JONATHAN WILSON penned the following piece for The Guardian on 22nd December 2015 at the peak of speculation about Jose Mourinho's potential transfer to Manchester United. The club have today confirmed the Portuguese as our new manager and no doubt to the elation of many fans who had grown nauseated by the Louis van Gaal era. Wilson's piece makes for an entertaining read, even in hindsight.
+At the beginning of May 2015, Chelsea wrapped up the Premier League title with a scrappy 1-0 win over Crystal Palace
It was not a great game or a great performance – for a couple of months
Chelsea had looked exhausted, dragging their fatigued limbs over the
line and grateful no contender was able to mount a serious challenge to
them. It was a day of relief as well as exultation, manager José
Mourinho’s third title with the club, his first since he returned in
2013 for his second stint as manager, and only the fifth Chelsea had
ever won, despite all the recent investment from their billionaire owner
Nobody then, perhaps, realised quite what a struggle those final
yards had been, or had any notion just how difficult things had become.
Certainly nobody suspected then what would happen this season as Chelsea
suffered the worst opening third to a campaign of any defending
champion. Nobody recognised that what we were seeing was not necessarily
a wearying champion staggering to the finish but a club entering a
period of profound crisis.
Mourinho’s mood, too, was strange. He could have been forgiven for
seeming jaded, yet his performance in the post-match press conference
was neither tired nor celebratory. Usually such end-of-season events are
relaxed affairs: “Tell us how you won”, “Who was the most important
player?”, “Which game was key?”
But Mourinho was as chippy as ever. This day of joy, he decided, was the
perfect time to deliver another thrust in his ongoing feud with Pep Guardiola
the intense 44-year-old who was appointed Barcelona manager ahead of
Mourinho in 2008. Guardiola, a much-loved former Barça player, had no
coaching experience beyond one year in charge of the reserve side, but
went on to win three league titles and two Champions Leagues in four
seasons at Barça, playing a style of football widely regarded as both
thrilling and revolutionary. “For me,” Mourinho said, “I’m not the
smartest guy to choose countries and clubs. I could choose another club
in another country where to be champion is easier.” He didn’t name
Guardiola, but the reference was clear. In 2013, Guardiola had gone to
Germany’s super-club, Bayern Munich, where the question is less, “Who
will win the title?” than “How many will Bayern win it by?” Guardiola’s
titles, Mourinho was suggesting, meant less than the one he had just
won. To some extent he was right, of course, and if he had been making a
general critique of the iniquities of global football finance, he might
even have come across as statesmanlike, but his point was limited to
Guardiola and his personal antipathy.
“I took a risk,” he went on. “I am so, so happy because I won another
Premier League title 10 years after [my first] in my second spell at
the club. I was champion at every club I coached. I came to Inter
[Milan], Real Madrid and Chelsea. Every title is important. To win the
title in Spain with 100 points against the best Barcelona ever was a big
achievement that I enjoyed so much. Maybe in the future I have to be
smarter and choose another club in another country where everybody is
champion. Maybe I will go to a country where a kitman can be coach and
win the title. Maybe I need to be smarter but I still enjoy these
difficulties. I think I’m at the right place. I’m here until Abramovich
tells me to go.”
Even by Mourinho’s standards, this was weird. Why would anybody,
having just lifted the title, choose to belittle their rival, a rival
who operates in another country? And not just a passing jibe, a full-on
In hindsight, that final sentence seems strange too: here until
Abramovich tells him to go? Mourinho had said on his return to Chelsea
that he wanted to found a dynasty, that in a career laden with
silverware that was something he still had not done and yet that line,
seemingly so throwaway, hinted at an insecurity. Perhaps it was merely
part of his contract negotiations: he did, after all, sign a new
four-year deal a few weeks later.
Odd as the attack on Guardiola was, it followed a pattern.
Increasingly, as the season had gone on, it had become apparent that
Mourinho was obsessed by Barcelona and, specifically, by Guardiola as
the manifestation of the Barcelona philosophy that, since his successes
at the club, had become hugely influential among the elite. He was once
among them, but they rejected him. He had once worked with Louis van
Gaal at Barcelona in the 1990s, at a time when the club was home to the
men who would shape modern coaching.
