Why Mourinho Will Never Be Considered a Great

Posted: March 12, 2012 in Football
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In his legendary 1993 performance on Clive Anderson Talks Back, Peter Cook, in the guise of fictional football manager, Alan Latchley, assessed then England supremo Graham Taylor’s underwhelming performances with the national team: “No other manager could have got those results with those players“, he deadpanned. I was reminded of Cook’s ingenious assessment of Taylor when watching Real Madrid’s recent Spanish Cup games with Barcelona. No other manager could get those players to play that brand of football, I thought.

Negative, Über-defensive, cowardly, petulant, nasty – the list of negative adjectives we associate with a Jose Mourinho team are nothing if not consistent. How a squad containing the likes of Ronaldo, Kaka, Ozil, Alonso, Benzema et al can produce the kind of anti-football we’ve witnessed since the Portuguese’ appointment 18 months ago is truly astonishing. It’s like winning the lottery and still not having the price of a pint.

A lot has been made of Mourinho’s antics being a blemish on the great Real Madrid name, but is there any club in the world whose name wouldn’t be sullied by similar behaviour, be they Real Madrid or Rhyl FC? To say Mourinho’s football philosophy divers from that of his ‘mentor’ Sir Bobby Robson would be an understatement of massive proportions. Perhaps this explains why Mourinho didn’t bother attending his so-called friend’s funereal in 2009.

Since Mourinho took his place at football’s top table by winning the 2003 UEFA Cup final after overcoming Celtic, his teams have brought diving, play-acting, time-wasting and every other dark art you can think of, to new, and ever more depressing, depths. When one thinks of players like Deco, Carvalho, Robben, Drogba and Pepe, images of swan-dives, imaginary card-waving and face-clutching eclipse those of goals, tackles or assists. Nobody is suggesting that so-called ‘gamesmanship’ is the sole preserve of Mourinho teams, but a more egregious offender is hard to find.

His apologists will argue that the ends justify the means and that Mourinho is a ‘winner’, an argument that implies other managers only turn up for the laugh. Were Mourinho’s baggage confined to the events inside of the white line, his apologists may have a case. But events on the pitch don’t even begin to form an accurate portrait of the man.

Whether it’s slandering a ref to the point where he is forced to retire for his own safety, falsely accusing a voluntary ambulance service of wilful negligence or poking a fellow coach in the eye, Mourinho’s off-field behaviour is every bit as reprehensible as his teams’ on-field antics. Again, his apologists have an answer for this. ‘He does it to take the attention – and by extension, pressure – off his players’, they insist. However, even a small degree of scrutiny shows this argument to be hokum. While Mourinho and his Chelsea team were doing their final day lap of honour at Stamford Bridge in 2006, having just collected their second title of the Portuguese’ reign, Mourinho gave an interview so self-pitying it would have been embarrassing coming from a put-upon ten year old child, before then throwing his medal into the crowd. As usual, Mourinho had hijacked the occasion to focus the spot-light squarely on himself. But with Chelsea having being eliminated from every other competition, what pressure was he trying to deflect from his players? The answer, of course, was none. Mourinho was simply acting like all narcissists, concerned exclusively with his own lot, oblivious to those around him.

Again, the Portuguese’ supporters will insist his managerial achievements justify all this. But is Mourinho really the great we are led to believe? Is he really ‘special’? Domestic titles in three different countries (and the distinct possibility of making it four, come May), coupled with two European Cups and the aforementioned UEFA Cup would appear to make this a ridiculous question. But I’m not so sure it is….

Many argue Mourinho’s greatest achievement to date was to win the Champions League with Porto. On the face of it they’re right, but a closer inspection shows luck to have played a massive role. For starters, Porto should, by rights, have been eliminated in the quarter finals at Old Trafford when Paul Scholes had a perfectly good goal incorrectly ruled out for offside in the dying minutes. To then get a draw of Deportivo in the semis and Monaco in the final is the stuff of managerial wet dreams. But you can only beat what’s put in front of you and beat them Porto did. An excellent achievement, no doubt, but extraordinary? Not really.

So what of Mourinho’s Chelsea reign? Having not won the title for a half century, the Stamford Bridge faithful were always going to deify whichever manager broke that duck and Mourinho didn’t just break the duck, he smashed it to pieces, winning the title at a cantor in his very first season. He followed it up with another title twelve months later, albeit with less to spare. Whilst consecutive titles in the first two years in a new country is impressive by anyone’s standards, they should, however, be qualified.

