Ever since he burst on to the scene after winning the Champions League with Porto in 2004, pretty much everyone has been waxing lyrical over the ‘genius’ that is Jose Mourinho. The thing is, I’m not sure ‘The Special One’ is actually that special at all. I don’t believe I’m that much in the minority with that opinion either; I’m just in the minority in England. In Italy and Spain, Mourinho found himself at the receiving end of a lot of criticism – to such an extent at Madrid, it was partly the reason the club parted ways with him after three years. But more on that later.
I’m not saying Mourinho isn’t a successful manager, he clearly has the CV to back himself, I just think he’s had a relatively easy ride along the way. I’m aware that winning the Champions League with Porto was an incredible feat, but they didn’t exactly have the toughest draw. Deportivo La Coruna and Monaco in the semi-final and final respectively, isn’t exactly Real Madrid and Bayern Munich is it? Mourinho’s strongest quality is his ability to strike while the iron is hot; in other words, take advantage when there isn’t a great deal of competition.
There isn’t a better example of this than his spell at Inter Milan. He managed two titles in two seasons, as well as the Champions League in the second season – I’ll give him that. Domestically, they stumbled over the line in both campaigns, yet who were they really up against? AC were going through a serious decline, Roma and Lazio were drifting along in footballing limbo and for the first season Juventus weren’t even in the league. If there was ever a time to manage Inter Milan, that was it.
The team he established at The Nerazzuri suited him down to a tee; humble, hardworking and honest players blended together with a subtle touch of quality. Mourinho thrives with these sorts of teams – he creates a ‘them versus us’ situation – making the players believe the whole of Italy were against him and his unfashionable outfit. But what happens when he is in charge of a fashionable club? The sort of club where they’re not used to the whole country being against them, because they’re the darling club of the nation. A club where winning in style, is a demand not a request.
Jose’s arrival at Real Madrid provoked the levels of excitement usually generated from a Galactico signing, not a manager. For the first time in their history, Real Madrid had a coach who was more marketable than the players. Despite the furore his appointment prompted, the Portuguese failed to live up to the hype. Two trophies in two years, neither of them being the Champions League, wasn’t what the demanding Madrid supporters or hierarchy had in mind – especially considering the style of play it was achieved in.
The troubles Mourinho endured throughout his time at the Spanish capital are best summed up by one match: the first leg of the Champions League Semi-final against Barcelona. Admittedly Barcelona had a fantastic side, one of the best to play the game; then again, so did Madrid. Los Blancos had over £200 million of talent in the starting eleven, and a further £100 million on the bench. Mourinho likes excuses, but that night, having a weaker team could not be one of them. The Madrid fans were nervously expectant ahead of the tie, what they didn’t foresee was what actually happened – Mourinho parked the bus. With Real Madrid. At home. We all know what happened; of course Mourinho blamed everyone other than himself – even Unicef. Perhaps the pressure was finally showing signs of getting to him.
That game, and Mourinho’s overall tenure at Real, is symbolic of his biggest flaw as a manager – he doesn’t know how to play entertaining, attacking football. Instead, he had the world’s best footballers at his disposal, yet treated them as if they were constantly the underdogs. Using the same tactics as he did at Inter wasn’t going to cut it, the Madrid players were better than that and they knew it. He basically had a team of Ferrari’s and drove them all in third gear.
The style of play was a prominent factor in his dismissal from the ten times European Champions; it wasn’t the only factor though. Mourinho’s abrasive management style is transient – there is always going to be an expiration date on the highly demanding standards he imposes on his players. At Madrid, the expiry date was a few years before he had anticipated. Key players in the squad became irritated with his volatile character; the rift between him and especially the Spanish players grew increasingly untenable, until another defeat to Barcelona, he exploded:
“You’re all traitors. Sons of bitches. The only one I can trust is Granero and I’m not even sure I can trust him anymore”.
These were the words he threw at his team; it’s not so surprising Mourinho lambasted his players, it is surprising though that Mourinho was Granero’s friend when he never got a game. Some managers are accused of losing the dressing room; it appears towards the end of his Madrid reign, Mourinho had to be told: ‘It’s down the corridor on the left, Jose’.
Mourinho has famously returned to Chelsea where he looks set to win the league with the West London club. A decent but not spectacular return considering his rivals consist of fragile Arsenal and Liverpool teams, an out of sorts Man United and a Manchester City team under the guidance of the tactically naïve Pellegrini. Sadly for Chelsea fans, his domestic triumph hasn’t translated too well into Europe. Wednesday night’s defeat to PSG further fuelled the suggestions that he can’t dominate a game of football. It’s not that he chose to play negatively, or favoured counter-attacking football to just attacking, he just doesn’t know how to do the latter. This pitfall cost him on Wednesday night, it cost him last year against Atletico, and it will cost him again.
He has come out and said that he wants to stay at Chelsea for many years, whether Roman Abramovich agrees with that is doubtful. A situation like the one at Madrid isn’t impossible, but regardless of that, is Mourinho even capable of building a legacy? So far his scattered career suggests that he isn’t. It’s often questioned how well he would do at a smaller club, I wonder how well he would have done at Manchester United post-Fergie. Alright, he probably wouldn’t have flopped David Moyes’ style, but is he capable of producing the exciting, free flowing football synonymous with Man United? I have my doubts.
Up until now, when fans claim Mourinho is the best manager in the world I sat quiet and bit my lip. It’s typical English hyperbole. Whilst Chelsea and Mourinho were getting outplayed by ten men on Wednesday night, Pep Guardiola was masterminding another thrashing handed out by Bayern Munich. The accusation that Guardiola inherited a world class team is a fair one; however, his innovative tactics can’t be scoffed at. Whether they play 4-3-3, 3-4-3 of any formation, Bayern dominate every game of football they play. They, and subsequently Guardiola, are head and shoulders above Chelsea, and subsequently Mourinho.