Mourinho left to make his fortune and succeeded, but when he wanted
to return they denied him. He was a little bit different. He was not a
player but a translator-turned-coach. He was not one of them. He did not
think like them. He looked at the game and asked not how to win while
playing well, but simply how to win. He had a pragmatic edge that meant
he never quite fitted in. He came, in 2008, replete with honours,
wanting to be coach and they preferred one of their own. He became the
outcast, the rebel, the fallen angel. He began to define himself in
opposition to Barcelona and thus to the prevailing footballing ethos of
the age. He would not play by their rules; he would do things his way in
self-conscious opposition and prove that he was right. He vowed, like
Milton’s Satan “to wage by force of guile eternal war, irreconcilable to
our grand Foe”.
When Louis van Gaal arrived at Barcelona in 1997,
having managed Holland’s biggest team Ajax for the previous six years,
it was supposed to be as the club’s youth coordinator. But he was soon
asked to take over as manager as Bobby Robson was shuffled into an
ambassadorial role because of poor league form. Mourinho had started out
as Robson’s interpreter with the Portuguese club Porto, but had
impressed the former England manager with his understanding of football
and had followed him to Spain as a translator-cum-coach. On Robson’s
recommendation, Van Gaal took on Mourinho to be his “third assistant”.
At 34, it was a huge step for Mourinho, the first real sign that he was
respected by figures at the top of the global game.
had been born into football. His grandfather had been president of
Vitória, a moderately sized club from Setúbal. His father had been a
goalkeeper and then went into coaching. Mourinho wanted to be a player
but at the age of 24, after spells at three of Portugal’s smaller clubs,
he too accepted that coaching offered him a brighter future. His
father’s career helped make Mourinho aware what an ungrateful world
football can be: Mourinho has often referred to the time, when he was
“nine or 10”, that his father was sacked on Christmas Day. Actually, it
happened in 1984 when Mourinho was 21, but the general point remains: no
matter what you’ve done in the past – Mourinho Sr had taken Rio Ave to
promotion and a Portuguese cup final – a run of bad results can bring
Mourinho Jr became a student at the Instituto Superior de Educação
Física in Lisbon, Portugal’s leading sports university, and came under
the influence of Professor Manuel Sérgio, who believed that football
knowledge was not enough, that a coach also had to be a psychologist, a
public speaker and have a grasp of the sciences. In 1987, Mourinho left
the college and worked for a while as a PE teacher at various primary
schools, specialising in helping children with disabilities.
As a teenager, Mourinho had helped his father, preparing scouting
reports on opponents – perhaps significantly, looking for ways their
style of playing could be hampered. When he was 28, Vitoria de Setúbal,
the club where his father had played and coached, took him on as a youth
team coach. He fulfilled the same role at Estrela de Amadora and then
became a scout at Ovarense, two of Portugal’s less glamorous clubs.
Eventually, in 1992, he got his big break, appointed to work with
Robson, who was then manager of Sporting Lisbon.
Robson, a naturally open and generous man, took to discussing tactics
with Mourinho and, as they moved to Porto and then Barcelona, gave him
more and more responsibility, getting him to plan training sessions and
prepare dossiers on opponents, recognising that the younger man’s
meticulousness and natural caution were a useful counter-balance to his
own spontaneity and attacking instincts.
Barcelona in the mid-90s was an extraordinary place to be, not just
because the team won the league two seasons running, but because of the
people who were there. In Mourinho’s time at the club, it was home not
only to the future Chelsea manager, but also the current managers of
Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Manchester United, Porto, PSV Eindhoven and
Southampton. They are not clones of each other, but it was at Barcelona
in the late 90s that the prevailing ethos of modern football was formed.
The predominant style was that which has sustained Barcelona since the
arrival of the Ajax coach Rinus Michels in 1971. He brought with him
Total Football, a belief in possession football, rooted in a high
offside line, pressing and the interchange of players on the field and,
in 1973, the great Dutch forward Johan Cruyff. When Cruyff became
Barcelona’s manager in 1988, he reinforced this philosophy and, although
he saw the version of the game practised by his successor as manager,
Louis van Gaal, as overly mechanised, the starting point was the same.
This was perhaps the greatest coaching seminar in history, and the
philosophy it taught was that which had been flowing from Ajax to
Barcelona, which believed the same things but had more money, for three
decades: what we might perhaps term the Barçajax school.