Firstly, Mourinho’s timing couldn’t have been better. With Manchester United under-going a transitional period, Arsenal trying to come to terms with losing their ‘invincible’ crown (something they still haven’t recovered from) and Liverpool counting the cost of the practical joke former manager Gerard Hoillier had played on them in the form of his transfer policy, it truly was an open goal for Mourinho and his all-star squad. And it was this squad which provided the second massive slice of fortune for the Portuguese, for it was a squad that was, without question, the strongest in English football, and arguably all of Europe. Of all the players who would play a key role in those two championship successes, only Carvalho and Drogba were signed by Mourinho, with the likes of Cech, Terry, Lampard, Gudjohnson, Duff and Robben already on the books. Even so, no matter how luxurious the liner, you still need a captain to steer it and for those first two seasons Mourinho steered commendably. But in the third season he hit the rocks.

A combination of poor signings and inflexible and predictable tactics allowed Chelsea to be overtaken by a resurgent Man Utd in the 2006/07 season. Further poor signings in the close season led to a disastrous start to the following campaign and Mourinho was eventually sacked with his averagely talented and aging team mired in mid-table mediocrity. Had Mourinho’s record in Europe over the previous three years been satisfactory he may have survived the chop, but satisfactory it was not.

Out-foxed and out-played in two semi-finals by Rafa Benitez and his far more modestly assembled Liverpool side, and blown away in a quarter final by Barcelona, Mourinho’s record was nowhere near good enough for the richest club in the world. With his last game in charge a dour draw with Rosenborg at a mostly empty Stamford Bridge, the only surprise was that Mourinho had lasted so long. Out of the six major titles (three Premierships and three Champions Leagues) up for grabs during Mourinho’s time in England, he had won just two and looked a million miles away from adding to it in his incomplete forth season. Hardly a ‘special’ achievement for a manager with such advantageous resources.

After a spell in the managerial wilderness – where few clubs beat a path to his door – Mourinho shacked up at Internazionale. Again, inheriting the strongest squad in the league and again, profiting from a lack of genuine challengers (the Calciopoli scandal having put paid to any potential danger traditional heavyweights, AC Milan and Juventus, may have posed), Mourinho did what would have been expected of any competent coach and won successive titles, the second only being secured with a goal in the last 20 minutes of the season. In Europe he fared better than at Chelsea, winning his second Champions League to complete the treble in his second and final season. Unlike his 2004 success, this one was secured having played, not avoided, the continents big names, although – as often seems to be the case with Mourinho – luck played a massive role, with quarter final opponents Barcelona forced to travel overland for two days to play the first leg after a volcanic ash cloud grounded all air travel. To add insult to injury, the Catalans then had a perfectly good winning goal disallowed in the return leg.

All of which leads us to the present situation where Mourinho presides over the most talented and expensively-assembled squad in football history. Such are the comically lopsided economics of Spanish football, Mourinho’s win percentage should be taken with more than a grain of salt. It is, instead, in their battles with Barcelona where Mourinho’s Real should be judged and so far, he has failed miserably. Its one thing being second best to arguably the greatest side of all time, but to do so in such meek, defeatist fashion, deploying the tactics Real have over the past 18 months is simply unforgivable. To do so with the talent at Mourinho’s disposal is nothing short of a crime against football.

Mourinho has many undoubted strengths. He is an excellent motivator and instils a steely will to win in his players, no matter where he goes. However, he also has many faults, faults that are routinely glossed over by a sycophantic media who adore him for the great copy they can rely on him to supply. For instance, his record in the transfer market can, at best, be described as mixed (more of his Chelsea acquisitions flopped than flourished) and reeking of short-termism. In addition his tactics have frequently been found to have an archaic feel with the likes of Robert Huth finding himself relied upon to come up with match-winning heroics in big games.

Perhaps Real will go on to win the title this season and if they do so, it will be no mean feat. Mourinho will have proved he is capable of winning titles wherever he goes. What he wont have proven, though, is that he is capable of sustained success, achieved playing decent football without the need to resort to cheating or the casting aside of all dignified behaviour. And until he does achieve this, Mourinho will never elevate himself from the good to the great.

(Article first appeared on The Sabotage Times, January, 2012)


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