Chelsea think Manchester United are a spent force. Martin Samuel thinks it does the opposite and thinks this is a tactical error by Chelsea.

It is enough to make one's head spin.

Might it just be that Mourinho acknowledges that Mata is a fine player, one who has done nothing wrong, and one who wants to play at a World Cup. 

Mourinho doesn't rate Mata as highly as others do and acknowledges every player has a price (which, obviously, they do). Manchester United need someone and, well, lo and behold Mata is on the market for an eye-watering price. It's business, stupid. Manchester United with Mata is slightly better than Manchester United without but this doesn't change the world or point to a resurgence (a resurgence, I'd wager, we all think will come). I am sure once Mata moves he will have a positive effect on the results for Manchester United.

Mourinho is a genius. He is a genius on the pitch, in the dressing room and in the press. He has got everyone discussing conspiracy theories. He might even claim that there is some truth in them. That's his genius. We are discussing a transfer, and attributing cleverness, which makes perfect sense without all the fuss.



dearieme said...

Laughchester United are now getting his former Arsenal form from RvP i.e. he's no' weel. They must hope for his former Chelsea form from Mata.

Meantime, can they really not find one decent defensive midfielder who'd be happy to join them?

dearieme said...

But Mou sold The Unchosen Juan. (I claim copyright!)