Not that anybody remarked upon it then, but Mourinho was an outsider
looking in. He had not played at Ajax or Barcelona, so although much of
his experience at the top end of football had been under Barçajax
thinkers, those ideals perhaps were not as deeply ingrained in him as
they were in others. Van Gaal was impressed by his work on positional
play and allowed him to give tactical advice at half-time and to coach
the team in friendlies. As he became increasingly confident, Van Gaal
found “an arrogant young man, who didn’t respect authority that much,
but I did like that of him. He was not submissive, used to contradict me
when he thought I was in the wrong. Finally I wanted to hear what he
had to say and ended up listening to him more than the rest of my
Barcelona was Mourinho’s education. The next stage
was to put it into practice. After a short spell in Lisbon at Benfica,
Mourinho was appointed coach of União de Leiria in July 2001. They are a
small club and their budget was extremely limited, but playing
hard-nosed counter-attacking football Mourinho had them third by
January. They fell away towards the end of the season but Portugal’s big
clubs had taken note and, the following January, Mourinho was appointed
manager of Porto.
It was at Porto that Mourinho’s ideas were first tested on a stage he
saw as befitting his talents. It was there that he first achieved the
sort of control over a side that he demanded, it was there that he began
competing for titles rather than scrapping to avoid relegation.
Porto, Mourinho would vary his team’s formation according to whether he
was playing in the domestic league or the European Champions League.
The shape, though, was a minor detail alongside the style. “He wanted us
to press very high,” said Maniche, a midfielder in Mourinho’s team. “He
wanted the team to react quickly when they lose the ball, so we gain it
in their midfield. This pressure would be done as a team, and not only
one or two players.” But, crucially – in contrast to the Barçajax school
of thought – possession was never fetishised. “The more the ball
circulates in midfield,” Mourinho said, “the more likely it is that the
other team will dispossess us.” That was the first expression of a
theory that would later become notorious.
Mourinho would always present his team with dossiers on their
opponents. “One of the most important aspects about José, which I
support, is that the other team has to be the one making the changes,
you have to keep your own identity,” said Costinha, who was Porto’s
defensive midfielder at the time. “Of course, he would give us detailed
information about the team we were facing next at the start of the
training week and more precisely about the player that would be closest
to our area of play. ‘What was the player like? Did he have a tendency
to get many cards? What kind of movements did he make?’ It was new for
many of us back then, but it was very helpful and meant we were much
better prepared for each match.”
Where Mourinho excelled was in his attention to detail and,
specifically, in anticipating scenarios that might occur during the
game. “Sometimes it was as though he could see the future,” said
goalkeeper Vítor Baía. “I remember a specific incident against Benfica,
when throughout the week he prepared us for what we should do after we
scored a goal … He told us that [the Benfica coach José Antonio] Camacho
would make a specific substitution and change his tactics, which was
what happened. So we already knew what to do when he did it; we were
completely prepared for it. For the same match, we also prepared to play
with 10 players, because José knew the referee would not be able to
take the pressure and would show a red card along the way. That also
so we knew what to do and got a narrow win.”
Mourinho still readies his side for different scenarios today. When
Chelsea beat Paris Saint Germain 2-0 in the quarter final of the
Champions League in 2014, for instance, John Terry revealed that they
had practiced for various different scorelines, even down to the heavily
attacking system they ended up using for the final 10 minutes as they
chased the vital second goal. Specific preparation is key; as little as
possible is left to chance.
Mourinho’s other way of preparing for big games was psychological.
“The rivalries would do their work,” Maniche said, “and the press
conferences.” An ability to play the media has always been a Mourinho
strength, antagonising opponents and pressuring referees. The flipside
of that is his relationship with his own squad, a capacity to create
remarkably strong bonds.
That, perhaps, is an aspect of Mourinho that is often overlooked,
that while he can be grouchy with the media, while he pursues feuds with
rivals and can fall out with his own players, he is also capable of
inspiring devotion. There are stories of players in tears as he hugged
them goodbye on his first departure from Chelsea. “He would fool around
with us outside practice, but when the time to work arrived he would be
ruthless,” said Baía. “We only practiced for one hour each day, yet
those hours were the most intense I’ve ever seen.”
Baía stresses how good Mourinho was at handling different
personalities, what an astute man-manager he was. “He knew everybody so
deeply that he could control our emotions in every situation,” he said.
“In my case, he would just pat me on the back and I was ready to go.
