Sticks and Stones – Mourinho and his mind games

John Stones playing for Everton

Every manager in world football has their own unique style, ranging from Louis Van Gaal’s frighteningly obsessive ‘philosophy’ to Jürgen Klopp’s blind faith in gegenpressing. Off the pitch, the manager’s own personality can dictate relationships between the players, media and the fans. Press conferences can be hostile environments that can turn even the calmest managers into tempestuous tyrants, ask Nigel Pearson. For others, it can be a playground to exercise the ill-famed ‘mind games’ that football supporters have now become all too accustomed to.

During the last ten years of football, there is little argument that no other manager has ruffled quite as many feathers through his outspoken statements than Chelsea’s José Mourinho. A journalist’s dream, Mourinho’s witty and cryptic statements have delighted Chelsea fans during his two stints at the club. As for his fellow managers, many have felt the wrath of his ruthless comments, with verbal battles with his oldest foe Arsène Wenger erupting seemingly on a bi-weekly basis.

Most managers are weary of where the line is, and attempt not to overstep it. Rather like an excitable child, Mourinho is renowned for manipulating this line, to the extent that it seems perfectly moral to comment on a fellow manager’s waistline, and his wife; ask Rafael Benítez.

The ongoing saga regarding Everton’s John Stones has been an apt indicator of this. After enquiring for the 21-year-old England international, Chelsea were told that Stones was not for sale. Regardless of this, instead of confining their dealings in a private environment, two of Chelsea’s bids of £20m and £26m went public, thus angering Everton’s Roberto Martínez. After expressing how little he likes to “speak about players from other clubs”, Mourinho has continued to take journalist’s bait and continue talking about Stones.

Taking the bait is quite evidently a key tactic in his arsenal of mind games; instead of conducting business behind closed doors and getting rebuked by Everton in private, handling such matters in the public eye is a tried and tested method of unsettling players. Players such as the likes of Gary Cahill have even jumped into the pantomime orchestrated by Mourinho, urging the Everton youngster to swap Goodison Park for Stamford Bridge.

Tosser Mourinho’s mind games have seemingly had an opposite effect on Everton, who have both a reserved manager and a reserved owner, who rarely discuss potential transfers publicly. Everton’s grip on the player has without a doubt tightened, with Mourinho’s stated intent of bidding “one pound more, ten pounds more” in every window hitting a raw nerve at the Merseyside outfit.

Often hailed as one of the most gifted managers in world football, at 52-years-old, has the time come for ‘The Special One’ to rethink his strategies in order to prevent driving future clients away due to an avoidable slip of the tongue? While Mourinho’s CV speaks for itself, it can be argued that his pomp and arrogance is warranted from his success on the pitch. It is even fabled that it was Mourinho’s hubris that proved to be his hamartia during his first spell at Stamford Bridge, by daring Roman Abramovich to fire him, which the Russian promptly did.

Football loves mavericks, whose presences electrify a room or the football pitch, but is the price really worth paying when an individual’s personality begins to affect a club’s desire to move forward and improve their squad strength?

Regardless of Mourinho’s antics, Everton will no doubt have to shield their defensive starlet from an array of other clubs as his stock rises in the future. Though for Mourinho it looks as though the battle has been lost, the war for Stones is certainly not over.

How does the old saying go? “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me?” Take note José.

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