Jose Mourinho to Fenerbahçe: The Second Coming of a Genius, or the Last Dance?

On June 2, 2024, Fenerbahçe, the second most successful team in the Turkish Süper Lig, did something unprecedented and hired Jose Mourinho as their manager. While Turkish football has seen its fair share of star managers, they’ve never quite lived up to the reputation of the Special One.


But as Mourinho stood on a podium at Sukru Saracoglu Stadium and announced, “This shirt is my skin,” many were left wondering, is this the second coming? Or is this one step closer to retirement? Sadly, I can’t answer that.  What I can answer is why it could work, why it might not, and what’s next.



 The Man


I sometimes wonder, how does Jose Mourinho view his career?  While his place on the list of greatest managers ever has been all but assured, his career trajectory has certainly been interesting.  He might have had humble beginnings as Bobby Robson’s translator, but he didn’t let that stop him. 


Working his way up to assistant manager, Jose rose to the top of the game as a second in command before finally getting his first managerial job at Porto in 2002.  What happened next was masterful. After winning the Champions League at Porto, he moved to Chelsea. Then, after leaving London as the club’s most successful manager to date, he moved to Inter, a club that had just won their third successive Scudetto. 


Not content with just matching the achievements of his predecessor Roberto Mancini, he went one better. In perhaps what will turn out to be his greatest achievement, he won the league, cup, and Champions League, making Inter the only Italian side to win the treble. Next, to Madrid, where he won both the Copa Del Rey and La Liga in his first two seasons before having to leave by mutual consent in 2013. 


Unfortunately for Jose, 2013 proved to be the year he learnt a valuable lesson, what went up started coming down. Since 2013, Jose hasn’t finished a full contract. He’s managed at Chelsea, Manchester United, Spurs, and Roma in that time and the same thing has always happened. He’s joined, won something (except at Spurs, shock), the cracks have shown, and he’s left.  But he hasn’t let it stop him.



Rather than listen to the naysayers who think he should go into punditry, that modern football has passed him by, Jose’s taken on perhaps his hardest job yet: to bring glory back to Fenerbahçe. If he can do it, it might prove to be his way back to the top. If he can’t, I wonder which TV channel he’ll start working for.


The Team


Like their new manager, Fenerbahçe are a team at a crossroads. Traditionally seen as Türkiye’s ‘other’ team, the team from the Asian side of Istanbul have spent most of their history going blow for blow with cross-town rivals Galatasaray. It’s an all-out war that, for long periods, made the Süper Lig one of the most competitive in Europe and saw the league trophy make the journey across the Bosphorus more times than a city tram.


Sadly, 2014 would prove to be a turning point in the eternal struggle. Fener just stopped winning. While they’ve had some cup success since then, the league titles spent most of the summer with either Galatasaray or Besiktas. It’s not because they haven’t tried either. Off the pitch, they’ve signed 13 different managers ranging from serial winners from abroad (Vitor Pereira) to former Turkish League winners, even at the club itself (Ersun Yanal). 



On it, they’ve spent €291 million bringing in a whole host of players ranging from foreign stars (Edin Dzeko) and Turkish internationals (Cengiz Under) to wonderkids (Arda Guler) and reclamations (Fred). The result? Six second-place finishes, of which this past season has to have been the most painful. The club had what is likely to be one of its best-ever seasons:


  • They lost one game.
  • Three players (Edin Dzeko, Sebastian Szymanski, and Dusan Tadic) netted more than 20 goal contributions.
  • They amassed 99 points, the second most in league history.


It still wasn’t enough. Cross-town rivals Gala managed to go one better and finish the season with 102 points, the most in Turkish League history. And so, as much out of desperation as to get over the hump, Fener decided it was time to turn to the Special One. Now, let’s look at some of the players he’ll be relying on. 


The Key Men


While the Fenerbahçe squad is brimming with perhaps the most talent it’s had available in years, some players have done their jobs so well that they’re likely to be relied on by the new manager:



The Goal Scorer – He might be 38, but Edin Dzeko still knows where the net is. Following a successful career in England and Italy, Dzeko’s first season in Turkey saw him bag an impressive 21 goals. Not bad for a pensioner, eh?


The Creator – Dusan Tadic’s left foot must’ve been touched by God. Blessed with an unrivalled ability to pick out the perfect pass, he’s got 14 assists this season, the second most in the league.


The Platform – Sure, assists are great, but who gives Tadic the platform he needs? İsmail Yüksek. A defensive menace who’s a top 10 player in both tackles and interceptions, the others might get the headlines, but Yüksek makes it possible.


The System


A common comment about Mourinho in recent years has been that he’s a relic. How can a man who made his name in the mid-2000s survive in the modern world? Well, he won a trophy in 2022, so quite well apparently… Mourinho’s best qualities, defensive stinginess and a reliance on counter attacks, might be that of a bygone era, but that doesn’t mean he’s not adapted to modern football.



In recent years at Roma, Mourinho’s relied on either a 3-4-2-1 or a 3-5-2 depending on the opponent. However, given the nature of the players at his disposal, the Special One is likely to go back to his Manchester United days and adopt a 4-2-3-1.  Regardless of whether it’s a back 4 or a back 3, the system relies on three core principles:


  1. Stingy defending
  2. Reliance on counter attacks
  3. Using fast, vertical actions to advance the ball


In Possession


While Mourinho’s teams are set up to counterattack, once they gain possession their attacking sequences tend to be similar. Once the team gains possession, they then rely on fast, vertical passes from either fullbacks or deep-lying central midfielders into the front three to progress the ball up the pitch. 


