Once upon a time there was a prince who had a falling-out with his guru — what one saw as a fine point the other deemed a silly point. But this was no run-of-the-mill run-in. For the prince was the captain of the country’s cricket team, and the guru was the coach. The prince also had a group of subjects; or is it teammates? Err, this is getting too complicated. Let’s try again.
Cricket and football are, quite literally, two very different ballgames. Nevertheless, the blighted state of English club Manchester United as well as the spats between manager Jose Mourinho and star midfielder Paul Pogba appear to be a spitting image of the Indian cricket team’s plight under Australian coach Greg Chappell. United and the manager seemed made for each other when the coupling happened in 2016. Fast forward two years and a bitter divorce appears inevitable.
The 2005-07 feud between Sourav Ganguly and Chappell is a stirring chapter in Indian cricket’s folklore and there are several versions of what transpired. While Ganguly — nicknamed Prince of Kolkata because of his regal strokeplay and demeanour — maintains that the coach was in a hurry to oust him and make the team “Greg Chappell’s team”, the Aussie legend felt that the left-handed batsman did not merit a place in the side owing to poor form. The period under Guru Greg, as Chappell came to be known, is one of Indian cricket’s darkest with several senior players not seeing eye to eye with him and performances plummeting. After the team’s ignominious elimination from the 2007 ODI World Cup in the group stages, the coach stepped down.
When the boss is more of a player than the players, it’s a problem. Both Chappell and Mourinho are known to be combative and controlling. The very self-belief which fuelled their rise to the top of their professions later made them their own worst enemies. Never one to shy away from a fight, Mourinho has had a string of clashes with players and pundits even as United plunged to new lows.
An inspired, frenzied fightback on 6 October to clinch an impressive 3-2 win against Newcastle, right on the cusp of a two-week international break, by no means ends the uncertainty over his future. Chappell, for instance, had led India to a historic Test series triumph in the West Indies and a 5-1 ODI tournament win over England in England.
United, though, gave Mourinho a much-needed lift when they fought back from 2-0 down in the dramatic game at Old Trafford. The Portuguese manager raged on the touchline, shouting at his players as the likelihood of being axed loomed.
The coach was in desperate need of a victory, and it showed. The Red Devils couldn’t handle the heat in the first half and were two down inside 10 minutes but they appeared a completely different team after the interval as Juan Mata, Anthony Martial and Alexis Sanchez came to the rescue in the final 20 minutes.
United took the field without a win in their last four games in all competitions and started the day with their lowest points total in the top flight after seven games since 1989. Mourinho disclosed after the victory over Newcastle that he had received a text from a Manchester United board member assuring him that his job was not under a cloud.
However, at the moment, Mourinho cuts a sorry figure — the same man who 14 years ago had declared himself “the Special One” shortly after steering FC Porto to the most improbable of Champions League wins and being unveiled as Chelsea manager.
There is a lack of direction and vision at United, and that may be the reason why Mourinho might stay in power for a while longer. The club, it appears, doesn’t know what it wants to be and where it wants to go. The manager has made matters worse for himself with his inclination to criticise players publicly. Right now, he’s caught in the same corridor of uncertainty that Chappell once found himself in. Mourinho, however, will be hoping for a happier ending.
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Updated Date: Oct 11, 2018 16:53:27 IST