“You’re Norma Desmond, used to be in silent pictures, used to be big”
“I am big, it’s the pictures that got small.”
– Scene from Sunset Boulevard, 1950
Jose Mourinho is perched on the touchline. No walking in early this time. He gazes out at his defeated players. How they have failed me, his opening soliloquy may start, they betrayed my greatest work. Another lethargic performance against an inferior opponent to reflect upon, the top four place is gone. Another year of the Europa League and a detachment from the European top table. Financially this will hurt, almost as much as it will bruise the ego, but not quite. The figure on the line now is a spectre of his former self. And as his inevitable boiling point with Levy reached its implosion with his sacking, it’s easy to forget how good he was, but then again, time is a cruel law of nature.
Mourinho was initially compared to Brian Clough when he first appeared on the scene in 2004. He had a movie star quality back then, charisma, and machismo to match. He could light up a room with a witty comment just like Clough used to. He had a sense of style and panache too which always catches the eye. A devil-may-care who threw his first Premier League medal to the gallery of delirious and ravenous Chelsea supporters as they revered their new deity. This means nothing, he thought, I’ll be the next Fergie and win 10 of these. But it was Clough in the end whose legacy he would mimic, and not the fiery Scot.
It’s ironic then that both great managers would succumb to the same meager end, as they fizz out like the end of a champagne bottle, flat and overhyped. Clough went down mainly due to his alcohol addiction, which he could never overcome. Mourinho on the other hand has a different vice – nostalgia. This is what has brought about his downfall. He has become an ideologue to his own history.
The Mourinho ‘masterclass’ is now a byword for ‘park the bus’ football. The ideas that initially made him such an innovator are now old hat, tactics of the caveman as some would have it. His ability to pull out performances against the big six have now dwindled. His reliance on Harry Kane has left him in a weak position.
No longer can he win a league by counter-attacking, domination of the ball is paramount, along with pressing, two things he would only begrudgingly do when left with no other option. The 2014/15 season seems a long way off now, and while Chelsea did play scintillating football up until Christmas of that season, the boss never quite felt comfortable enough in this domination of the ball, but he accepted it was getting the job done.
He gave a renewed Cesc Fabregas carte blanche, and the Spanish midfielder orchestrated the attack as Chelsea essentially had the title wrapped up in February. But then the old ways returned, and Chelsea sat their way back to the title, and ever since Mourihno hasn’t been the same.
His lack of tactical approach in attacking play has always been evident, in the mid-noughties it was perfectly acceptable to let Robben and Duff of on their own devices to generate creative play. His sheer personality of will convinced the players to perform, Lampard the obvious example as he plámásed him in the shower.
But the modern game does not allow for this spontaneity like it used to. Kane and Son cannot single-handedly win you the league anymore. His arch-nemesis Pep Guardiola is the ultimate antithesis in this regard, as his meticulous attacking patterns and shape dominate current thinking, and a whole generation of managers underneath him, who apply the same standards of detail in this approach.
This is not the Mourinho way, he gives Kane, Son, and now Bale the platform to perform, and the rest is up to them. And responsibility is in the terms and conditions to that. This lack of attacking organisation has cost him, most notably at United, a crowd that urges to feel domination. His inability to adapt now glaringly unavoidable. It has now cost him yet again, and maybe this time for good.
The same decay happened to Arsene Wenger in a way, he let romance get in the way of a balanced team. Refusing to acknowledge that his early success emanated from having characters like Patrick Viera and Tony Adams who could organise and lead a team. Ferguson was the only megalith to overcome this entropy, by reinvigorating his setup with new top-class coaches every few years. As long as he had control he wasn’t bothered with the tactics, his job was management. He was always one step ahead.
Another similarity to Clough that Mourinho shared is the reliance on his assistant. He has never quite been himself since losing Rui Faria. He filled a similar role to Peter Taylor as he was the pillar for his top man to rest and recuperate on. Nigel and Peter worked in tandem filling in the classic good cop bad cop roles. Mourinho’s setup was more a bad cop, worse cop take, but Faria’s tradecraft in the dressing room always provided Jose with a valuable second opinion. Maybe he now feels isolated and fanatical in his views without his old partner in crime. The signs of decline were there at United as he stormed out of the now-infamous “Respect” press conference. Respect he cried.
Respect what I did in Porto.
Respect what I did In Chelsea.
Respect what I did in Inter.
Respect me, the great Mourinho.
Now a falling star in the twilight of his career. Does he have one last imitable performance in him, a Peter O’Toole style comeback to dazzle modern audiences perhaps? He seems more akin to De Niro, whose only interest seems to now be the figures in his bank account.
What does football then mean to Jose Mourinho? The pictures on his office wall tell their own story, the pride of place is his Inter Milan victory in 2010. What he personally considers his greatest victory. Why you may ask? Was winning the Champions League with Porto surely not a greater feat of management? To others maybe. But to the man, his greatest moment will, rather ironically, be a game he lost. The second leg of the Champion League semi-finals that year against Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona.
As the sprinklers were relinquished on the final whistle in the Camp Nou that night, pure euphoria overcame him. The moment his ideology was affirmed. Anti football had won, Leo Messi had been contained, the great Barca tika-taka had been slain, and its legacy has haunted Mourinho ever since. Like George Best in 1968, his downfall emanated from his greatest moment. Nothing would compare from that point on, only memory to laugh at him.
For Clough, football was a beautiful game and it was meant to be played beautifully, but for Jose, it is akin to war. A Napoleonic struggle where steel crushed roses, you feel he could write a thesis on Keane and Viera’s titanic bouts of brutality. This was what the game was about. Plan for battle, prepare for war. Tsun Zsu was more relevant than Minus Richels.
“I’m not saying that we have to win, but we cannot lose”. The movie star has had his day, he is no longer relevant in the days of 4K ultra high pressing football. He looks far better on a grainy episode of Premier League Years 2004/05.
Maybe he could win again if he allowed a top coach inside the circle, but like Roy Keane or Graeme Souness, you sense he has come to resent modern players and coaching, he can no longer relate to them, and this alienation will ultimately cost him his job. His ideology is set, he knows he alone sees the game. The foundations were laid underneath those Nou Camp sprinklers.
His last great performance was his return to Chelsea, but that now looks like the final act, his prestige moment. What stands on the touchline currently is an entirely different actor, his gaze a thousand yards away. His mind still on that night in the Nou Camp. I’m still big, he thinks to himself, its football that’s gotten small.
Being sacked by Levy was always an eventuality, the fact it has come in the midst of the new Super League being the irony to end all. Results alone seem to have been at the heart of his sacking, but maybe it’s best for all interested parties. The silver screen may be now where he feels most comfortable, he might be happier and more content if he joined back up with Souness and Keane in the Sky studio. And together they can all decry the new era of super soft Zoomer generation VAR-ball.
The game really has gone for these figures. With the signing of the Super League agreement, Spurs’ future is now lying face down in Daniel Levy’s penthouse pool. The Special One turns to face the awaiting Dave Jones, the black mirror of the camera lens catching his eyes. This is where the real show starts. Jose Mourinho is ready for his close-up.