The Jose Mourinho Conundrum
Understanding the most complicated coach in the history of Club Football
Jose Mourinho is football's version of Mike Tyson. He possesses the swagger, the do-it-all attitude, the ‘I know everything’ attitude and the ‘I’ve won it all’ attitude.
Tyson was a fresh-wave in boxing. The buildup to his fights garnered as much, albeit sometimes more attention, than the actual bout itself. The same applies for Jose! Who does not wait for a Mourinho special before a feisty game?
'I have nothing to say, nothing.'
That is all Mourinho had to say after Chelsea suffered a 3-1 home loss to Liverpool, putting more pressure on the shoulders of the then under-fire Chelsea boss. He eventually got the sack, and many began dubbing him as the ‘Special no-one’ after his sour second spell at the club he so dearly loved. Whilst his time at Chelsea can be deemed a success, he was subject to a lot of criticism due to some questionable decisions.
Lack of trust in the youth
One of the more straightforward points that does not require a fancy football brain to understand is Mourinho's lack of holding on to exciting youth prospects. The list of names he's let go or not utilized is appalling, and that's putting it mildly.
Kevin de Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, Ryan Betrand, Dominic Solanke, Ruben Loftus Cheek et all. have faced the brute of Mourinho whilst at Chelsea.
While Solanke and Loftus Cheek are yet to showcase their spark at the grandest stage, the potential was there to be harnessed. Now a manager of Manchester United, could we say the same about him?
Rashford, Lingard, Fosu Mensah and Tuanzebe have all benefitted from the trust the manager has showed in them. Angel Gomez, Andreas Perreira and McTominay all await on the sidelines for their chance to grab the ultimate opportunity. And the surprising part is, Mourinho has them in their plans for the next season, or so it seems.
Why the stark difference in ideology at the two clubs?
This is why. While Mourinho has always been a winner, Chelsea was his ‘rite of passage’. He had emerged as a tactical genius from the shores of Miramar after leading Porto to Champions League glory.
Chelsea looked to him for spearheading their new revolution, and being the opportunist that he is, Jose took it with both hands. He was touted as the man to disturb the equilibrium established at the top of the Premier League.
Chelsea at the time were in a state of euphoria. They had seen the club being purchased by a Russian Oligarch, one who didn’t tolerate mediocrity.
He was quick to act, sacking Claudio Ranieri who, to his credit, did provide a stable footing for the years to come with the smart signings of Frank Lampard and Claude Makalele. It was clear to Mourinho, end the year trophyless; get sacked.
He came to a club where he didn’t have time to settle. He knew he had to make an instant impact. His signings of Arjen Robben, Didier Drogba (credit to Ranieri for scouting them), Michael Essien and Flourent Malouda materialized into a successful formula as he propelled Chelsea to the Premier League and the League Cup in his first year in charge.
He went on to become Chelsea’s most successful manager in the span of 3 years, after which an altercation with Abramovic ended his first spell as Chelsea manager.
He then went on to manage Inter Milan, and his time there could also be deemed a success. The atmosphere at Inter was comparable to that at Chelsea. Massimo Moratti, the chairman and owner of Inter at that time was as demanding as Roman Abramovic. Mourinho joined Inter in the midst of their most successful spell in Serie A, and the pressure was on him to deliver success instantaneously, which he did. Two successful years and 4 trophies later, Real Madrid came calling.
Florentino Perez had won the Real Madrid Presidential elections in 2009 and has kept his spot ever since. He was seen by many as a firm believer of the ‘Galactico’ Policy and he turned to Jose Mourinho to bring fruition to this venture of his.
Here too, Mourinho was expected to bring immediate success as he had the war-chest other managers could only dream of. He was pegged back by the brilliance of Barcelona and managed to win three trophies in his time there before heading back to Chelsea. His second spell at Chelsea followed a similar trend before he finally joined an ailing Manchester United.
At Old Trafford, the scenario was different. He overtook Louis van Gaal who was put to the sword after two mediocre years at the club. United were still recovering from the repercussions of having to part ways with Sir Alex. David Moyes seemed to lack the winning mentality that was central to Sir Alex’s reign. Louis van Gaal seemed to be a better proposition, but he too failed to live up to the expectations of the job.
What was different about Old Trafford was the fact that Mourinho now knew he had time as an ally. He had come to the club as a manager who was proven to guarantee success in the long run, a manager who had the credentials for implementing his style of play and managerial-ship with ease.
