The Peter Principle is one of the most famous concepts in management theory.
Proposed by researchers at the University of Southern California, it suggests that an individual’s performance in previous jobs is a poor indicator for their performance in their current one. People will continue to be promoted until they reach a level at which they are incompetent.
If you’ve worked in an office before, you’ll have seen this principle in effect. Poor managers are plentiful, as are the subordinates who chafe under their clueless command.
The principle, it seems, applies increasingly to José Mourinho.
That might feel like a strange thing to say about a serial winner of the Champions League. But the manner and frequency of his outbursts over the past eighteen months has been alarming, leading many to question his suitability for the Old Trafford job.
Quite simply, he doesn’t seem up to it.
A man of wiles and manipulation
Apologists for the Portuguese usually point out that he is a man of wiles and manipulation. His screeching statements, they say, are nothing but a carefully curated messaging campaign.
That might be true but what merit is there in publicly shaming his own players? What value is there in signalling the incompetence of his own chief executive, as he did when bemoaning the lack of arrivals in the transfer window?
REUTERS/Andreas GebertBack in March, The Telegraph even reported some' players' concerns over Mourinho's treatment of Luke Shaw. In the minds of those unnamed teammates, the England left-back was being 'bullied' by his domineering manager.
Mourinho knows the media. He knows the more extreme his statements are, the more likely it is they will be strewn across the lurid straplines of the rolling sports coverage.
With every grim pronouncement about his squad’s capability, the cameras and microphones are thus drawn closer to his agenda. The supporters, he wagers, will direct their ire towards a staid establishment rather than any of his own profligacies. The inconvenience of his near half-billion spend on players can be swept under the carpet.
Slash and Burn-t out?
What effect does the constant negativity have on his team, though?
When Mourinho decries the entire Under-23 side, as he did during the recent pre-season tour of America, what impact does it have on the parents who are on the verge of sending their children to United’s junior ranks? What do his coaches think, when they have their competence questioned so openly?
More immediately, what impact does it have on the professional footballers who witness the same charade, often seeing their friends being publicly shamed in the process? Mourinho's slash and burn statements might cater the media agenda to his whims, but what effect does it have on the same targets he complains so vehemently about failing to capture?
REUTERS/Andrew InnerarityFootballers are employees. Richly-rewarded ones but employees nevertheless. Most of them want to work in an environment that is constructive and fair.
United’s prospective signings see a man who is uncompromising with a winning history but they also see a coach who appears constantly irritated, ready to throw his own charges under the bus. Nobody can prosper in an atmosphere so oppressive, so eager to assign blame.
A dwindling legacy
Increasingly, United fans are turning on their irascible manager. The football hasn’t been good enough, and nor have the signings.
They will note, for example, the difference between Paul Pogba’s performances for his club and country. Trusted by Didier Deschamps, the Frenchman led his nation to the World Cup. Hamstrung by Mourinho, he is nowhere near as effective at Old Trafford. Why can’t his manager adapt his system to get a similar level of performance from his most talented player? Why is it so hard?
All managers reach their expiry date – even great ones. Arsene Wenger’s hubris, combined with paralysing groupthink in the Arsenal boardroom, meant that his legacy dwindled as the results deteriorated. For too long, he was a coach sustained by glories past, every day eroding his legend.
After a violent exit from Real Madrid and an abortive return to Chelsea, Mourinho finds himself in the same situation. Is he incompetent, or are his powers waning? Will he even be United manager by the end of the season?
Nobody knows. And nobody wants to listen to the tantrums and tears before they find out.