Jose Mourinho is a man who likes to be in control.
This personality trait has fuelled his successful pursuit of major trophies across Europe, but it’s also the source of his unflattering public tantrums when things do not go to plan.
Currently, Luke Shaw is not going to plan.
Perennially overlooked and repeatedly criticised by his manager in recent weeks, it transpires that the problem is all in the left-back’s head – literally.
“He has to change his brain,” Mourinho lamented after the 21-year-old appeared in a Manchester United shirt for the first time in a month, making a 30-minute cameo from the bench in Tuesday’s 1-1 draw against Everton.
To many observers Shaw’s performance seemed rather accomplished, and even included a last-minute assist, but Mourinho would not let that gloss over the issues he has uncovered at the player’s very being.
“He played with his body and my brain. He has a fantastic body to play football, but he cannot play with my brain,” Mourinho insisted.
The manager’s protectiveness over his vital organs is understandable, even if he seems to be taking slightly exaggerated credit for Shaw’s point-rescuing display against the Toffees.
But beneath this apparently flippant remark, can we locate the seedling of a revolutionary idea that could Make Mourinho Great Again?
“He cannot play with my brain…”
It’s a comment that seems to encapsulate Mourinho’s irritation with his job. If only he could somehow surgically insert his own magnificent mind into the skulls of his dopey players, glory would be his (and theirs, but mainly his).
But maybe he can.
Mourinho’s mind games
During his career, Mourinho has made a habit of attempting to change footballers’ brains by force.
Perhaps the most thorough surgery was undertaken on Joe Cole, who Mourinho transformed from the tricksy-flicksy free spirit he inherited at Chelsea in 2004 into an effective first-team regular and England international.
With one drawback. The rudimentary tools at Jose’s disposal – essentially just gruff criticisms, a steely glare and his cold, bare hands – meant there were inevitable side effects. Cole became a functioning Mourinho foot solider, but the wizardry in his game was flushed out by the tactical lobotomy.
Jose may count the operation as a success, but at what cost?
Shaw, like Cole, is an English footballer of rare talent. A teenage prodigy with magic in his feet. But for Mourinho, that is not enough. The brain must be fixed; moulded to the manager’s idiosyncratic tastes.
That alone might make Jose happy, but would it be the best way for Shaw to fulfil his enormous footballing potential?
“He was in front of me and I was making every decision for him. If he was on the other side, for sure he would not do it,” continued Mourinho of Shaw’s performance against Everton.
“I was thinking for him and leading his performance…”
And with these words, the solution suddenly becomes clear: Mourinho should quit football and become an eSports player.
It makes perfect sense. Real football leaves Mourinho frustrated and angry, but by mastering FIFA 17 he could find inner peace. He would be inside his players’ brains, inside their legs, inside their unblinking, computer-generated souls. He would be the ultimate football dictator.
For eSports itself, Mourinho’s defection from the Premier League to the FIFA Interactive World Cup would be the coup that sends the genre to the next level of profitability and prestige.
Other managers – control freaks to a man – would quickly follow suit. Arsene Wenger could take over at Arsenal, Alan Pardew would make a virtual comeback and even Gary Megson would soon start flexing his fingers, buying an Xbox and feeling positive about the future for the first time in years.
For men like Mourinho, the muddy reality of football will never live up to the perfect expectations of an obsessive mind.
The Special One has now reached a stage in his life where his control must be absolute; when even the line between the dugout and the pitch is too thick. But it’s not the game that needs to change; it’s the man. He’s in the right ball-park, but the wrong domain.
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