Few managers can unite and inspire like Jose Mourinho, who is galvanising his Chelsea squad at the perfect time, writes former Arsenal midfielder Adrian Clarke…
Jose’s chest bumps are back, and so are Chelsea.
No one knows what Mourinho, or his side’s Scottish masseur, said or did to get his side in the mood on Monday night but whatever it was, it worked a treat. Seeing a team running through brick walls for each other, for their manager, always leaves me a little bit spellbound - and that’s how I felt sat watching an immense team performance from the Blues at Manchester City.
A lot of fans, intelligent fans, can’t fathom why it’s not par for the course to see team-mates covering one another’s backs, showing that kind of positivity and indefatigable resistance every week. It’s not like Premier League stars aren’t paid well enough to be motivated, they’d argue. And they have a point.
Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work like that. You can try your best and feel like there’s nothing more to give, but some days, most days in fact, you just won’t reach the gold standard set by Chelsea in that match.
Getting 11 men to be in the zone all at once for 90 minutes, is in reality, rare. It helps to have a gaffer with the ability to stir such shared passion and desire - and whatever you think of him, Mourinho has proven to be a master at that down the years.
His moodiness, controversies, and tactical choices aren’t popular with everyone (myself included) but as a leader of men, he knows how to unite a team for the big occasion. The results prove it. When you merge those astute game plans with his gift of leadership, it’s not hard to understand why he’s enjoyed so much success.
The greatest motivational manager I worked with wasn’t George Graham or Bruce Rioch, but Stevenage Borough’s Paul Fairclough. Within the dressing room environment he was exceptionally clever at mind games.
He wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but individually he’d always say something that pressed the right buttons, even if it was uncomfortable to hear. Just before kick-off Fairclough would know the right emotions to prick.
This was a gaffer who also made us feel like the world was against our team. “I believe in you,” he’d often say. “But there are loads of people out there who don’t. They think this team’s weak. The opponents think you’re average. What do you want to do? Just, accept it?”
I’ve never been part of a side that got so fired up ahead of matches. Together it would feel like we were heading to the trenches for a war. Proving how good we were became a weekly obsession.
Siege mentality is a very powerful footballing tool, and I strongly suspect Mourinho’s methods on Monday night involved it. This style of motivation doesn’t always work. It never could. But sometimes it does, and the feeling of togetherness it brings, is something else.
One of the reasons behind Michael Laudrup’s departure from Swansea City this week was reportedly his inability to get the juices flowing, and to galvanise a dressing room split by cliques. It’s not something everybody can do. Each person, each professional footballer, is motivated in their own unique way. Bringing them together isn’t easy.
There are the Adebayorists, those inspired by the prospect of earning the next lucrative new deal. Individual glory and acclaim matters more to others, let’s call them the Cristianoists. Many get their biggest kicks out of proving people wrong. Fame can be an overwhelming, if shallow attraction too, or in contrast sometimes simply being part of a special team ethic – and staying part of it - is enough to get the heart racing. I even know of players who thrive on fear.
Looking back, I probably sat in the camp that was most excited by the prospect of reaching the highest level I could reach. Once close, my problem was releasing the inner drive to strive for more. A regret I still live with. Most commonly of all, I think it’s the thrill; not of collecting the medals themselves, but of writing your name into the history books as a winner, which provides most players with the greatest inspiration.
The truth is we’re all made differently. Each dream, belongs exclusively to the dreamer.
It’s a football manager’s job to catch all those dreams, plonk them in the middle of the dressing room floor, and find a common cause that will unite the group as one. If the players all believe in that man, and think he can lead them towards their wishes; then you have yourself the beginnings of a team.
Few managers, as he proved this week, are more skilled in this art form than Jose Mourinho.
Chelsea host Newcastle in the Premier League this weekend - check the latest odds.
Adrian Clarke on Mesut Ozil's impact at Arsenal.