However, there were players who needed motivation, who needed to be
praised, and he knew which ones needed what, that’s what made him so
That, though, is not quite the full story, which explains much about
Mourinho’s Machiavellian charm. In September 2002, Baía was banned from
all club activities for a month after a training-ground row with
Mourinho. The goalkeeper said that he had a “great relationship” with
Mourinho, having worked together for many years when Mourinho was an
assistant coach. “But when he arrived at Porto he wanted to show
everyone who was the boss: friends off the pitch, players on it.
Performance was what counted, not relationships.”
Porto won the league with a record points tally and also claimed both
the Portuguese Cup and the Uefa Cup, their approach in the final
infuriating the Celtic manager Martin O’Neill, who accused them of
diving, feigning injury and timewasting. They defended the league title
the following season and also added the Champions League, a remarkable
achievement in the modern era for a team of Porto’s stature. In 2004,
Mourinho made another step up and was appointed manager of Chelsea.
Given the rush of success that followed, given how
Mourinho charmed English football in his first season, it is easy to
forget now that his first weeks at Chelsea were faltering – at least
from a tactical point of view. In his first six matches, Chelsea
conceded only one goal and picked up 14 points, but they only scored six
goals. Mourinho spoke about the importance of practising the
transitions from attack to defence and defence to attack, and introduced
to public consciousness the concept of “resting on the ball”, passing
it around at the back to give players time to recuperate, but his
football was scratchy and, frankly, a little dull.
Middlesbrough in September 2004, though, he changed shape to the 4-3-3
that became characteristic of that period at Chelsea, and everything
began to click. Lampard fell back into a shuttling midfield role in
which he excelled, specialising in those late runs into the box that
brought him 13 goals that season. Mourinho was more cautious than he had
been at Porto. The shift away from the Barçajax model had begun.
Remorselessly, relentlessly, Chelsea swept to the title.
The only problem was the suspicion that Roman Abramovich felt that
having invested as much as he had, he might be due a little more
entertainment. The next season, Chelsea conceded seven goals more and
won four points fewer, but they still won the league by some distance.
But the whispers about Abramovich’s dissatisfaction were growing ever
stronger. He wanted more exciting football. So he bought more stars.
Mourinho was unimpressed. And the attempts to integrate some of the
big signings, most notably Andriy Shevchenko, had little success. During
the 2006-7 season, Chelsea were still defensively solid, but they
lacked anything approaching fluency. The relationship between Mourinho
and Abramovich soured as the season went on, reaching crisis point in a
League Cup semi-final first leg at Wycombe. After his injury-hit team
struggled to a 1-1 draw against the League Two side, Mourinho erupted.
In a small room off the tunnel at Wycombe’s ground, as a tea urn belched
steam into the freezing January air, he bemoaned, in his
characteristically sulky way, a recruitment policy that had left him
overburdened with attacking players but bereft of defensive cover.
Mourinho lingered a further eight months after the rant in the steam,
but the atmosphere became increasingly rancorous and, by the end of
September 2007, he was gone.
The following summer, Barcelona fired
their manager and began the search for his replacement. Txiki
Begiristain, Barça’s technical director, interviewed Mourinho, telling
him that the final decision would be taken by Johan Cruyff, who held no
official position but who, as the living embodiment of the Barçajax
ethos, had an authority that transcended the club’s politics. Mourinho,
determined to press his case, called the club president Joan Laporta and
asked to speak to Cruyff. Laporta replied that the decision had already
been taken: Barça were going to appoint the inexperienced Pep
Guardiola. Mourinho told Laporta he had made a terrible mistake.
In his book Goal: The Ball Doesn’t Go in by Chance, the then
Barcelona CEO Ferran Soriano stated that the decision came down to a
straight head-to-head between Mourinho and Guardiola. “It was clear that
Mourinho was a great coach but we thought Guardiola would be even
better,” said Soriano. “Mourinho is a winner, but in order to win he
guarantees a level of tension that becomes a problem.”
Mourinho has never forgiven Barcelona.
That same summer, not long after his rejection by
Barcelona, Mourinho became manager of Inter Milan. As at Chelsea, he
favoured heavily defensive tactics. Inter won the league in his first
two seasons, and in the 2009-10 season, they also won the Champions
League for the first time in 45 years.