Playing youngsters doesn’t always guarantee success. They are raw-talent that needs to be properly molded and with time, they will come good. Incorporating them into the team is a painstakingly slow process, and one that needs to be done with a great sense of caution. While at Chelsea, Inter or Real Madrid; Mourinho knew he did not have time at his side. He had to deliver, and he had to deliver fast. The sternness of the superiors coupled with the heightened expectations meant Mourinho had to overlook youth for a more efficient alternative. He had to buy players who could fit into his system and gel in quick enough to help maintain his outlook as a winner.
At United, he has the backing of the owners and the CEO. He’s at a club where the manager oversees progress with minimal intervention from his superiors.
Many had thought Mourinho’s arrival would spell the end of Juan Mata at Manchester United, but it turned out to be quite the opposite. Mata was instrumental in Mourinho’s first season at the club and has deepened his position as guaranteed starter. The signing of Romelu Lukaku raised quite a few eyebrows but Mourinho was quick to dust off the speculation by revealing he never had a problem with Lukaku even when at Chelsea.
Maybe this goes to show that managers are, to a great extent, suppressed by the demands of the owners and CEO’s in clubs that thrives in such setups. Same can be said about Arsene Wenger’s situation at Arsenal. He faces the ire of the fans who want to see the checkbook used more often as they always seem to fall short of promise as the season progresses. Ivan Gazidis and Stan Kroenke, the moguls at Arsenal FC, do not support Wenger in terms of finances. Given the excruciating conditions, credit must be given to Arsene for maintaining the level of consistency in performance year after year.
Mourinho is certainly enjoying the autonomy that he currently possesses. Will it reap long term rewards? Only time will tell.
The Mouri-NO style of play:
Building on the facts raised in the previous point, this is to understand why Mourinho sets his teams up to play defensive football.
He has often been criticized for dull, drab performances where his teams end up victorious by having their backs to the wall for the entirety of 90 minutes. The jargon, ‘park the bus’ has Mourinho written all over it.
It is important to understand, however, that Mourinho wasn’t always like this. His FC Porto side were ruthless in front of goal and their style of play was adventurous. His team could go ‘all-out attack’ to ‘park the bus’ with relative ease within the span of 90 minutes.
He quickly began implementing his adaptive style of play and delivered the Champions League to the Portuguese side in his second season in charge. His ruthlessness followed him to Chelsea where he swept the league with pomp.
Mourinho justified his arrogance with immediate results and it was all down to his ability to exercise control over his players and toy around with formations and tactics dependent on what he felt suited best.
At Chelsea however, he found out that the Premier League was a completely different ball game. If he did something good, others would try to do something better; and for the first time in his managerial career he faced formidable opposition.
Others around him were trying to adapt and better themselves. They were ready to stand up to the storm. He had two of the most successful managers in the history of Football breathing down his neck and for the first time, he was afraid of losing his footing.
Faced with the possibility of a sack if his team underperformed, he turned to the old adage ‘Defense is the best form of Attack’. The idea of defending to save a point or three, rather than risking it to lose the game was convincing and Mourinho decided to implement it.
Football is an ever-changing and unforgiving sport. With fresh money being pumped into clubs year after year, almost every club can sign quality players and dream of making it to the top. ‘Park the bus’ was Mourinho’s defence mechanism. And this tactic of his came out for everyone to see in Inter’s famous semi-final win over Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona.
Knowing he didn’t possess the quality of players Pep had at his disposal, he knew the only way he could better the opposition was to soak up everything they threw at them and wait for the opportunity to pounce. Mourinho went on to add another feather to his cap by claiming the treble with Inter in 2009, all while mastering a tactic which he would use for many years to come.
Long story short, the inherent pressure of delivering silverware and staying up to his forte of a proven winner pushed Mourinho to employ the defensive tactic.
This tactic was brushed aside by most football fans as it promoted boring football. In a results business however, Mourinho had found another way to win.
As far as managers of today go, Mourinho is definitely not a 'one-trick' pony. While everyone has different tactics and approaches to the game, Jose has stood out as being a manager who can perform at any stage and in any league.
Tyson emerged at a time when boxing was still in search for the next Muhammad Ali. Heck, Tyson couldn't be the next Ali, he instead became the first 'Mike Tyson’.
The same can be said about Mourinho.
In a world where football managers seek to emulate their idols, Mourinho has carved his own way to the top of the pile.