Jose Mourinho playing dangerous games at a testing time for Manchester United
Jose Mourinho playing dangerous games at a testing time for Manchester United
It is a slightly mystifying claim given the widespread perception at the time that City were aging while United had a scattering of extremely exciting emerging young talent. But what has given that notion legs has been the shambolic nature of United’s spending. And that has added edge to the unease between Mourinho and Paul Pogba.
City have made mistakes with their spending. Nolito did not work out. Danilo has struggled. Claudio Bravo was awful. But, for the most part, their signings have thrived. It is true that roughly €400 million ($491 million) has been spent net, but City have got full value for that spending. Most of those they have brought in have been young and upcoming, not unknowns by any means, but players still climbing toward a peak.
That cannot be said of United since Sir Alex Ferguson left, with new parts constantly being bolted on with very little sign of advance thought of cohesive planning. And most troubling is that the two most expensive signings, Romelu Lukaku and Paul Pogba, have both to some extent failed.
Lukaku has scored 22 goals for United in all competitions but none of those have come against other members of the big six. He did score against Real Madrid in the European Super Cup, but nothing he has yet done at Old Trafford has done anything to allay the fears that he is not quite at the elite level to make a difference in big games. What was striking at Sevilla on Wednesday as that Alex Sanchez cross came to him in the first half was how, even though the ball was on his preferred foot, it never seemed plausible that he might score.
Pogba, meanwhile, has managed eight goals and 13 assists in 45 Premier League starts since joining in the summer of 2016 which, on the face of it, sounds good. But the problem is the disruption he causes. In the 4-2-3-1 Mourinho seems these days to favor, Pogba is neither disciplined enough to play in one of the deeper positions — a point Mourinho made forcibly to him on the touchline in the defeats against both Tottenham and Newcastle — nor technically good enough with his back to goal to play behind a striker.
He is a rampaging, surging presence, a player to thrill the heart when he takes hold of a game, but an anachronism in the modern game as a box-to-box player in an era that has essentially separated midfield into two distinct bands.
Perhaps the most troubling evidence of his misfit status came at Arsenal when his red card paradoxically seemed to make United more secure in their lead as they could retreat into their bunker without anybody leading heroic charges at the opposition.
In that sense, the player he is most reminiscent of is Steven Gerrard, whom Rafa Benitez ended up playing wide or as the most creative of three central midfielders at Liverpool. Mourinho’s switch to a 4-3-3 in Seville, but with Pogba on the bench, seemed a point being calculatedly made. Yet when Pogba did come on, after Ander Herrera had suffered a hamstring injury after 16 minutes, his impact was minimal — as it had been on the left of a 4-3-3 at Basel in the group stage.
Mourinho’s frustration with Pogba is understandable, but his decision to take him on is intriguing. When he described Scott McTominay earlier this week as having “a normal haircut, no tattoos, no big cars, no big watches ... ” it was pretty obvious whom he was really talking about.
With his extended contract now signed, Mourinho presumably feels emboldened, able to take radical action to try to shape the squad as he wants. But we have seen this political game-playing before, most notably at Real Madrid when he ousted the sporting director Jorge Valdano and then ostracized the goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas.
Then it was the beginning of the end for Mourinho at the club. With Chelsea visiting Old Trafford today these are dangerous games he is playing.
Riz Rehman is the man with a plan to ensure Premier League passion is Muslim-friendly
- Mohamed Salah's record-breaking season has focused attention on the Premier League's Muslim players and fans.
- Past three players to win Player of the Year have all been Muslim.
LONDON: The face of English football has changed unimaginably since the start of the Premier League in 1992 — not least in terms of the number of Muslim footballers plying their trade in the most popular league in the world.
Twenty-six years ago, Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Nayim was the league’s only practicing Muslim. Fast forward to 2018 and there are now more than 40 Muslim players gracing England’s top flight — many of them global stars such as Mohamed Salah, Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante.
This is a hugely welcome development for the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) and its education adviser, Riz Rehman, who is himself a Muslim.
Rehman’s role involves him supporting players of different backgrounds — including Muslims — and aiming to boost their participation in football. Little wonder, then, that he is delighted that the past three winners of the PFA Players’ Player of the Year award were all Muslim — Salah, Kante and Riyad Mahrez.
“It’s great for the Muslim community — young people, players, aspiring players and coaches — that three Muslims have won this award and that two of them (Salah and Mahrez) are Arabs,” Rehman told Arab News.
“It’s very important because it’s created more awareness about Muslims being good at the game and sport in general. It’s important we highlight this.”
