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21st Sep 2016

What the Manchester United dressing room leaks mean for Jose Mourinho

He knows that such allegations are designed to send a message

Tony Barrett

When stories emerge in national newspapers suggesting that all is not well at a particular club, the temptation among supporters is often to dismiss them as tittle tattle or unfounded speculation.

The reality, though, is that more often than not and increasingly frequently in an era in which players and their agents are more willing and able to use the media, such reports are not only well sourced, they have also not appeared by chance.

All of which should leave Jose Mourinho troubled by reports in the Daily Telegraph that senior figures in the Manchester United dressing room are less than impressed with his brand of man management, in particular his perceived propensity for reverting to personal criticism of his players. He knows as well as anyone else that such allegations have come from somewhere and are designed to send a message to him and to others even if he regards the accusations as ridiculous.

This is the power of the dressing room. It could be anyone; it could be someone acting alone, as part of a small group of malcontents or it could be an individual of influence acting on behalf of the squad as a whole. Mourinho will have his suspicions, he will already know who is for him and who has been showing signs of being against him, and he will have a decision to make – does he change his ways or does he root out those who are not prepared to accept his ways? Upon such choices managerial reigns can be made and they can be broken.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 10: Jose Mourinho, Manager of Manchester United sits in the home team dugout during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford on September 10, 2016 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)(Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

A combination of political expediency and self-preservation means that Mourinho is unlikely to publicly accept the idea that there is a player or players within his dressing room who is/are so displeased with his methods that they allowed it to be known in a national newspaper.

Privately, though, the United manager is sufficiently well versed in the machinations of football’s Machiavellian side to know that he has a problem on his hands. This is not an issue that is just going to go away, it will need to be resolved one way or another.

Football fans are, in some ways understandably, always aghast at the idea that players can and will go against their manager, sometimes reverting to underhand methods in an attempt to exert their will or force change but that is now the established nature of the beast.

BEIJING, CHINA - JULY 24: Manager Jose Mourinho of Manchester United looks on during a press conference of the 2016 International Champions Cup match between Manchester City and Manchester United at Olympic Sports Center Stadium on July 24, 2016 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)(Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

Just as any employee can be unhappy with their boss, so footballers can be displeased by theirs but the difference is that they have access to a media which is always ready to report on such breakdowns in the knowledge that in doing so they will satisfy a significant interest in such matters.

The anonymous dissent that has been shown to Mourinho is, in one respect, fairly mild. It is not of that nature that questions his ability to be manager of a top club, the kind that dogged David Moyes at United and Roy Hodgson at Liverpool, and it centres instead on how he chastises players when they have fallen below his standards.

“His delivery of criticism is nasty,” a source told the Telegraph. “It is far more personal than Fergie ever was.” But that it has emerged publicly less than four months after Mourinho took over at Old Trafford is significant because it represents an early challenge to his authority.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 03: Manager of Manchester United, Jose Mourinho and the Manchester United squad look on following the Wayne Rooney Testimonial match between Manchester United and Everton at Old Trafford on August 3, 2016 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Again, this is nothing new. The challenge of taming an inherited dressing room, removing negative influences and creating a new mindset is one that goes with the territory of top level management. Mourinho has experienced this previously, none more so than at Real Madrid, and he will have been expecting situations like the current one at United to transpire as he attempts to shape the dressing room to his way of thinking.

The one positive for Mourinho is that he knows where he stands and he now has the opportunity to deal with the problem in whichever way he pleases.

But he will also know that this is highly unlikely to be the last time that he learns via the press that someone within the United dressing room has a gripe about his way of working.

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