Stephen El Shaarawy was brought on in the 70th minute, followed by Eldor Shomurodov in the 74th minute. Jose Mario Dos Santos Mourinho Félix was managing his 1000th game as a manager and the stoppage time saw El Shaarawy curling a shot in off the post for AS Roma to secure a win over Sassuolo, and the goal was assisted by Shomurodov. It had to be a Mourinho masterclass, and the moment was served right. The goal was followed by his trademark celebratory sprint down the touchline. It was deja vu.
I remember Jose Mourinho running down the Old Trafford touchline after knocking out Manchester United in the Round of 16 of the Champions League. The year was 2004, and the ‘Special One’ had entered the scene of football as a young prodigy
Almost two decades later, we still have the ‘Greatest Showman’ in business pulling the strings in Italy as the head coach of AS Roma. Football has changed. It has transformed into something so demanding that entertainment and results must go hand in hand. It is also dependent on how the media perceives the manager. Mourinho’s personality was always in question right from the time he was appointed as the Chelsea manager where he called himself the ‘Special One’, up until the last presser where he told one of the journalists that their job was easier than football managers, “which is why we earn a lot more than you”. His character and charisma was widely associated with the likes of the legendary Brian Clough.
The media fooling the world into believing that Jose Mourinho is a bad guy is the biggest crime I have seen in football. In his career, the testimonials of players who have won everything under his system and the players who have not won anything under him is in itself proof of his exceptional ability to develop strong relations and bonds with his players. The enviable collection of trophies and his insatiable drive for success and winning culminated in inspiring high levels of player loyalty. Wesley Sneijder had said that he would ‘kill and die’ for Mourinho. Dejan Stankovic said that he ‘would have thrown himself into a fire’ for him. Samuel Eto’o spoke with his actions, filling in as an auxiliary full-back for more than an hour after Thiago Motta was sent off in the second leg of the Champions League semi-final away to Barcelona.
John Terry had mentioned in one of his shows on television that he would leave the pitch in a coffin for Mourinho. He believed that Jose Mourinho was far ahead of his game; he opined that Mourinho was ‘the best’ manager and that he was well ahead of the curve with what he was coaching and teaching the players. Terry also added that some of the stuff that Mourinho did in coaching, has just cottoned on for the new managers because of how good the techniques were.
It is funny that a lot of players under him were selfless and were willing to even ‘die’ for the manager including Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Mourinho was and is constantly harassed by the media at the very sight of his downward progression as a manager and his ‘man-management’. The number of articles shaming him after his Manchester United stint is proof of how much the media hate the 58-year-old manager. In my point of view, the English media just hate the fact that he is still the best manager Manchester United has had since Sir Alex Ferguson.
The other side of football was Mourinho’s life since the age of 14. He worked as a scout for his father’s club and has ever since been the ideal disciple of football. From being a ‘translator’ to one of the greatest football managers, Jose Mourinho has had an adventurous ride. The first decade of the 21st century witnessed the ‘Special One’ become the centre of world football, treating us with moments of euphoria. His men at Porto were upsetting the status quo and resenting the established elite. Mourinho was not necessarily a tactical innovator at that time. He cajoled his team, enabled team spirit and mobilized belief. He had the fans’ trust and was unchallenged in terms of his man-management with a team that was so composed and functional, resembling a well-oiled machine. It was as if the club was programmed to glory.
All the achievements that Jose Mourinho has had as a manager can be traced back to this period where FC Porto showed the world a visionary and an underdog, who broke all the stereotypes of world football and emerged as a winner in the ‘beautiful game’. It was the beginning of an era of possibilities and hope for a man from Setubal, Portugal, who climbed the ladder to the elite tier of football against all odds with his ‘Midas Touch’.
Chelsea 2004/05 was iconic with its new ownership, new manager and new records. They were defeated just once in the league and finished the season with a record 95 points and conceding an all-time low of just 15 goals. Mourinho announced himself to the world as a manager who guaranteed success. He achieved everything with Inter Milan with the right group of players that functioned smoothly in terms of defending, creating chances and scoring. The treble was historical and emotional. Mourinho’s deep and intense relationships with players were synonymous to his love for them. The emotions instilled desire in the players to put everything for the team. Mourinho set foot in Spain to accomplish the mission of stopping the ‘invincible’ Barcelona and went on to beat the greatest football team of all time to a league title, breaking every record possible. The Copa del Rey was a cherry on top as Real Madrid had won the tournament for the first time in 18 years.
I believe that his stint at FC Porto is what is pushing Jose Mourinho even after all these years. The Porto years have motivated him to take up projects at a Manchester United in ruins, a trophyless Tottenham Hotspur and currently AS Roma, a team living on past glory. His early years as a manager were perfect in every way. He chose to be part of a Chelsea under construction which was backed by a well-managed club and provided them with a history to remember for decades. Inter Milan was the perfect stage to show the world what Jose Mourinho was capable of. Real Madrid chose ‘The Translator’ to “knock Barcelona off their perch”. He also brought the Europa League, Europe’s second tier trophy to Manchester United for the first time.
Substance over Style
Jose Mourinho, in one of his press conferences, shared his thoughts about the Chelsea fans forgetting him and his time at the club would be confined to history. The idea of Mourinho in football was analogous to winning. His methods were unapologetic and it split fan bases across the teams that he has managed. The unconventional style and the controversies and the baggage that he had to carry across his career to achieve glory was in itself an adventure. The press conferences were entertaining and tendentious, drawing more attention than a football match. His system of ‘negative football’ and the ‘mind games’ associated with his tactics have often been compared to the Machiavellian style and Mourinho has acknowledged the similarities with the Italian diplomat.
