Are Zaccheroni’s criticisms of Mourinho justified?

Alberto Zaccheroni, former Milan and Inter boss, has launched an unexpected attack on Jose Mourinho, claiming the Portuguese man is ‘worth little’ tactically:

“Tactically, Jose Mourinho is worth little. I asked some coaches to study him in Riscone, during the pre-season, and they would call me every night saying they wanted to leave because they had little to learn there.”

Zaccheroni’s words have come on the back of a season where Mourinho has won three titles whilst the Italian took temporary charge of Juventus and could not finish higher than seventh in Serie A. Zaccheroni went on to claim, incredibly, that Inter Milan would have won those trophies without Mourinho at the helm:

“Mourinho chose to leave because he realised Inter would have triumphed even without him. He is one that always needs an enemy, then he offends and that is something I do not like.”

It seems the Italian is airing a personal disdain for Mourinho rather than a legitimate tactical observation. The truth is that a manager amends his team’s strategy based primarily on the players at his disposal. And it was Mourinho who decided to bring in six of the starting eleven this year in Inter’s Champions League passage.

To say he is limited tactically is unfair because, though his teams’ styles are never breathtaking, they function and react to differing factors at each time of asking. Mourinho has shown an ability to nullify threats from different top flight teams – a reactive process that relies on the manager’s preparation and instructions to his players. To say Mourinho is limited tactically is to say that every manager who has played – and lost – against him, is also tactically limited.

On the subject of a uniformly defensive approach to the game, Mourinho was as loquacious as ever:

“I have played in a UEFA Cup final and two Champions League finals. We won all three and scored eight goals in the finals. When one repeats a lie, for intelligent people it remains a lie. For the rest, it becomes a truth. It’s one thing how one organizes a team, and a defensive scheme is another thing altogether. When a team is organised it defends well – all players are involved in attack and defence.”

As usual, Mourinho attempts to refute quite an obvious claim by paradigm shifting. His teams aren’t ‘defensive’ he says; they’re ‘functional’. Rather than being limited (after all, it is a winning strategy with all of his teams) he is tactically conditioned to a certain style. There are variations, evident instructions in play and more responsibility on show from the attackers, yet it is all contributing to the same overall conservative approach.

Eight goals in three finals proves little in dispelling the truth that his teams are more concerned with not conceding, with being compact and difficult to break through, than they are with scoring. Ironically it is Mourinho repeating the lie in the hope that it becomes a truth. But we’ll see how long Madrid can afford to let their pride be stung by claims of conservatism throughout the season, and if the tactical conditioning of Mourinho will need redressing.

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