Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Mourinho and fear

Given a different life, Jose Mourinho would make a fascinating cricket coach. Last night Manchester United drew 0-0 with Liverpool and had just 35 per cent of possession in the game, the lowest figure since Opta started recording the stat in 2003/4.

The usual modifier to use would be 'despite having just 35 per cent of possession,' but Mourinho considers possession of the ball differently to most football coaches. When I was working on The Meaning Of Cricket, I wanted to write about fear and anxiety and how it can impact on both batsmen and bowlers, and I came upon Jonathan Wilson's brilliant piece for The Blizzard magazine, The Devil And Jose Mourinho.

The piece listed Mourinho's seven-point plan for winning big matches:

1. The game is won by the team that commits fewer errors.

2. Football favours the team that provokes more errors in the opposition.

3. In away matches it is better to encourage mistakes rather than try and be superior to the opposition.

4. Whoever has the ball is more likely to make a mistake.

5. Whoever renounces possession reduces the possibility of a mistake.

6. Whoever has the ball has fear.

7. Whoever does not is thereby stronger.

Never was this strategy more evident than last night, a result Mourinho described as "a point that stopped them winning three". He negated Liverpool's on-trend 'high press' with the simple tactic of having his goalkeeper boot the ball up the field rather than pass or throw it out to his defenders.

What I found most interesting about Mourinho's rules was his bald acknowledgement of the role fear plays in big games and tight situations, and how he develops tactics to manage that fear. It's rare in sport that the word 'fear' is used, such are its connotations around notions of courage and professionalism, and yet as Mourinho knows, it exists in myriad ways.

 In T20 cricket, fear has almost disappeared, partly because the length of the game attatches less weight to individual failure and also because the whole mindset is about the acceptance of risk. In the longer game, where small mistakes can have a big impact, sometimes days later, things are different.

Mourinho, I suspect, would be brilliant in his analysis of these attritional moments, when a 'negative' tactic, like playing on a batsman's nerves by keeping the ball wide, or drying up runs from a favourite shot, can impact on ego, self-image, anxiety, fear...

There are far more such nuanced siuations in a long game like cricket than a short one like football. Mourinho's understanding that sometimes, handing the ball and the 'advantage' to an opponent can often make them crack, would I'm sure have its effect, especially when a single mistake can be fatal for an individual.

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