It’s not often a manager with a CV adorned by 22 trophies, including eight league titles in five different countries and two Champions League crowns, divides opinion so intensely. Yet, for what Jose Mourinho guarantees in success and silverware, he contrasts with controversy. It comes at a cost.
In 2012, Mourinho’s Real Madrid won more points in a single league season than any other side in history (100), all the while obliterating the records for goals scored (121), goal difference (+89), and away wins (16). A year later, however, ‘La Liga de los Récords’ was brutally overshadowed by dressing room discontent and distasteful spats with Sergio Ramos, Cristiano Ronaldo and 'Saint' Iker Casillas himself.
And, only last season, Mourinho departed with Chelsea in disarray, tainted by the Eva Carneiro saga and desperate claims of a refereeing ‘campaign’.
Mourinho doesn’t hold any punches, that’s for certain. But, on occasions, his unfaltering pride leaves him swaggering into fights he cannot win. Mourinho is fortunate, then, that the Bastian Schweinsteiger saga is unfolding in the honeymoon period of this marriage of convenience masquerading somewhat unconvincingly as ‘true love’.
After all, Mourinho had nowhere to go, the top clubs already possessing top coaches of their own. United, meanwhile, were desperate for a quick fix and turned to the master of short-termism. Yet, while ongoing misgivings concern the Portuguese’s pragmatic playing style, his questionable youth record, much of the fans’ concern surrounds Mourinho the man rather than Mourinho the manager. Schweinsteiger would surely provide an interesting insight.
"Mourinho is a really good coach but that's as far as I would go really,” said Sir Bobby Charlton in 2012. Now, United’s all-time record goalscorer and current director is one of the good guys, a polite, humble man from the ‘if you don’t have anything to say, don’t say anything at all’ school of thought.
Charlton, intriguingly, said nothing of Mourinho the man, choosing only to praise his undoubted managerial eminence. Though, when discussing Mourinho’s unprovoked eye gouge of Barcelona assistant Tito Vilanova, he dropped his cloak of deference, if only for a sentence.
“A United manager wouldn’t do that,” he said.
The same could be said about the Schweinsteiger situation, although it must be pointed out that Sir Alex Ferguson, too, displayed a similar streak of ruthlessness when necessary.
Yes, rose-tinted lenses call to mind Sir Alex as the doting father figure but, as the great man himself once quipped, “nostalgia plays strange tricks with the mind.”
Jaap Stam, Ruud van Nistelrooy, David Beckham: each were forced out in front of a baying, public arena but, the fact is, each made a rod for their own back. If there’s one thing Sir Alex would not abide, it’s any player believing they were ‘bigger than the club’ or, in in the case of Beckham, 'bigger than Alex Ferguson', as he wrote in his 2013 autobiography.
Even Louis Van Gaal (below), Mourinho’s aloof, acid-tongued predecessor, threw Victor Valdes out in the cold for his apparent refusal to train with the reserves, according to the BBC. On this occasion, there was a method to the Dutchman’s madness.
However, there has been no reason to suggest, via rumour or otherwise, that Schweinsteiger has brought this punishment upon himself. This all makes Mourinho’s handling of an increasingly poisonous situation all the more baffling.
"Mourinho is setting a bad example,” Dejan Stefanovic, member of the world players union FifPro, told the BBC yesterday.
“I would take it to the ordinary court. In our case, the penal code is quite clear. If there is bullying and harassment, there's a prison sanction, a maximum of three years in prison.
"Schweinsteiger should turn to the Professional Footballers' Association and he should file a complaint and I would also seek penalty for Mourinho.”
“I could hardly believe it,” Bayern Munich chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge told Bild, as reported by the Guardian.
“One or two players are going to think long and hard in future about whether they want to go to such a club. Nothing like that has ever happened at Bayern Munich.”
Admittedly, the decision to let Schweinsteiger depart makes sense. After all, the 32-year-old made next to no impact in his debut season in England, injuries restricting him to just 13 Premier League starts.
Coupled with United’s relentless attempts to drag Paul Pogba (below) back to Lancashire by any means necessary, Mourinho’s clear admiration for Michael Carrick, the youthful potential of Ander Herrera and Morgan Schneiderlin, there is simply no place in United’s squad for the 120-time capped international.
“I think is what is happening in every club in the world which is the manager decides his squad and chooses a certain number of players to face the season and that’s it,” Mourinho explained in his press conference today, as reported by the Manchester Evening News.
“I normally like to work with 20 players plus the three goalkeepers which is what I do for 15 years.”
Yet, Mourinho’s divisive handling of the World Cup winner is exactly the kind of PR disaster United directors would have hoped to avoid, especially after the failed David Moyes experiment and the farce of Van Gaal.
An amicable exit now appears impossible. If there are a set of unwritten principles to which a United manager must abide, then Mourinho clearly ignored the memo.
All for a situation that was so, so avoidable.