Man Hunt at Man United: The Coach-Athlete Relationship

Manchester United F.C. is considered the most valuable football club in the world (Forbes, 2018). Last year, they generated over $737 million dollars of revenue and they have an international fanbase with 18.5M followers on Twitter, 71M followers on Facebook, and 23.8M followers on Instagram.

With such a large following, managers and players must feel like they live in a fishbowl. Since the summer, the spotlight in the fishbowl has been on their manager, Jose Mourinho, and one player, Paul Pogba.

Long ago, researchers had noticed that the coach-athlete relationship influences athlete motivation and subsequent athletic performances. In a team sport such as club football, motivation and performance can be expected to translate into club success. Club success can be categorised as extrinsic motivation and there are two different forms: (a) non self-determined and (b) self-determined. Non self-determined occurs when players feel pressure from external (ex., manager) and internal (ex. feelings of guilt) sources. Self-determined occurs when performance is internalized and accepted by the player leading to persistence and greater performances (Vallerand & Rousseau, 2001).

Jose Mourinho is a manager that consistently manifests self-determined extrinsic motivation and he seeks to win every single club match. The number of trophies that clubs have garnered under his watch is unmatched. For managers, they are judged based on club success and this notion is accepted immediately upon taking up their first managerial job. Jose has taken this motivation and put together a comprehensive program that has been successful with every club.

Paul Pogba is a player that also consistently manifests self-determined extrinsic motivation. However, this motivation can only be seen in relation to his country and his performances for Les Bleu. The result is that he is a EURO 2016 runner-up and a World Cup champion in 2018. Clearly, Paul Pogba has internalized and accepted the importance of national team success. There is great pride in his country’s accomplishments as evidenced by his insta posts, which reference France and the 2018 World Cup. He even speaks glowingly of his fellow countrymen suggesting that they are deserving of the 2018 Ballon d’Or, an annual award to the male footballer judged to have performed the best.

At Manchester United F.C., Paul Pogba is struggling with non self-determined and self-determined extrinsic motivation. There is no questioning his great talent! At the same time, he is constantly under pressure from external sources including the media, fans, and the manager. The media see him as the face of the team and its leader. Paul is a way to further market the club to its large following given that he is a great talent in their possession. Fans and followers are entertained by his demeanor away from the pitch and his talent on the pitch. They also want to see him justify his price tag and his label as Manchester United’s most expensive transfer. Some fans feel a sense of abandonment given that Paul trained at the club in his youth before leaving for Juventus F.C. and then being bought back for a high transfer fee. In terms of the manager, Jose Mourinho exudes pressure upon Paul Pogba to win the match. While all players feel this pressure, the added sources from the media and followers means that the pressure from the manager is exacerbated. Combined, these are unwanted pressures proving that Paul Pogba manifests non self-determined extrinsic motivation at Manchester United F.C.

As such, we are unlikely to see consistent performances from Paul Pogba in 2018-2019.

While the situation appears hopeless, Manchester United have indeed lost points this year against clubs with lesser profiles and fewer trophies. Jose Mourinho has absorbed much of the blame for these failures. Paul Pogba has also shouldered part of the blame. With a much-needed comeback win against Newcastle United F.C. on October 6th, 2018, they have little time to find a solution.

The solution is self-determined extrinsic motivation. 

Enter Jose Mourinho, sport psychologist.

After beating Newcastle F.C., Jose spoke about himself and his players being victims of a “man hunt”. He added “as a friend of mine was saying to me this morning, if tomorrow it rains in London it is my fault. If there are some difficulties with the agreements of Brexit, it is my fault” (BBC, 2018).

Jose has planted the seed for a siege mentality. The siege mentality is a mental state in which club members hold a central belief that the media, sections of followers, and other clubs hold negative behavioral intentions toward them (Bar-Tal & Antebi, 1992). With convincing evidence, Man United players, including Paul Pogba, can internalise and accept this unifying mentality leading to greater persistence and better performances. Indeed, Jose has instilled this mentality at Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan, and Real Madrid. The results speak for themselves in terms of endless amounts of trophies.

Man hunt at Man United…well played, Jose!


Forbes. (2018). Retrieved from

BBC. (2018). Retrieved from

Bar-Tal, D., & Antebi, D. (1992). Beliefs about negative intentions of the world: A study of the Israeli siege mentality. Political Psychology, 633-645.

Vallerand, R.J. and Rousseau, F.L. (2001). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in sport and exercise: a review using the Hierarchical Model of Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motiva- tion. In Handbook of Sport Psychology, 2nd edn (edited by R.N. Singer, H.A. Hausenblas and C.M. Janelle), pp. 389–416. New York: Wiley. 


Paul Pogba

By, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Jose Mourinho

By Дмитрий Голубович –, CC BY-SA 3.0,

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