That’s why Jose Mourinho’s broadside at Arsene Wenger yesterday, was significant. Mourinho called Wenger a ‘specialist in failure’, after the Frenchman suggested the title was Chelsea’s to lose.
Once the players cross the white-line you would imagine that such jibes carry no weight. But they are subtle. Mourinho knows his players are watching him. And so they go into the run-in, knowing that their manager is currently holding the mental edge over his Emirates rival.
Thus their trust in their leader strengthens, as they see him to be on the top of his mental game. So they will not want to let him down when it matters, as his leadership strength magnetizes their hunger to succeed.
Now, if the Arsenal players are closely aligned with Wenger, and will run through the proverbial brick walls for him, then they may well be motivated by Mourinho’s comments, to want to prove a point. So, if our manager is a specialist in failure, then that makes us failures too! For the motivated player, this is powerful fuel to want to prove Jose wrong.
However if the Arsenal players are not totally faithful to the Wenger cause, then they might find themselves sub-consciously agreeing with Mourinho. In which case his broadside has hit his target. They will know their managers leadership flaws, and the reasons why he has failed to deliver trophies. And thus those subtle doubts may manifest themselves under pressure in big title deciding games.
Kevin Keegan’s famous ‘I’d Love It’, managerial melt-down in 1996, is a great example of how Man United players fed off Fergie’s mind-games, and gained a psychological edge in the title run-in. At Newcastle, they saw their manager crack under pressure on live TV, which magnified subtle doubts within them about his ability to lead them to the promised land of success.
Mourinho knows how to get the job done. And it’s this self-belief that allows him to find ways to win the mental battles of the managers. Until Wenger delivers trophies, he hasn’t really got a de-stabilizing riposte for Mourinho.
If Wenger fails to deliver a trophy this season. Mourinho’s ‘specialist in failure’ comment may well follow him around. Which is why the cutting jibe should make the Frenchman ultra focused, motivated and hungry to prevent this label sticking.