Think of Jose Mourinho and many adjectives come to mind to describe one of the most successful managers currently in the game. Mecurial, controversial, brilliant, special, the list goes on. But what about the other side of the coin; the petualance, the lack of grace, the arrogance and the desire to turn the beautiful game into an ugly grapple.
Lets start with the Porto days. His achievements with the Portuguese side were exemplary and at that moment when he was seen sprinting down the Old Trafford touchline celebrating his sides late triumph over one of the real powerhouses of European football, it was clear that this man was destined for greater things. Winning the Champions League with that side was a truly unbelievable achievement. At least that’s what it seemed. However, one look throughout that Porto side of 2004 and it is littered with talent. The likes of Ricardo Carvalho, Deco, Vitor Baia and Benni McCarthy would, at that time, walk into most teams. Add into that mix the hard working and more than capable abilities of players such as Derlei, Costinha, Maniche, Paulo Ferreira and Jorge Costa and this was a team that could leave Jose Bosingwa on the bench for the Champions League final. With such talent at his disposal and a weak domestic league, it can be argued that a successful assault on European glory was much less of an overwhelming triumph than what it seemed at face value. The Mourinho model was proof that a certain style can achieve results but disregard the aesthetic beauty of the game. Not that he was the first person to implement the ‘win at all costs’ aura within his teams but he has certainly become the modern master. Otto Rehhagel would adopt a similar approach that summer and bring European Championship success to a very poor and very negative Greek side.
The Rehhagel comparison may be unjust as the Greece manager was formulating a plan to make the most of what was available to him – ingenuity some may argue. Perhaps this can also be put up as a safeguard to Mourinho’s Porto success, despite the aforementioned talent above. This could be reluctantly considered however what cannot be denied is the vast array of talent and Russian roubels at his disposal folowing his move to Stamford Bridge. He spent big and he won big in terms of league titles, bringing Chelsea the success that they had craved for 50 years. However, the style of play attracted constant criticism from all quarters – too negative, a waste of top talent and plain old boring were just some of the labels levelled at the self-proclaimed ‘Special One’. Not that he cared as he batted the remarks away with his usual flippance and cool demeanour, his entertaining and enthralling style off the pitch a stark contrast to his dull and spoiling tactics on it. When you are a title winning side, there will always be those who want to lambast the team and look for the slightest opportunity to put the boot in but if you compare the title winning Chelsea sides under Mourinho to the Ancelotti-led side scoring goals for fun or the all-conquering Manchester United sides, or the Arsenal Invincibles, can you really say honestly that Chelsea fans got value for money in terms of the quality of play? Ultimately, the question is whether the end justifies the means?
Fast forward to 2008 and Mourinho is handed the reins at Inter Milan. A title winning season was soon followed by a treble winning season straight after. Another impressive tick on an already impressive CV, Mourinho could cross Italy off his ever-growing list of nations. Knocking Barcelona out of the Champions League was undoubtedly a major feather in his cap, not just due to his burning hatred for the club stemming back to the perceived injustices suffered at their hands as Chelsea manager, but also as this set up his supposedly inferior Inter side on their way to European glory. A functional performance in the final against Bayern Munich and another success for Mourninho. This was his achievement, not that of Internazionale. At least that is how it was portrayed. A team containing Sneijder, Milito, Cambiasso, Eto’o, Lucio, Zanetti et al had been carried to glory on the crest of the Mourinho wave. Was this side good enough to win the Champions League without Mourinho in charge? We shall never know. Despite this success, Mourinho ended his months of public flirting with Real Madrid by jumping ship and signing a £40 million, four year deal.
If this was a player we were talking about staying a couple of years at each team then moving on for record contracts, they would be labelled a mercenary. The focus would be on the players greed and how this lack of loyalty is ruining football. So how does this differ for a manager? Is it achievements and accomplishments that determine a managers status within the game? Do a couple of European Cups gloss over a managers persona?
Since taking the Real Madrid job, Mourinho has undertaken his biggest challenge to date, usurping Pep Guardiola and his brilliant Barcelona side. In his attempts to do so, we have seen petulance, dirty tactics, eye scratching, smirking and cheating. It has been said that the true personality of a man can only be seen when the chips are down, when he is not on top of the world and when everything is not handed to him on a silver platter.
Throughout his management career, Mourinho has been used to being number one. At Porto, the league offered little resistance. At Chelsea, the vast riches available meant he could pick and choose a designer squad filled with quality, far too good for the Premier League. At Inter, he inherited a fine squad which could easily dominate Italian football. Then came Real Madrid – the new look Galacticos. Ronaldo, Kaka, Benzema, Higuain, Di Maria – world class creative brilliance reduced to functional discipline. To shackle such talent is a footballing crime. The true Mourinho has shone through since his appointment in Madrid. Before even mentioning the abhorrent recent Super Cup incident with Barcelona coach Tito Villanova, there are many examples to point to highlighting the sheer petulance, lack of grace and lack of respect for the sport.
The comedy of errors in the Champions League tie with Ajax where he instructed Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos to deliberately get booked so that their disciplinary record was cleared for the knockout stages was farcical at best. This is not the first time we have seen this ploy in football but they way that it was orchestrated left a horrible taste in the mouth. If this was the plan, surely a quick word in the dressing room in private would suffice and nobody would be any the wiser. Instead to get substitute keeper Jerzy Dudek to run around and pass the message on to Casillas who then could shout it at Ramos reeked of ignorance and disregard for the spirit of the game.
The achievements of Mourinho cannot be readily dismissed and that is not what I am trying to portray. A champion in three different countries and Champions League winner with two different teams does not happen entirely by chance. But at what cost to the game is success achieved? Is the ‘win at all costs’ ethos strong enough to conquer aesthetics and if so where do you draw the line? I am a believer in the beautiful game and believe the game should be played beautifully. This romantic view may not always hold weight in terms of silver and gold but will always hold credence in the hearts and minds of those who appreciate sport played in the right way.