Leading Muslim footballers’ soaring success and stardom have coincided with rising Islamaphobic attacks in Britain following the Brexit vote in 2016. Regressive attitudes toward race, religion and immigration have raged in some parts of the country, as Rehman acknowledged.
“The biggest misconceptions are that Muslims are all terrorists or that they are all Asian and have long beards,” he said. “Isolated incidents are giving Muslims a bad name.”
Mercifully for Rehman and the PFA, the likes of Salah and Kante are portraying Muslims in a far more positive — and realistic — light on and off the pitch.
During his sublime 2017-18 season, Liverpool star Salah topped the Premier League goal-scoring charts with 32 goals and reached the Champions League final. His unstinting brilliance led to him being serenaded with his own song by Liverpool fans, which includes the line: “If he scores another few, then I’ll be a Muslim too.”
Mohamed Salah has created a positive image of Muslims during his record-breaking year in the Premier League.
Many social media posts and videos showing young supporters copying the Egyptian maestro’s overtly religious goal celebration have also been posted many times. This involves him performing sujood, the Islamic art of prostration.
“Things like that are really helping to bring down barriers in the game,” Rehman said.
Likewise, he cites the fact that Salah and his Liverpool teammate, Sadio Mane, visit a mosque every week after training for Jumu’ah, the Friday prayer.
Meanwhile, only last Saturday the humbleness of Chelsea’s irrepressible midfielder Kante — who has two Premier League winners’ medals and one FA Cup success to his name — was widely hailed.
After missing his Eurostar train to Paris, Kante — who achieved World Cup glory with France in July — was invited home for dinner by Arsenal fan Badlur Rahman Jalil after meeting him while praying at a London mosque. Remarkably, Kante duly obliged and spent the evening watching Match of the Day and playing the FIFA video game with Jalil and his friends.
“People are more aware that we have Muslim players in the game,” Rehman said. “Players are not afraid to come out and embrace the fact that they are Muslims and showing the world that they’re good people.”
But are the PFA — and clubs in the Premier League and England in general — doing enough to increase Muslim representation in English football?
“I think things are better than ever. A lot of clubs are working hard on all-inclusive programs,” replied Rehman, who was a promising youth-team player at Brentford before injury cut short his career at the age of 17 in 2000.
“We deliver workshops aimed at club staff to educate them about better engaging Muslim communities. We get staff and coaches together and tell them more about Islam, what it involves and discuss Ramadan and how it might affect performance and participation at all levels.
“On the back of that, hopefully clubs will deliver programs around the needs of the community. There are clubs like Crystal Palace who are looking to deliver Asian-specific programs to get more Asian kids playing football, more Asian coaches and look at the Muslim community as well.”
Rehman himself helped organized an Iftar event at League One outfit Portsmouth earlier this year, which “went really well.”
“We also had players come along to support the day. Clubs such as Crystal Palace, Leicester City and a few others are showing an interest in holding similar events next season.
“Leicester City are a club with a massive Asian community and we are supporting them with trying to set up some programs.”
Also high on Rehman’s agenda is encouraging more BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) coaches into the game. As well as sitting on the advisory group for the Premier Leagues Elite Coach Apprenticeship Scheme, one key program he is involved in is “Sidelined-to-Sidelines.”
N'Golo Kante has been one of the best players in England's top-flight since he moved to the Premier League three years ago.
This was established by the Zesh Rehman Foundation — which was set up by his brother, a former Fulham defender — to address a shortage of qualified South Asian coaches.
“We are setting up sessions to try and recruit young coaches at clubs like Crystal Palace, QPR and Chelsea,” Rehman revealed. “Coaches wearing those club badges become role models and are able to influence their own communities and encourage more kids (from under-represented ethnicities) to take up the game.”
Rehman is keen to recruit more Muslim “ambassadors” at clubs “up and down the country” to emulate the likes of the inspirational Salah.
“We want them to work with the community, local groups, mosques, and get players to actually go into those communities and build links with the clubs. It’s a two-way thing.”
Progress has also been made in attracting more Muslim supporters to Premier League matches, Rehman added. Liverpool and Brighton and Hove Albion are among the clubs that have multi-faith prayer rooms to cater for their increasingly diverse fanbases, he said.
“Some clubs sell halal food, too, so there’s something for everyone.
“It’s a worldwide game now. Mo Salah has reached out to a lot of people. I think Muslim communities themselves have to make an effort to go to matches.
“It’s not an overnight success, but you do see different communities represented on match days, week in and week out.”