The final, a 2-0 win over Van Gaal’s Bayern Munich, was
straightforward enough, but the symbolism of Mourinho overcoming his
former boss was overshadowed by the far greater resonance of the
semi-final in April 2010, and Inter’s extraordinary backs-to-the-wall
triumph over Guardiola’s Barcelona, the defending champions. In the
first leg, which was in Milan, Mourinho had the great good fortune that
the eruption of the volcano Eyjafjallajökull meant that Barça had to
travel to Milan by bus, which perhaps partly explained their sluggish
performance in losing 3-1.
But it was on his opponent’s home turf, the Camp Nou, that Mourinho had his revenge
on Barcelona and Guardiola. Inter Milan had a player sent off after 29
minutes, at which point Mourinho’s team went even more defensive,
dropping all nine remaining outfielders behind the ball and at times
seeming as if they were deliberately giving away possession so as not to
lose their defensive shape. Again and again Barça swept forward and
again and again they encountered an impenetrable mass of black-and-blue
shirts that denied them the space for their rat-a-tat flurries of
Inter had only one shot on goal in the entire match – Barcelona had
15 – and just 19% possession, but they lost just 1-0, and therefore won
an aggregate victory; in so doing, they struck a blow against Barça and
all they stood for. When Barça turned on the sprinklers as the Inter
players celebrated, Mourinho must have been even more delighted: he
hadn’t just won, he had provoked Barça into an act of pettiness and so
helped dislodge their halo.
Inter only ever seemed like a stepping-stone. The
sense was always that Mourinho was eyeing a return to either England or
Spain. They were where the money and the real power was – which of
course made the fact he has won Champions Leagues with clubs from
outside the very elite all the more impressive. And, perhaps most
importantly, Spain was where Barcelona and Guardiola were.
had dominated Spanish football under Guardiola, infuriating Florentino
Pérez, the president of Real Madrid, Barça’s great rivals. After Inter’s
victory over Barcelona, it began to seem that Mourinho was the man who
could topple Guardiola’s Barcelona side. Such was the desperation to
bring his empire down that Pérez’s quibbles over Mourinho’s style of
play were pushed to one side. The club appointed him in summer 2010
When Madrid went to the Camp Nou on November 29, they were a point
clear at the top. This was the moment Madrid had been waiting for, the
moment when Mourinho was supposed to show he could bring down Guardiola.
His plan was to do what he had done seven months earlier, to pack
players behind the ball and look to frustrate Barça. But Barcelona’s
personnel had changed in the intervening time, and they now presented a
different, more mobile threat. Within 14 minutes, Barça were 2-0 up.
Mourinho had Madrid push higher, but it didn’t work. Barça won 5-0.
Madrid only lost another three games that season, but that wasn’t good enough.
won not only the league title but also the Champions League, beating
Madrid in the semi-final. In Diego Torres’s controversial and highly
critical biography of Mourinho, he states that Real Madrid’s
increasingly negative tactics annoyed certain players. (The book relies
on excellent – if partisan – sources within the dressing room.)
Torres suggests that Mourinho at Madrid was not motivated merely by
winning – which had been almost his sole objective elsewhere – but by
the desire to do so in his way, to establish himself as a tactical
pioneer. Mourinho spoke repeatedly of the trivote
, his triangle
of aggressive, hard-tackling midfielders who could either win the ball
back high up the pitch or offer an impenetrable block in front of the
defensive four. Mourinho was so attached to this system that he played
it at times when, as Torres’s sources saw it, it was of limited benefit
and meant using players out of position. It was as though Mourinho was
determined above all else to promote his own legend.
The Champions League semi-final was played out in a sulphurous atmosphere
largely of Mourinho’s making. Madrid did little but spoil: even if
Barça did dive and whinge, at its heart the rivalry had become about one
team passing and dribbling, the other kicking and brawling; light
against dark, football against anti-football. In Mourinho’s 17 matches
against Barcelona as Madrid manager, his side committed 346 fouls to
According to Torres, Mourinho laid out a simple seven-point plan for winning big games:
1) The game is won by the team who commits fewer errors.
2) Football favours whoever provokes more errors in the opposition.
3) Away from home, instead of trying to be superior to the opposition, it’s better to encourage their mistakes.
4) Whoever has the ball is more likely to make a mistake.
5) Whoever renounces possession reduces the possibility of making a mistake.
6) Whoever has the ball has fear.