Once this happens, fullbacks then advance up the pitch to join in with the attack, allowing the wingers to occupy the half spaces between them and the number 10. At the same time, the deepest CM drops back to form a back three with the remaining defenders while the more advanced CM sits ahead of them to form a screen against counter attacks and long balls. 



This creates a 3-1-2-3-1 that’s very hard to defend against and also very hard to counterattack. Once the ball is in the final third, chances come either from crosses into central areas by the abundance of wide players, or the number 10 playing passes from between the lines.


Out of Possession


While Mourinho’s teams have tended to have modest attacking numbers, they’ve always been known for their defensive stinginess. Out of possession in the opponent’s half of the pitch, both fullbacks and the more advanced CM join the front four in pressing opponents high up the pitch to try and generate mistakes. At the same time, the deepest-lying central midfielder would screen the back three, ready to stop any long balls.


If this fails and the opposition advances the ball, fullbacks then drop deep while the deepest CM drops into defence, creating a defensively solid 5-1-3-1. The gap between the defence and the midfield tightens, players engage in aggressive man-marking, and everyone moves closer together to shut down passing lanes.



This makes it very hard for opposition teams to generate anything positive and forces opponents to make mistakes, allowing Mourinho’s team to start counter attacks all over again. So, we’ve got a defensively solid system that requires fast breaks and vertical passing to generate attacks. Who’s it going to help?


Players That’ll Benefit


Given what we’ve just learned, here are three players likely to benefit:


Ismail Yüksek


At Roma, Jose’s two CMs had two distinct roles: one to stop opposition attacks and one to start Roma’s. Yüksek can do both.  As well as being a top 10 player in tackles and interceptions, he’s also 6th among Süper Lig CMs in passes per game. Jose’s likely to be rubbing his hands at the prospect of having a player who can do a bit of everything.



Edin Dzeko


The 38-year-old Edin Dzeko wasn’t expected to do much when he arrived in Istanbul. Well, he did. Proving that he still knows how to score goals, Dzeko bagged 21 league goals this season while leading the league in shots on target per 90 (2.12).


Why is he perfect for Mourinho? Because he’s got a proven track record as both a lone striker (this season) and in a front two (22 goals in 2 seasons at Inter), showing he can succeed in any system. So, who cares what Jose plays?  As long as he gets service, the Bosnian will get goals.


Ferdi Kadioglu


Kadioglu might be the ideal modern fullback. Going forward, he’s a menace. Among Süper Lig fullbacks, he ranks 9th in key passes while his progressive carries per 90 (5.19) and progressive passes (8.83) rank him as one of the league’s most creative defenders.



That doesn’t make him one-dimensional either; he ranks 4th in the league in tackles won (54). Comfortable playing on either flank and in a back 3 or 4, Kadioglu is a manager’s dream who’s likely to have the fullback position locked down for years.


Players That Won’t Benefit


That’s who’ll succeed, but what about those who might not enjoy the new boss?




Fred enjoyed a productive season in his first year in Turkey, starting 24 games. Unfortunately, that might be about to change. Mourinho, who reportedly didn’t even want Fred, never rated him. During his tenure, the Brazilian only made six starts, lost his place in the Brazil squad, and was even told that ‘his days were numbered’ by the Portuguese. Hopefully, they can fix it.



Dusan Tadic


Following a series of crises at Ajax, Tadic decided to take his talents to Türkiye. Once he got to Istanbul, he started doing what he’d always done, getting assists from the left wing (14 to be exact). But here’s the problem. While Mourinho might play a 4-2-3-1, he hasn’t used that formation in nearly three years, and both of his preferred formations don’t use wingers. If that happens, Tadic might have to try his skills playing more centrally, not something you should have to do at 35.


New Signings


Look, I wouldn’t know the first thing about who Fener might sign, who they’re after, or who they want. One thing I can tell you is half the players they’ve been linked with, like Paulo Dybala, won’t be moving there anytime soon. However, there is one player I think they should invest in for sure, and they have the added advantage of knowing a bit about him.



Caglar Soyuncu


Soyuncu, a loan signing from Atletico, only played 12 games, but he made his mark. The Turk led the team in clearances per game (4) and ranked 5th among Fener players in interceptions per game (1.1). Likely available for cheap, he’s got bucketfuls of experience, and he’d be perfect to build a defence around.


The Formation


Now, the bit you’ve all been waiting for. Who’s he going to play? Given what we’ve established, I think Mourinho’s favoured lineup will likely be the following.



Ultimately, I don’t think the lineup needs to change much; Fener have proved that this season. It might just need a tweak.


So, can he do it?


In short, I have no idea. It’s going to take everything from skill and tactical acumen to a big helping of luck for the Special One to pull this off. But one thing I do know is that if he can do it, if he can take Fener back to the top, not only will he be a hero to the Asian side of Istanbul, he’ll go some way to re-establishing his reputation as a top manager, something I think we’ll all be happy with.


By: Kieran Alder / @The_Own_Goal

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Tottenham Hotspur FC