For all Gareth Southgate’s faults as a manager, and there are a few, the one thing you can say about the England boss is that he is fair.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer too, is about as fair-minded and pliable as they come, both as a man as well as a football manager. And that seems to count for plenty in the modern game.
The ‘nice guys finish last theory’ might hold some weight among the old school, but the common-sense argument in 2021 is that elite bosses have to be approachable and admit their mistakes,
as both Solskjaer and Southgate do. They get stick for ‘not being strong enough’ but their players seem to respond to them.
This has felt especially relevant in the past week when reading multiple comments from former Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho in the media.
The Special One has been everywhere from the broadsheets to the tabloids in recent days, giving us his hot takes on Southgate’s England selections and looking back on his time at Tottenham Hotspur.
And it was surprising to absolutely nobody when Mourinho — a long time critic of Luke Shaw during their time together at United — was reluctant to give any credit to the Premier League’s best left-back over the past season. The fact Shaw has improved leaps and bounds in the past year or two didn’t seem to matter to Mourinho; the old grudges remain.
Who can forget Mourinho’s comment in April 2017 about Shaw’s performance in a 1-1 draw against Everton? “He was in front of me and I was making every decision for him,” said the then United boss. “He has to change his football brain.
This time, while picking Ben Chilwell instead of Shaw as his preferred England left-back ahead of England’s Euro 2020 opener against Croatia, Mourinho said: “Left-back I would go with Chilwell, I wouldn’t think twice. I would go with Chilwell.
“I know that he plays normally at Chelsea with a five, but he is intelligent and he covers the space, the diagonals that come inside very well.”
The use of the word “intelligent” was conspicuous by its presence there. And it felt like another needless dig at Shaw and an unwillingness.
from Mourinho to change his stance on the player — and admit that times have changed, and Shaw has proved his critics wrong.
All of this came a day or two after Mourinho had given another astonishing interview claiming his trophy haul as a manager stands at “25-and-a-half”.
The half being the Carabao Cup final (against Man City) he was denied because Tottenham gave him the sack.
“So if you want me to be proactive now you can ask me, ‘How many trophies have you won in your career?’ I’ll tell you 25-and-a-half.
“You ask the guys who played lots of finals and everybody will tell you, ‘To play a final is a dream’ and it doesn’t matter if it is the first final or number 20 or number 50, a final is always a dream.”
For United fans, these comments had echoes of the infamous claim Mourinho made that finishing second in the 2017/18 season with the Reds was his greatest achievement as a manager.
No, not the unlikely Champions League triumphs with Porto and Inter Milan, not the three Premier Leagues with Chelsea;
finishing 19 points off the top of the league, managing to score just 68 goals (and lose seven games) in the process