7) Whoever does not have it is thereby stronger.
This is the antithesis of the Barçajax approach, a categorical
rejection of the possession-based, proactive approach of Guardiola and
his ilk. It was precisely how Inter had played in that Champions League
semi-final but there was always a sense at Madrid that it was somehow
unworthy of the club.
The bitterness between Guardiola’s Barça and Mourinho’s Madrid
carried over into the following season, and was exemplified by a
Barça-Madrid match that ended with two red cards in injury time and a
brawl in which Mourinho poked Tito Vilanova
the Barça assistant coach, in the eye from behind. It was an act of
cowardice and petulance that would have profound consequences.
On 7 May 2013, towards the end of a disappointing
season for Madrid, Mourinho arrived alone at the Sheraton Madrid
Mirasierra to prepare for a league game against Malaga, having refused
to travel with his players after accusing them of disloyalty. A
contingent of the Ultras Sur, who saw themselves as Madrid’s most
devoted fans, were waiting for Mourinho with a banner that proclaimed
their love for him. There was effectively a state of open warfare
between Mourinho and the club captain Iker Casillas. That Mourinho’s
fractious time at the club was coming to an end was not in any real
doubt. And for Mourinho, things were about to get much worse.
night, the story broke that Manchester United were going to appoint
David Moyes as a successor to Alex Ferguson. According to Diego Torres
in his biography of Mourinho, the Madrid manager was appalled. He had
believed that he had a special relationship with Ferguson, but the
outgoing United manager had not even called him to let him know of the
decision. That night Mourinho was restless, fretful, constantly checking
the news to see if there may have been some mistake. The following
morning he called his agent Jorge Mendes to see if it might be possible
to derail the deal and reinsert himself into the picture.
By the following day, Mourinho was insisting that his intention had
always been to go back to Chelsea, that his wife wanted to live in
London. Perhaps that was true, but perhaps he saw this as a second
betrayal. Worse was the sense that this was a decision that was only
indirectly related to football. “A United manager,” Bobby Charlton, at
the time a United director, told the Guardian in December 2012, “would
not do what he did to Tito Vilanova … Mourinho is a really good coach,
but that’s as far as I’d go.” And his behaviour at Madrid had raised
other doubts. “The problem is,” one executive at Gestifute, Mendes’s
agency, told Torres, “when things do not go well for Mou, he does not
follow the club’s line. He follows José’s line.”
By then, his options were limited: other than Paris Saint Germain,
Chelsea was the only club of sufficient stature who would still have
him. Not only that, but he was, at least, going back to a club where he
had been revered, where he had announced himself as “a special one” and
been loved for it, where the fans did not seem to mind – perhaps even
relished – his pragmatic approach.
In summer 2013, Mourinho arrived at Chelsea promising that he had
mellowed, that he was now “the happy one”. With creative players such as
Oscar and Eden Hazard operating behind a striker, there was even an
attempt to play more spectacular football. That lasted until December,
when Chelsea lost to Sunderland in the League Cup quarter-final. After
the game, Mourinho, looking tired and dishevelled, spoke of going back
to basics. He had nine days before Chelsea played again and when they
did, they stifled Arsenal in an utterly tedious 0-0 draw. Afterwards,
Mourinho seemed positively jolly. Chelsea conceded just four goals and
went unbeaten through the following 13 league games, although a series
of surprise defeats derailed their title challenge and they finished
The next season, Chelsea won the league comfortably. As their
progress to the title became more and more certain – even though they
showed signs of fatigue – the focus shifted away from who would win and
towards how a champion should play. Chelsea, better than any other side
in England, could close down a game when they needed to and so the
question began to be asked whether they were boring. “That question
doesn’t even make sense to me,” said Jorge Costa, who is now manager of
Gabon. “It’s obvious the most important aspect of coaching is winning. I
hated to lose when I was a player, and I still hate it as a coach. I
really don’t think there was a team playing better than Chelsea last
For former Porto player Maniche, the question is naïve. “Those
critics have no idea of what football is, apparently. Arsenal seem to
enjoy having a coach who does not win titles, but ask their fans if they
wouldn’t like Mourinho better. What would you prefer? You need to win,
and to win, you need Mourinho.”
