By Andrew Fong (@andy_fong96)
José Mourinho can’t seem to win. Second in the league; still in the FA Cup; more goals and points than last season; undebatable improvements in the style of play from Louis ‘Philosophy’ van Gaal’s snore-inducing reign… Yet still, ask the majority of football fans (particularly, but certainly not limited to, non-United fans) and they’ll tell you he’s useless. Yet generally speaking, the players tend to get off Scott-free.
I, for one, am as guilty of this as anyone. At half-time during the derby, I’m not ashamed to admit I had my doubts about Mourinho’s ability to ‘rally the players’ or to get them playing the ‘United way’. Finally, I knew how it must feel to be a West Ham fan. But was I right to be laying the blame solely at the feet of the silver-haired chap stood on the touchline? Absolutely not. But this is something I feel has reached epidemic levels within football. It’s never the players’ fault. Instead, the manager hasn’t got them playing the way they should – playing at their expected ‘level’.
This is where we come to the title of this article. Video games. What do they have to do with me blaming Mourinho for the players’ shortcomings, you say? Well…
With the popularisation of games such as FIFA, Football Manager – and the existence (I hesitate to use the word popularity) of PES on games consoles – people have developed the belief that players have an inherent ‘ability level’. Thus, football fans such as myself have been lulled into the false belief that it is up to the manager to control these players, much like we do on these video games – and to get the most out of them. “But Pogba’s got a 92 shooting rating – why doesn’t Mourinho get him to shoot more often?” is the sort of thing I imagine some football fans are guilty of thinking, if not shouting at their TV. Okay, maybe that is a bit of an exaggerated example – and perhaps an unfairly sceptical view of football fans – but I don’t think it’s far off how some people view the players these days.
It’s the belief that players have a set ability level that never changes, and that as long as their stamina levels are high enough of course, they should be able to perform in exactly the same way every game. “Give it Sanchéz on the edge of the box and finesse it – guaranteed goal, mate”.
But football doesn’t work like that. Mourinho isn’t sat on the touchline with a controller under his jacket, instructing his players to L1 and triangle over the top to 89 pace-rated Lukaku. Instead, he has to deal with things that can’t be put into stats for a video game.
In the first half against City, the big issue was attitude, pure and simple. Now, it could be argued that it is Mourinho’s job to get the players to care – and to put their utmost effort in. However, is it not also down to the players to get themselves up for the game? I think so. Unless Mourinho is Derren Brown in disguise, I can’t imagine there’s a mind control clause in his contract. All he can do is pick the team, tell them how he would like them to play – and wish them luck. Once the players cross the white line, it’s down to them. On Saturday, in the first half – the boys failed to give their all – or to even look like they were trying. The second half was a different story. They sorted themselves, and their attitudes, out. Largely thanks to that 89 rated CM with the blue hair.
Football fans, myself included – need to start considering the fact that these players are humans – not pre-programmed artificially-intelligent manifestations. They are going to have off days – they are going to feel like they simply can’t be arsed from time to time. The manager can’t always control this as he might on the PlayStation, nor can he dip into the transfer market and pay a set fee for anyone that takes his fancy – stockpiling dozens of the world’s best for £30 million a pop. We as fans need to have more patience and remember that José is dealing with humans – not robots. Although, Nemanja Matic’s Terminator-like appearance does sometimes make me question this (I can’t be the only one, surely?) Maybe I’m wrong after all, and the players are indeed pre-programmed units – in which case… Mourinho, set them all to ‘attack mode’ please?