Jose Mourinho is up to all his old tricks again. Football's master manipulator is dominating the buildup to Real Madrid's Champions League meeting with Manchester City and will likely take the headlines whatever happens on Tuesday night.
Don't think he didn't plan things this way.
Nobody should be surprised by Mourinho's public damning of his Madrid team on Saturday night—in the wake of their 1-0 defeat to Sevilla. It might have played out like a wild and desperate swipe, but Mourinho is a calculated operator who doesn't waste his punches.
This is the man who took Chelsea to Camp Nou and predicted the entire Barcelona starting lineup in the pre-match conference.
Everything he says is by design and with a desired outcome in mind—be it to draw a reaction from his players, take the focus off them, unnerve the opposition, or indeed rid himself of blame should his team come further unstuck in the coming weeks.
I am worried that since the season started officially we have only really played well in the Spanish Super Cup. Nowhere else. More than the points I am worried that in this moment I don't have a team.
... I don’t think today was any different to the games we played against Getafe or Granada. To me, it’s to do with the collective spirit.
There are very few heads who are committed and concentrated, and who have football as the priority in their lives. When you don’t have people who are committed, it’s tough.
On Monday, Mourinho softened his stance somewhat, and some billed him to be taking full responsibility for Madrid's nightmare start to their title defense in Spain. But, read between the lines and his message was pretty much the same one, delivered with a subtle twist.
"I have not been able to create a committed group, I have not ensured that football was the biggest priority in the life of the players," Mourinho said, per ESPNSoccernet.
The failure is mine, he's saying. I have failed to motivate a squad of highly paid footballers...to play football.
Clever. Very clever. Because every player in Mourinho's team will now feel they have to make a statement against Manchester City—be it to prove themselves committed to his cause or to stick two fingers up at their manager and justify their position at the Bernabeu.
Motivation can be drawn from heart or hate. Mourinho won't care where it comes from if his team produce a fightback performance and get a victory against City.
The Special One has never been afraid to deploy the dark arts of managerial mind games in pursuit of victory. He won't be feeling the slightest remorse over what he said on Saturday night, because he said it to give his team the best possible chance of coming out on top against City three days later.
Where some managers tread lightly, Mourinho digs his heels in. Love him or loathe him, football would be a duller place without him.