Mourinho himself is unapologetic about prioritising winning. “There
is no kid, even playing with his cousin or his father, even in the
garden, there is no kid that plays to lose,” he said in May. “The
nature, the sense of it – doesn’t change. They play to win. And football
at the highest level, that’s even more so.”
That is not how Van Gaal sees it. “He has more belief in defence than
attack,” the Manchester United coach told Patrick Barclay for his
biography of Mourinho. “My philosophy is always – because I believe we
must entertain the public – to have attacking play. His philosophy is to
win! That is the difference.” (There is an element there, surely, of
Van Gaal playing to the gallery. A number of the teams he has managed –
including United – have not been notably attacking.)
“There is no new generation,” Mourinho went on, criticising the
Barçajax purists who seem to regard possession-football as the only true
way to play (although not Guardiola, a distinction Mourinho tends to
“If you don’t play counter-attack then it’s
because you are stupid. Because counter-attack is a fantastic item of
football. It’s an ammunition that you have and when you find your
“Coaching is about recognising the good qualities of the opponents and
recognising the fragilities of the opponent,” said Mourinho in April
2015, after a comfortable but unlovely 1-0 win over Manchester United.
“And, more than that, it’s to recognise the good qualities of my team –
and the bad qualities of my team. Because my team also has bad
qualities, and it’s very important that me and my players, we recognise
our bad qualities. One of the secrets of good coaching is, ‘Can you hide
your bad qualities from your opponents and even from the pundits?’”
Hiding the bad qualities became harder this season.
This was only the third time that Mourinho had reached a third season
with any club he had been at. On the previous two occasions – at Chelsea
the first time round and at Real Madrid – things had gone horribly
was Béla Guttmann, the great Hungarian coach, who noted that “the third
season is fatal”. His theory was that after two seasons a coach had
said everything he had to say, that the style of play would become
predictable, that players would no longer be motivated by the familiar
calls to arms, that complacency and decline would inevitably set in.
That’s the entropic imperative against which all coaches must constantly
fight; only a very few – such as Sir Alex Ferguson – succeed.
There is perhaps a particular issue with Mourinho in that so much of
his method relies on his abrasiveness. He conjures conspiracies to forge
a siege mentality, he picks fights that often exist nowhere but in his
imagination, and gradually this wears people down. Journalists and the
public roll their eyes as he makes yet another passive-aggressive claim
that referees are against him, directors tire of his constant hustling
and players perhaps weary of his intensity.
That, at least, is the theory. Even before the season began, on
Chelsea’s July tour of the US, Mourinho had perhaps sensed then that
there was something amiss, had felt the lack of hunger, had recognised
that certain players had begun to doubt him. As the team stumbled
through the start to the season, Mourinho went through his familiar
repertoire. He initiated a handshake spat
with Arsenal’s manager Arsène Wenger. He publicly berated two members
of his medical staff for treating a player who it turned out was only
feigning injury. Eva Carneiro
the team doctor, subsequently left the club and mounted legal
proceedings against both Chelsea and Mourinho. Within a few weeks,
Mourinho’s decision began to reveal itself as a terrible miscalculation –
not just because of any wrong done to Carneiro personally, but because
of her position in the dressing-room.
Medical staff, bound as they are by the confidentiality of their
profession, often become significant figures in a team’s dynamic. They
spend time talking to players while treating or examining them, and
players realise that they can trust them. A player may be troubled by,
say, a potential problem in his calf that he does not want to tell the
manager about for fear of being dropped – but he will tell the doctor,
who has a duty to investigate and offer advice. A discussion of personal
life is often part of the diagnostic process. Issues broached will
sometimes be psychological, perhaps especially in sport, in which
self-confidence is such a major factor. The doctor becomes a trusted
outlet. Carneiro, it seems, was popular among the players: ostracising
her was politically a dreadful move.
After a series of disastrous performances and results, matters reached a
head on 3 October, when Chelsea lost 3-1 to Southampton. Under
pressure, Mourinho counter-attacked. On Sky he spoke uninterrupted for seven minutes
“I want to make it clear … 1) I don’t run away; 2) If the club wants to
sack me, they have to sack me because I am not running away from my
responsibility, my team … 3) Even more important than the second, I
think this is a crucial moment in the history of this club. You know
why? If the club sacks me, they sack the best manager this club had. And
secondly, the message is again the message of bad results. The manager
is guilty. This is the message, not just these players, the other ones
before, they got [the message] during a decade. This is a moment for
everybody to assume their responsibilities. To stick together. This is
what I want.”