He has shown the world that football can be won in more than one way and every path to victory is beautiful. His reputation of playing a counter-attacking style of football, popularly known as ‘park the bus’ was widely criticized for its lack of ‘art’ in the football system. It wasn’t an issue in any of the teams that were victorious under him. He has always been result-oriented and it gave him trophies and what cost him was just aesthetics. The key element in his tactical preparation was ‘tactical periodization’, which focused on attacking and defensive transitions. With a tight defence and counterattack in play, he had devised a simple system that after almost two decades ended as being ‘boring’. According to him, simplicity was genius and complexity in football was to hide the fact that the team is not good enough.
The beauty of football also lies in the eyes of the beholder. The perspectives are different for different people. We celebrate those who fit into our accepted views, but football is beautiful in every way. The teams that were victorious under Mourinho have had their fans celebrate the manager and the players he coached for the success they brought with them. The ‘unattractive’ football that Mourinho had devised in crucial matches were also used by his contemporaries to achieve success. The Champions League final victory for Liverpool was nothing surprising in terms of tactics. Jurgen Klopp had his team disciplined, sitting deep, staying in shape, very little pressing, average possession game and very much reliant on set pieces and individual brilliance. He didn’t let the opponent exploit the weaknesses of his team. The French team that won the World Cup 2018 is the perfect example of how substance over style was used to ‘win’ in football.
The Enemy of Football
Jose Mourinho fought for his recognition in football. He is a man with flaws and insecurities. His focus on winning was overwhelming to a lot of players. Leadership and mental health in high-performance sports can be difficult to manage, especially when the media is all over you. Winning with a positive style of football and ‘footballing vision’ are the terms that keep the media on your side. Tangible success and ‘lack of balance in values’ are the characteristics by which a large population identifies Mourinho with. When it comes to a manager like Carlo Ancelotti, a dip in his career is identified as a poor career choice. For Mourinho, it is outdated defensive football and his ragged man-management that is costing him his job.
Cristiano Ronaldo had his goal-scoring peak with Mourinho, so has Harry Kane. Individual performances that can be highlighted under Mourinho’s reign are innumerable. I took the example of Cristiano and Kane because one was managed by a Mourinho in his prime and the other was a Mourinho at his so-called career-low. He has been the ‘Enemy of Football’, the manager that loses the dressing room and is a ‘catalyst’ for self-destruction. He is portrayed as an image of control with every movement on the pitch puppeteered by the tactician that disallows individual growth. Has this been the trend all along? Or has football changed so much that a player is more important than the team? Paul Pogba, Antony Martial and Luke Shaw have been the ‘victims’ of the ‘Mourinho curse’ and it eventually led to the ‘losing of dressing room’.
The same players (except for Shaw) are anticipated to leave the club after 3 years, with Pogba having the same number of trophies Mourinho has won with Manchester United. The same situation dwelled in the dressing room of Tottenham Hotspur, where it was Dele Alli leading the show. Time has shown us again and again how Mourinho has been right about certain players and certain clubs. Mourinho was the best thing that has happened to so many players and they have dedicated it to the manager. Football was selfless for those players and they have had the numbers and silverware that they can take with them and nothing can change that. Every player under him was dangerous and explosive in nature.
Mourinho was and is an icon of the football world and the media attention that he receives has always been a buffer zone that allowed his players to do their jobs. The siege mentality and the unity and togetherness of the players have been crucial in the historic victories that he has guided his clubs to. A rebel and a winner, Jose Mourinho has his CV speaking for him as a manager and as a human being.
His arch-nemesis Pep Guardiola as a manager still has his players put in the intensity and work to get a spot in the starting eleven and that is a privilege that many managers cannot have. Mourinho made mediocre teams look world-class. He is a victim of his own success because his career demands triumph. The expectation to win year after year, deliver trophies year after year and the constant media attack is in itself a war that he has to battle.
The Catalyst for Success or Self-Destruction?
Mourinho has worked in different countries with players of different cultures and different languages and has motivated them to be better footballers. This is an incomparable achievement. The recent decline that he is having is the definition put forward by a Tottenham and a finished Manchester United side. He was sacked at Tottenham before a cup final against Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City which was their only chance of silverware and under Mourinho we never know – the best in class for winning one-off games gets sacked.
He will forever be remembered at Porto, Inter Milan, Real Madrid and Chelsea. He created history for those clubs and it is an imperishable success. Manchester United has been in disarray for 8 years and he comes in and wins 3 trophies in his first year as a manager with a below-average squad and subsequently finished second to Pep’s centurions in the second season with the most clean sheets and a win over the neighbours at their home turf. I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, he will be the best manager of Manchester United after Sir Alex.
Jose had revolutionized football and almost two decades later, the chronic short-termism and the power dynamics of clubs have cost him dearly in recent times. The massive business that football is, the longevity of managers has been perceived as something that is far away from its definition. Longevity is not about the head coach or the manager, it is about having an infrastructure in place where a football club has a clear identity and culture. With a career win rate of 63.76% after 1000 games in charge and 25 titles to his name, Jose Mourinho leaves behind countless memories and he is still taking every moment as a manager to remind the world how good he is. We don’t know when he will call it a day, but it is for sure that he will go down in history as one of the greatest managers of all time and forever be the ‘The Special One’.