Jose knew ‘Ein­steins’ were right

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS -

SO, “the foot­ball Ein­steins” were right af­ter all. No Rooney, no prob­lem, the dif­fer­ence as stark as the 4-0 half­time score­line. In fact, United sud­denly had so much pace you half thought some­one had pressed the fast for­ward but­ton.

Even Juan Mata looked sprightly, Paul Pogba was able to show his tricks with­out Rooney in­ter­fer­ing with his space and United fi­nally looked like a Mour­inho side. All in all, a good week­end for the Spe­cial One with Chelsea sug­gest­ing it was not all his fault at Stam­ford Bridge ei­ther.

But first to United. With Wayne Rooney mas­querad­ing as a No.10 they had been play­ing the first few games in slow mo­tion, wait­ing for the skip­per to gather the ball, make his full turn­ing cir­cle, look up and then de­cide to which non-threat­en­ing team­mate he was go­ing to ping a non-threat­en­ing ball. By which time the op­po­si­tion had re­grouped and pre­cious few op­tions were open.

If we, “the foot­ball Ein­steins”, could see it, then a smart cookie like Mour­inho surely could. Of course, he could, which is why the only log­i­cal ex­pla­na­tion for his per­sist­ing with Rooney was to show the player him­self and the watch­ing world that he can’t hack it as the cre­ative ful­crum. In other words, to give him enough rope to hang him­self.

When he ar­rived at Old Traf­ford, Mour­inho may have thought there was still mileage in the Eng­land man – he did try to sign him for Chelsea a cou­ple of years ago. But he had to play him a few times to be con­vinced that Rooney, de­spite his manic de­sire and best cheek-puff­ing ef­forts, can­not cut it in the No.10 role.

Once a player loses pace it is a log­i­cal step to play him deeper if he re­tains the ba­sic skills and has the foot­ball brain to adapt. Rooney has the foot­ball brain but his loss of pace, cou­pled with the fact that the game has speeded up, has ren­dered him lum­ber­ing and in­ef­fec­tive. He has been the shackle that United have been play­ing with.

With no place up front ei­ther where Mar­cus Rash­ford, 11 years his ju­nior, and Zla­tan Ibrahi­movic, three years his se­nior, have made such an im­pact, Rooney finds him­self with nowhere to go. Nor is he helped by hav­ing lively young play­ers – Rash­ford, Pogba, An­thony Mar­tial and Jesse Lin­gard around him – or gen­uinely more cre­ative ones – Mata and An­der Her­rera – there too.

This was not a given at the start of the sea­son and Mour­inho was surely right to think Rooney would still have a sig­nif­i­cant role to play. Mind­ful of his own rep­u­ta­tion and that he had to tread care­fully at Old Traf­ford, the man­ager was not go­ing to poke any­one in the eye, you might say, least of all the club and na­tional cap­tain and one of United’s all-time greats.

Bas­tian Sch­we­in­steiger, yes, he could be his ruth­less self and won plau­dits for that bit of ban­ish­ment as the Ger­man is tak­ing the club for an ex­pen­sive ride – but not Rooney even though he, too, has had his mer­ce­nary mo­ments.

But Mour­inho had to be sure or there could have been a me­dia out­cry and he had to show the player him­self – as he did on Satur­day by giv­ing him a front-row seat to see how it should be done. But he was also quick to de­fend him, say­ing he still has a role to play – which he has in a sea­son in which United are com­pet­ing on five fronts.

Mour­inho is al­ready nurs­ing Ibrahi­movic and the chances are the big Swede will fade in the win­ter. Rash­ford also may not be able to keep up this mo­men­tum – young play­ers of­ten ex­pe­ri­ence a dip. So Rooney will still play plenty of games – it’s just that he will not start in the big ones.

Even­tu­ally, we may come to say Mour­inho has han­dled the Rooney is­sue well but the player needs to ac­cept his di­min­ished role – that he is no longer “the big man” any­more and gets on with be­ing just a squad man.

For the Por­tuguese, it sug­gests there’s a new ma­tu­rity about him – and he’s been made well aware that at Old Traf­ford any new man­ager is tread­ing on egg shells. But he can­not re­sist dip­ping into his trea­sured lex­i­con of quo­ta­tions and the “Ein­stein” one is an­other gem. If only he could see the irony of blam­ing ev­ery­one but him­self when things go awry…

At Chelsea, he had a point yet no one lis­tened. Had he apol­o­gised to Dr Eva Carneiro, he might still have been there. But far from what has be­come known as “the doc­tor in­ci­dent” be­ing solely to blame for the demise of his sec­ond com­ing at Stam­ford Bridge, he was jus­ti­fied in de­mand­ing new play­ers.

The team that cake-walked the ti­tle in 2015 had peaked and was in need of re­ju­ve­na­tion. He could see it but Ro­man Abramovich couldn’t. As Antonio Conte has al­ready dis­cov­ered, when it comes to spend­ing, the Chelsea owner can swing be­tween Imelda Mar­cos and Scrooge – and lately he has been ex­pect­ing his man­agers to make the best of it.

He de­nied Mour­inho re­in­force­ments which led to some hasty sales in which Mata and Kevin de Bruyne de­parted and a few duds ar­rived, and he has al­ready pre­vented Conte from sign­ing the play­ers he wanted.

Af­ter the losses to Liver­pool and Arse­nal, it is clear that Conte has a big­ger job than ei­ther he or his boss bar­gained for. And they hes­i­tated about giv­ing John Terry a con­tract! Mour­inho al­ways knew it and even “Ein­steins” can see it now.

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