José Mourinho at 59: The Ordinary One?

For the better part of a decade, José Mourinho was the most dominant manager in world football. Between 2003 and 2015, Mourinho won 8 league titles, 7 domestic trophies, 1 UEFA Cup and lifted the Champions League on two separate occasions.


A controversial figure loathed and adored in equal measure, Mourinho conquered the European continent and left an indelible mark on every club which he managed.


This period has since been seen to be the years when Mourinho was at the peak of his powers. Poor results over the past six years has left Mourinho in a position whereby his reputation is not what it once was.


Since 2015, Mourinho’s career has suffered a marked downturn. Having been sacked by Chelsea, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur in this time period, Mourinho once again finds himself in the Italian Serie A managing Roma.


The José Mourinho the world saw during his time at Manchester United and Spurs was a huge departure from the man that burst onto the scene in 2004.


Winning the Champions League that year with Porto, Mourinho soon departed and became the manager of Chelsea. At his first press conference as the Blues boss, Mourinho infamously remarked how he was “not one from the bottle, but a special one”.


Data Analysis: José Mourinho’s Roma


Backed by Roman Abramhovic’s wealth, José created a formidable squad at Chelsea. With players like Didier Drogba, Petr Cech and Ricardo Carvalho brought in during Mourinho’s first season, Chelsea cruised to a first league title in half a century.


With this crafty, streetwise team, Chelsea retained their title the following season. Just two seasons into his career in England, Mourinho ended the monopoly Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger had over the Premier League in convincing fashion.


After departing Chelsea amid a fall-out with the board, José joined Inter Milan in 2008. Unsurprisingly, success followed rapidly. In his two seasons at the club, Mourinho won back to back league titles, with his crowning glory coming in his final game managing the club.


In front of a sold-out Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid, Inter defeated Bayern Munich 2-0 allowing José to lift the Champions League trophy on the second occasion.


Shortly after this success, the Bernabeu became Mourinho’s permanent home when he became the manager of Real Madrid. During his time in Spain, José won La Liga and the Copa del Rey.


Perhaps the biggest development from his time in Spain, was the emergence of a new rival in Pep Guardiola. Some of the most heated battles between Madrid and Barcelona in El Clasico history occurred during this time period. Since then, José and Pep’s paths have crossed countless times.


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José returned to Chelsea in the summer of 2013 and in his second season, Mourinho once again led Chelsea to Premier League glory. Things soon turned nasty however and in the Winter of 2015, Mourinho was sacked with Chelsea languishing precariously above the relegation zone.


Since then, Mourinho has enjoyed very little success. During his time at Manchester United, José won a League Cup and a UEFA Europa League. Nevertheless, when he departed, he left behind a divided and toxic dressing room.


At Spurs, Mourinho lasted less than 18 months in the job, failing to qualify for the Champions League in his first season and being sacked when chances of qualification effectively evaporated in 2021.


Today, Mourinho finds himself in Rome, tasked with trying to bring a first Serie A title to the capital in over 20 years. However, the Mourinho of 2021 is a far cry from the serial winner that he was back in his peak years.


The first real cracks began to appear towards the end of Mourinho’s spell in charge of Real Madrid. While relatively successful at the club, Mourinho’s man-management and handling of certain players left a lot to be desired.


After three seasons of frayed tempers, deceit and distrust, Mourinho had completely lost control of the dressing room prior to his departure. The deployment of a conservative, defensive-minded style alienated the Madridistas who were bred on a diet of Galacticos during the early 2000s.


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José’s decision to drop Iker Casillas outraged the players and fans, fracturing the dressing room even more. Mourinho’s relationship with Pepe was also a cold one, to say the least. Towards the end of his time in charge, the two had a very public falling out.


When Pepe criticised Mourinho’s tactics, José responded in an interview, saying “It’s easy to analyse the Pepe thing. His problem has a name and it is Raphael Varane”.


While success followed on his return to Chelsea, there was always a great sense of unease around the club. Once again criticised for his defensive style, the Chelsea side of 14/15 won the Premier League in what wasn’t a vintage year for the tournament, playing in a very conservative manner.


Much of the criticism at the time was that he could have gotten more out of players like Eden Hazard, who infamously played some matches in a left-wing-back role.


Despite winning the Premier League and the League Cup, Mourinho cut a very unhappy figure on his return to London. No longer full of charisma, charm and quippy one-liners, José often appeared disinterested.


Most of the time, Mourinho seemed to prefer to speak about referees and campaigns orchestrated against his side, rather than the quality of his players.


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The writing was on the wall for Mourinho on the very first day of the 15/16 season. During a game against Swansea, Mourinho became embroiled in a row with Chelsea physio Eva Carneiro.


The incident occurred after Carneiro treated Eden Hazard for an injury on the pitch, meaning the Belgian had to leave the field and as a result, Chelsea were temporarily down to 10-men. 6 weeks later, Carneiro left the club in a haze of controversy that to this day, has still never been cleared up.


The disastrous start to this season continued, with Chelsea struggling to pick up points in the league. Mourinho pulled all of his old tricks out of the bag in order to try and get a positive response from his team. Players were dropped from squads and ridiculed in public.