Nobody was quite sure how to take it. The monologue was spectacular,
and also included a ludicrous attack on the referee Bobby Madley and the
refereeing establishment in general, as well as a call for everybody at
the club to “take responsibility”. On the one hand it appeared he was
flailing wildly, lashing out at enemies real and imagined. But the point
about Chelsea’s reputation was a sound one. That Mourinho had been
reappointed was itself an indication of how few elite-level managers
there are still available to Chelsea. Nobody who dreams of building a
dynasty would go there. And yet equally there was the thought,
stimulated by the Torres book, of whose line Mourinho was pursuing: was
what he said good for him or good for Chelsea?
As results faltered further, others began to wade in. “Mourinho is a
great coach but, after a year and a half, he ruins his players,” said
the former England manager Fabio Capello.
Chelsea beat Aston Villa, but then came a defeat at West Ham in which
a Chelsea player was sent off just before half-time. Mourinho
approached the referee Jon Moss in the tunnel and called him “fucking
weak”, which led to him being banned from attending the next Chelsea
match. Was that a genuine loss of control or was this another example of
the trait outlined by Torres of him helping create the appearance of
conspiracy to absolve himself of responsibility?
Last Thursday, the present cycle came to an end as
Mourinho returned from a staff Christmas lunch to find Eugene Tenenbaum,
a Chelsea director and one of Abramovich’s closest allies, waiting in
his office. Ten minutes later, Mourinho had left the club “by mutual
consent”. The final straw was a defeat the previous Monday by the
surprise league-leaders Leicester City, managed by, of all people,
Claudio Ranieri, the genial Italian ousted to make way for Mourinho when
he first arrived at Chelsea in 2004. After that game Mourinho had
railed in three separate interviews against those who had “betrayed”
him. He explained he was referring specifically to a failure to follow
defensive instructions but the term seemed to have far greater
resonance. He believed a player had leaked his team line-up to Porto
before their meeting in the Champions League at the beginning of
December, while his relationship with certain key players had manifestly
decayed: Diego Costa tossed his training bib at Mourinho after not
being introduced as a substitute at Tottenham, while Eden Hazard batted
away an attempted hug as he left the pitch in that Porto game. The day
after Mourinho’s departure, Chelsea’s sporting director spoke of
What happens now? Mourinho has spoken of wanting an instant return to
management and his insistence that he is settled in London seemed an
unsubtle hint that he wants another job in the Premier League. With Van
Gaal under pressure at Manchester United, it may be that he ends up
succeeding his former mentor.
announced his departure from Bayern at the end of the season, with
Manchester City his likely destination. This sets up the possibility of a
rematch between Mourinho and his greatest rival – at two clubs that are
already fierce local rivals. Yet there must be caution. In the eight
seasons after taking the Porto job, Mourinho won six league titles and
two Champions Leagues. Since going to Madrid in 2010 he has won just two
league titles. Very few managers thrive at the very top for more than a
decade: it is an emotionally and psychologically gruelling profession
and football is always changing; the process of perpetual evolution is
draining. It may be that Mourinho’s best is past.
week after the win over United last season, Chelsea drew 0-0 at
Arsenal, to which the home fans chanted: “Boring, boring Chelsea”.
Mourinho responded sarcastically. “People talk about style and flair but
what is that? Sometimes I ask myself about the future, and maybe the
future of football is a beautiful green grass carpet without goals,
where the team with more ball possession wins the game. The way people
analyse style and flair is to take the goals off the pitch.”
It’s a fine, memorable image – but then the devil always has the best lines. Part of Mourinho’s appeal is his cynical charm.
Milton seemed to relish Satan’s role rather more than those of the
denizens of heaven: he was, as William Blake observed, “of the devil’s
party without knowing it”.
The irony of Mourinho’s position is that if, as it often seems, he
has allowed his philosophy to be defined in opposition to Barcelona – he
is that which they are not – then he is still allowing Barcelona to
dictate terms. As the obsession with Guardiola suggests, Mourinho may
have rejected Barcelona as they rejected him, but as the anti-Barcelona
he is still defined by them. It may be that the negativity that induces
places limitations on how long he can prosper. +
=Mourinho has since been appointed as manager of Manchester United, a decision that was confirmed by the club this morning. =