It was impossible to avoid the undesirable news that synchronously surfaced the day of Arsenal’s latest capitulation.
Hours before the Gunners twice squandered two-goal leads to a ragtag melange of pimple-faced Liverpool teens and first-team fringe players in the League Cup, a report surfaced suggesting that Arsenal archnemesis Jose Mourinho would be open to succeeding Unai Emery at the club.
Amid deafening groans once again calling for Emery’s head, some suggested that Mourinho represents a good short-term solution.
Have we all collectively lost our minds?
Sure, Emery has been a disaster, and Arsenal appear to have regressed under the Spaniard when compared with the legacy-ruining latter stages of Arsene Wenger’s tenure with the club, but would hiring Mourinho be worth it?
Simply put, no. There are several reasons why it would be a step in the wrong direction for a club desperate to regain European footballing relevancy.
Mourinho’s constant attempts to remind the public and press of his past exploits in the most abrasive way possible is the sign of a manager running on the fumes of prior successes.
We get it, you led a Porto side with nary the resources of its continental foes to a Champions League conquest in 2004 and guided Inter to an unprecedented treble. The same goes for Real Madrid and his first spell at Chelsea, where Mourinho’s influence resulted in major trophies.
The Portuguese gaffer has returned to that well far too many times and it’s dryer than a crusty crumpet languishing in the August heat. In reality, those exploits are from another lifetime. Mourinho’s second shot at Stamford Bridge saw him leave a ridiculed man, as did his two-and-a-half-year stretch at Manchester United that left the Red Devils closer to the drop than the title. Arsenal’s rebuild requires a sympathetic character, not a thorny relic.
Mourinho is a tactical dinosaur
Speaking of a career arc that has trended downward, the rest of the footballing world has figured out Mourinho’s tactical pragmatism and rendered it antiquated with little difficulty.
Mourinho left United in 2018 with a goal difference of zero, a worse defensive record than Huddersfield, and as many wins as Bournemouth. All that despite splashing £400 million on a dozen players. It would appear that parking the bus doesn’t assure defensive stability, and that flexibility and a penchant for adapting reigns supreme.
Mourinho’s rigid tactics weren’t only ill-suited for his players, but it undermined others like Paul Pogba and Alexis Sanchez. No surprise they’ve both played their worst football under him.
Constant conflict with the board
With the embers from former chief executive Ivan Gazidis’ exit fire still hot, Arsenal have started a new chapter with head of football Raul Sanllehi and managing director Vinai Venkatesham. The early signs are promising.
In walks Mourinho, a manager famous for creating rifts between he and the board over recruiting practices. When Mourinho maligned Chelsea’s board for signing the likes of Andriy Shevchenko, Tal Ben Haim, and Khalid Boulahrouz, it created unnecessary cleavages.
The same goes for his second spell with the Blues, where Baba Rahman, Papy Djilobodji, and Michael Hector’s signings were publicly humiliated by the gaffer, or when Real Madrid lured Luka Modric in 2012. More recently, there was the back-and-forth bickering with Ed Woodward over United’s failure to sign central defenders. It’s needlessly toxic.
Sanllehi, Venkatesham, and new technical director Edu merit a measure of patience. The last thing they need is Mourinho creating unnecessary fissures.
Fractious relationships with players
Mourinho has an inherent ability to isolate members of his squad and alienate players in a way that goes beyond his ego-feeding press conferences.
At Real, it was Sergio Ramos, Iker Casillas, Pepe, and Cristiano Ronaldo. At Chelsea, it was Kevin De Bruyne. How’d that turn out? And at United, clashes with Luke Shaw, Marcus Rashford, and Anthony Martial were paired with video of a frigidly cold training ground chat with Pogba.
Emery has already given a preview of this perilous approach by exiling fan favorite Mesut Ozil and gifting the captaincy to the frustrating Granit Xhaka. Take that and multiply it by a million under Mourinho. Asked earlier in the year how his former players would describe him, Mourinho offered, “That depends. Some of them … Some of them would say ‘a bastard.'” Mourinho also cited being “a terrible loser” as one of his biggest flaws. That sounds like the perfect addition for Arsenal’s refurbished side rife with budding young players.
Inability to get the best out of his players
Mourinho breaks spirits. Either by design or by mistake, he’s long failed to keep issues that should be dealt with internally from the privy of the press.
No wonder his handling of certain players coupled with a headstrong tactical approach has seen Mourinho fail to get the best out of his pupils during the latter stages of his managerial career. At United, Sanchez and Pogba’s regressions were shocking, and Romelu Lukaku, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Eric Bailly, Victor Lindelof, Nemanja Matic, and Fred all looked like shadows of their former selves.
There’s no blueprint on how to efficiently develop players. Some like Carlo Ancelotti and Arsene Wenger do so as fatherly figures, while others like Pep Guardiola do so with a steely professionalism. None of the three aforementioned managers are walking through that door, and for the goodwill of Arsenal, hopefully Mourinho won’t either.