Jose Mourinho and his many layers of pressure – A fear of failure making failure more likely

THE Lowry Hotel is very nice. Calm, relaxed, professional, it’s probably Manchester’s finest, despite being just across the river in Salford.

You can either look out to the seemingly prefab apartment building that’s been thrown up where the old car park used to be, or down to the Irwell and across to the office blocks bordering the river.

If you’re going for a break in Manchester, give it a whirl. The breakfast choice is truly excellent.

When Jose Mourinho started living at the hotel, it didn’t seem to be so big a deal. He’d be in a Riverside Suite, giving him a large bedroom in calming pastel tones, a lounge and a very small kitchen area.

But the longer Jose does his upscale Partridge stint, and the more fraught the Manchester United manager is, those walls could be closing in on him.

In an alternative set of circumstances, the manager would be living in a Cheshire mansion, with a huge garden, private gym, pool, office, absolutely anything he wanted. His wife may be there, the children could come and go as they get on with their own lives, and friends and colleagues would be able to visit in a more personal setting.

It would be home. And that’s something that The Lowry, however excellent it is, simply isn’t.

Believing this was all part of Mourinho’s plan isn’t difficult. Manchester United was the job he wanted above anything else and he wasn’t afraid to push his way into position.

Compared to Trump on occasion recently, the hugely successful Portuguese was arriving to Make Man United Great Again. He said as much, this was a club where only the highest targets would be set.

There could be no excuses.

So into the hotel he goes and starts a daily life of Lowry-Carrington-Lowry, with slight variations. Not a case of Rest-Work-Rest, more like Work-Work-Work, and that’s how Mourinho will have wanted it.

It hasn’t been unusual to find him sat with his assistants in the lobby bar, making plans for upcoming matches. But even when in his room, it would be no surprise if the job remains all encompassing.

And there’s a problem here, especially when things aren’t going well.

Pep Guardiola is an obsessive, but he has other interests as his Catalan quests show. Sir Alex Ferguson probably didn’t spend all hours possible with his head in the game, Cathy wouldn’t have allowed it.

There’s too much time to fill. Too much thinking, perhaps even too many opportunities to convince himself there’s problems where problems don’t lie.

Over planning becomes restrictive and the time that has gone into Mourinho’s thoughts about improving his club will be so lengthy that there’s little chance of a player, or players, changing his mind about the approach.

There’s a chance most of the conversations and debates about the way forward are taking place solely inside the head of Jose Mourinho.

Perhaps no manager puts himself under more pressure.

As soon as you label yourself the Special One, it invites it, even decades later.

The talking down of rivals also brings extra pressure, the minimising of the achievements of others does the same. A brash and self satisfied persona is always going to attract questioning and mockery when the shoe is on the other foot.

That pressure will build as expectations aren’t met, or at least when detractors suggest that’s the case. Every blow will be felt more, things become exaggerated, and those walls of The Lowry will draw ever closer.

Whereas once the idea of returning Manchester United to greatness will have been fresh, a spring in the step, it now becomes the weight of everything done previously. Mourinho is not only under pressure because of the perceived failings at Old Trafford, but also because of everything he’s done before.

Fresh mini-battles will become almost a break from the norm. A negative distraction is still a distraction, so locking horns with Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial, associated agents, Ed Woodward, other managers, fans, the media… there’s probably a reason it feels like Jose is constantly battling with someone or something.

But each of those periods adds to everything that Mourinho is, becoming part of everything he’s done before. There’s no cleansing, and when he’s at the stage of pressure he appears wrapped in currently, it just makes it all the heavier to carry.

And so it continues. Lowry-Carrington-Lowry. Work-Work-Work. It’s not so much the location, more the state of mind, and it has to be assumed this is what Mourinho wanted albeit in a more positive way.

The outlook is confused. Is he fighting the current battle or still on the long term plan? Is he prioritising fuelling fires as a distraction for himself, or working with others to try and solve the situation? There’s probably little bits of everything.

Self problem causing isn’t something new with Mourinho, it’s why the football world is so aware of a lifespan issue at clubs and fraught relationships with those both above and below him.

When someone has built themselves up like the Special One has, for such a long period of time, there can often be a genuine fear of negative judgement. To be considered a failure after beating your chest for so long, and pointing and laughing at others perceived to be such, must be a fate that brings terror.

It’s self preservation, and that doesn’t necessarily mean avoiding the sack, because Jose knows that almost always comes anyway.

So when things start to go wrong, the fires are lit. It becomes less of ‘How do we make the situation better’ and more of ‘How do I show everyone I’m not a failure’, sometimes those two aims compliment one another, and sometimes they appear mutually exclusive.

Like being in an debate and losing sight of the need to be right, being taken over instead by the need to be seen to be right.

An example was the ‘it’s not me it’s you response’ to Champions League elimination at the hands of Sevilla. Manchester United’s manager told the club they weren’t all that anyway, and made his players aware that he valued a big chunk of the opposing team more highly.

It didn’t work in terms of helping Mourinho and his squad move on as positively as possible. The same can be said after following setbacks, the constant reminder of previous achievements and distancing the judgement upon him as a professional from the current situation he’s in.

The parameters of what a win is are twisted. Aims which started pure become more complicated.

Woodward has had a choice whether to fight fire with fire or to try and run around after his fraught manager extinguishing the arson attempts. He may want to play Mourinho at his own game, and media leaks would suggest so, but it’s surely not the way to make the best of the current situation.

Instead of man managing in the way he’ll hope his latest managerial pick would, Big Ed’s approach has led to Jose getting his matches out again.

Fans, some of which have been so dug in their Jose+United=Success mantra that they were waiting for any bone to be tossed, have been the latest concentration.

In an impressive manoeuvre, Mourinho is making an overtly obvious play for the fans. A monologue during his Tottenham defeat press conference was a direct hand held out.

That followed the so-transparent-it-felt-awkward prolonged clapping of the Stretford End as he left the pitch.

These things aren’t spontaneous, it’s all been pondered.

If it’s more Ed’s fault then it’s less Jose’s fault. If the media are portrayed as a feral pack of liars then anything unpalatable can be dismissed as fake news. And all that wrapped up together shows the messiah, sorry, manager in a better light and therefore on pitch issues can be framed as also less his fault, so down to the players.

At this stage it doesn’t feel like football management. It’s somewhere between mind games and psychological warfare.

So what gives, what can prevent Jose Mourinho adding to his ever increasing layers of pressure and then collapsing under the weight of it all?

There may be no way to stop the scorched earth Manchester United exit which many now feel inevitable, but trying to deal with the fear of failure looks a way forward. It’s easier said than done and the closer perceived failure is, the more work is put into reframing it into something vaguely acceptable to the man.

At times it can feel there’s so many battles that Mourinho is sabotaging himself in an effort to save face. That’s how the slippery slope starts, as seen previously.

It’s difficult to have sympathy with someone who has taken joy in mocking rivals and who is clearly happy to throw others to the wolves. But the pressure must be immense, especially that coming from within, and without something changing in this respect then every time there’s a fall it’s going to be all the harder.

Mourinho needs to ease off on himself, instead of pushing a persona which must be impossible to truly live 24 hours a day. And then, perhaps he can put the matches away, and concentrate on the one job he really wanted.

Source: The Sports Witness