Mourinho tried to create a siege mentality, by saying that the referees and League administrators were biased against his side. In a famous example of José trying to get a reaction out of his players, he subbed Nemanja Matic off in a game against Southampton, 28 minutes after he had brought Matic on as a sub. 


None of these methods worked. By December, José was sacked after accruing 15 points in 16 games, sitting just one point above the relegation zone.


At United, José enjoyed a relatively successful first season in charge. Victory in the League Cup and Europa League cancelled out a disappointing 6th-placed finish in the league.


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However, as always with José, the warning signs of imminent uproar were evidenced long before these issues came to fruition. United crashed out of the Champions League in the first knock-out round against Sevilla, with Paul Pogba dropped for the away tie for a young Scott McTominay.


After United’s defeat in the two-legged tie, Mourinho angered United fans by stating that Sevilla had a better European pedigree in recent times than United. Furthermore, José brought up the fact that as manager of Porto and Real Madrid, he twice knocked Manchester United out of the Champions League.


While United finished second to an imperious Manchester City side, the summer months of 2018 were a period of discontent for Mourinho and United. Throughout the 2018 World Cup, Mourinho, as an analyst, continuously paid Paul Pogba backhanded compliments for his defensive work rate.


His insinuations that Pogba plays better for France than United didn’t go unnoticed by the Frenchman. With the two already enjoying a fractured relationship, Pogba saw this as the last straw and tried to force a move away from the club.


The whole Pogba/Mourinho situation developed into a fiasco and by the time Mourinho stripped Pogba of the Vice-Captaincy role, it was clear that José’s days at the club were numbered. Again, Mourinho tried everything to get a reaction from his players.


Constant criticism of Luke Shaw did little to improve the left-back’s confidence. Publicly stating that the board rejected his request for a central defender to be signed in the summer undermined his current defenders. Once again, Mourinho cut an unhappy, disinterested figure almost bored of being United’s manager.


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For the second consecutive time, José was sacked just before Christmas with his team underachieving. Mourinho’s spell at Spurs lasted a little over a year and right from the off, Mourinho’s old flaws reared their ugly heads once again.


Public criticism of Dele Alli, critique of his team’s softness and lack of experience and the implementation of a negative style all came to the fore.


And while José enjoyed success at the beginning of his Chelsea and United spells, no such success was forthcoming at Spurs. His dismissal was all too predictable and followed a pattern that had been established over the previous half-decade.


So then, why has Mourinho’s career suffered such a downturn?


At each of José’s past three clubs, his ability to communicate effectively with players has been a major issue. During his peak years, Mourinho was considered to be the master manipulator and motivator of his players.


Former stars like Frank Lampard, John Terry and Damien Duff have all raved about how they would do anything on the football pitch to win for José.


Mourinho has struggled to create this bond between himself and his players since his Real Madrid days. Off-field drama and conflict between players have been recurring themes of modern-day Mourinho.


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Mourinho’s go-to move has always been to challenge his players. Those that met his challenge, earned his respect. In 2021, this method of motivation no longer appears to work.


Players want a manager like Jurgen Klopp. An arm around the shoulder, caring manager that is a friend, not just a coach. This is at odds with Mourinho’s entire personality and having achieved enormous success with his confrontational approach, it is unlikely that he will change his style 20 years into management.


José was lauded for his style of play when he first burst onto the scene. While never utilising the most swashbuckling of styles, there was something extremely impressive about the way a Mourinho side could go a goal ahead and assume complete control over a game.


Tactically, he was considered a mastermind and a master at the ‘one-off tie’. However, when these tactics fail, fear and conservatism are the charges labelled at Mourinho.


With Liverpool, Manchester City and Bayern Munich all playing a fast paced, entertaining brand of football, there is a feeling that Mourinho has perhaps been left behind by the modern football world.


The Special One’s charisma and infectious charm is not what it once was. In his early days, Mourinho was able to make men feel like mountains simply by his sheer force of personality. This is no longer the case. During his United days in particular, Mourinho had the aura of a man completely uninterested by the job he was in.


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The José Mourinho managing Roma is not the same man that took the Premier League by storm 17 years ago. Badly burnt by his experiences at past clubs, José is in a world that can no longer be bent to his will. 


Perhaps club football just isn’t Mourinho’s domain anymore. His man-management style doesn’t appear suited to dealing with players on a day to day basis.


International football should be far more suited for Mourinho, as he would not have to deal with players every day. As a result of this space, players are less likely to get disinterested in José’s confrontational and overbearing behaviour.


Additionally, successful international sides quite often are well drilled, compact and excellent defensively. They don’t necessarily play the most attractive, progressive football. Portugal at Euro 2016, France at the 2018 World Cup and Italy at the Euro’s this past summer all won tournaments based on their rigid defence. 


Mourinho could thrive in this environment where results are more important than performances. Mourinho has worked all over the world in a variety of different roles.


International management is the last frontier that José has to conquer. And with Fernando Santos under severe pressure, perhaps Mourinho will soon get the chance to lead his homeland into a major tournament.


By: Oisín Doherty / @O_Doherty_99

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Tottenham Hotspur FC