The rise of social media and the condensation of everything worth saying into 140 characters or less has been a breeding ground for short termism in football.
In a world where the worst of humanity is usually the loudest, social media gives a platform to everyone. As a result, a quick search through Twitter’s multitude of football fans will show up a plethora of football fans laughing at Jose Mourinho for his failures in his first few months as Manchester United manager.
There have been failures, of course. After the first three games of the season – and three wins for United – it looked as if Manchester City and United would be fighting it out for the title at the end of the season. They truly looked like the two best teams, and with new managers – legendary managers – and fists full of dollars, they looked unstoppable. More fuel to the short-termist’s fire, though.
Since then both managers have borne the brunt of glee and schadenfreude from a baying public. It must be said, though, that one of the issues with social media – at least from a footballing point of view – is how immediate it is. It’s always been easy to make an obvious joke: it’s even easier now. So most of the online commentary about Mourinho’s abilities as a manager are, perhaps, just part of a popular and passing meme. Jose’s having a difficult spell, let’s make fun of it because it’s the story of the day. When he’s back at the top, we’ll make fun of Antonio Conte when his team hit a slump. Circle of life on Twitter.
But what about the truth? If you asked someone who called Mourinho ‘past it’ or Pep Guardiola a ‘fraud’, and if they spoke perfectly honestly, would they give you the same answer as they publicised on Twitter or Facebook? They may well give you a considered opinion, nuanced and balanced – one that takes into account the new players, new system and new team, Mourinho’s difficulties in settling into his new home away from his family, and the remaining strands of a United team still used to playing under Louis van Gaal.
Because actually, if Mourinho is ‘past it’, we don’t really have much evidence of it.
The only evidence we have is that his team play a similar type of football that they used to, one that doesn’t seem to overly extol the virtues of pressing and intensity, that doesn’t seem to want to play out from the back – not as obviously as some others, anyway – and still seemed to set up in a 4-2-3-1 system until just a few weeks ago.
Yet there’s more than one way to skin a cat. Mourinho is an excellent coach, but the tactical side of the game has never really been his obvious forte. He’s an organiser and a coach who protects his players fiercely. Getting players like Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic playing at their best is, you could say, a very smart tactic in itself!
There are always truths behind the perceived truths, and the obvious conclusions we draw from the outside looking in.
Mourinho was wrong to start the season with Paul Pogba and Marouane Fellaini in a two in midfield, it was also baffling to see Henrikh Mkhitaryan left out of United squad until recently, too.
None of the coverage tries to make sense of his decisions, though. They are decisions that fly in the face of most logic, and surely his status as a top coach demands we give him the courtesy of actually trying to figure out what he was trying to do. Surely he deserves more than that.
Short termism is to blame. The fact that social media gives rise to instant opinion without much thought, and then beams it all around the world is to blame. So long as it’s pithy, it can garner share after share.
But football can’t be condensed into 140 characters. Nor can it be understood through a snapshot of just a few weeks of play. Teams can take years and even decades to build. It has to do with building an identity, a core unit of players truly committed to a cause and who know one another well enough to act in tandem. It’s the union that makes them strong. But that takes longer than a few weeks to forge in football.