The Jose Mourinho Paradox

The special one. Football’s ultimate pantomime villain. A treble winner with both Inter and Porto in the same decade. The last manager at Manchester United to win silverware. The winner of Roma’s first trophy since 2008 and their first-ever European trophy. A man who Pep Guardiola called the chief of the press room, a venue in which no other manager can compete.


A career which has been spoilt with over 26 trophies and which has been recognised, as on four occasions he has been named the world’s best club coach. I am talking about none other than Jose Mourinho.


But, how has a man who has won a trophy in every club he’s managed since 2002, bar one (no points for guessing which team) stock has seemingly fallen so low it resembles an NFT, but, also still has legions of fans across the globe swearing on everything dear to them, that he still remains one of football’s elite managers. This is the paradox that is Jose Mourinho.


Five was the number on everyone’s lips after the Europa Conference League final. It is the number of European finals that Mourinho has participated in, and the number of European trophies he has won.


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No one else in world football can boast a flawless record like that. His methods may not be pleasing to watch, but they have been battle-tested and proven to work, so why change a winning formula. In Diego Torres’s biography of Mourinho, he details the manager’s seven-point plan for winning big games:


1 The game is won by the team who commits fewer errors.

2 Football favours whoever provokes more errors in the opposition.

3 Away from home, instead of trying to be superior to the opposition, it’s better to encourage their mistakes.

4 Whoever has the ball is more likely to make a mistake.

5 Whoever renounces possession reduces the possibility of making a mistake.

6 Whoever has the ball has fear.

7 Whoever does not have it is thereby stronger.


To a purist, these rules would seem blasphemous as they look to suck all the joy and beauty out of football. Yet, as a man who is single handily focused on winning, he wouldn’t give a single thought to these objections.


After winning the Europa League with Manchester United in a 2-0 victory over Ajax, in which United only had 33% possession and only four shots on target, the Portuguese was asked about the way he won the final. Given that the final was against Ajax, the home of possession football and many purists, his answer was an ideological dagger.


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He abruptly responded that “There are a lot of poets in football. But poets, they don’t win many titles”. If you ever wanted a single sentence to represent Jose, this was it. Defiant, charismatic, arrogant, controversial, calculated but most importantly, a winner. 


Mourinho, a devout Roman Catholic, has stated that he prays every day. Maybe through his strong faith in God, he has found the self-belief and confidence in himself and his methods. As those who have questioned his style of play cannot argue with the results, and it is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and what is more beautiful than the fruits of your labour leading to success?


The seven rules which have proven to be instrumental in Jose’s career may now be the reason as to why he is no longer seen as part of football’s elite. In the 2000s and early 2010s, during Jose’s ‘prime’ years, these tactics, alongside the right personnel, helped him conquer Europe and win multiple league titles across the continent. However, football has evolved.


Since Pep Guardiola’s dominating Barcelona team, football has heavily become possession and pressing based. From whoever has the ball has fear, to not having the ball is now seen as a death sentence.


Even though there are still teams who play reactive football and produce positive results, they have modified it to suit the modern game. Football has changed, but it seems Jose has not and may be looking at the game from the backseat instead of changing its direction himself. 


Between 2010-2012, Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho were indisputably football’s two best managers and created arguably modern football’s greatest managerial rivalry. Whenever Madrid and Barcelona faced off against one another, it was more than just a sporting event.


Filled with drama, fierce challenges, heated personal distaste of one another and brimming with quality, the eyes of the world were on these games. Fast forward to 2022, Pep Guardiola has gone on to win the premier league 4 out of the last 5 years alongside multiple domestic trophies, whereas Jose has not touched that level of success.


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Carlo Ancelotti, another managerial compatriot from the 2000s is still one of the world’s best managers. He has just come off winning the double at Real Madrid by winning La Liga and what seems to be their umpteenth Champions League trophy. These colleagues adapted over time and managed to stay at the top of the footballing world, yet Jose hasn’t, and the question is why?


As mentioned beforehand, his style of play has rendered him almost obsolete when it comes to being hired by the biggest clubs in Europe. Even Ancelotti, who in the past has been accused of just letting his players play and not having a definitive system of football, has shown this season his tactical acumen.


Jose, as demonstrated by his rules, is a reactive manager. He wants his players to be up against it from the start, to showcase an us-against-the-world mentality. He is so obsessed with stopping the opposition from scoring that he almost forgets his team must score as well.


At Manchester United, often when the team would go 1-0 up, he would almost immediately retreat into a deep block, with a large spell of the game to go. Instead of seeing the game out comfortably and controlling the game out of possession, chaos would ensue, leading to many De Gea heroics.


This led to him being named the club’s player of the year in 2017/2018, when the club finished second, their highest position since Sir Alex retired. This kind of football is becoming slowly but surely less accepted by the biggest clubs in Europe and their fans.


They want to win but winning in style is vital. As soon as the wins start becoming draws and losses, and the football not being attractive, the players and fans soon start to turn against Jose. His stubbornness, the reason for his success then becomes detrimental as he refuses to change his ways.


A lack of flexibility, as well as a reactive style of play, means the biggest clubs in Europe may no longer come calling for one of Europe’s biggest names. Nevertheless, the main reason behind Jose’s slow but blatant demise is his man-management skills.


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Once lauded for his ability to form such intimate connections and bonds with his players that they would run through brick walls for him, this magic ability has begun to run out. As soon as there is any trouble, the Setúbal-born manager blames everyone else and lacks accountability.


The referee, the assistant referees, other clubs who do not have anything to do with the current fixture, the players and infamously at Chelsea, even the medical team. An incident in which he lambasted Eva Caneiro and Jon Fearn for rushing on to the pitch resulted in Caneiro leaving Chelsea and embroiling the club in a legal battle which lasted several months.


This was the beginning of the end for Jose at Chelsea, as by December, with the club languishing in 14th place, he was sacked for the second time by the West London outfit. At his last three clubs before Roma, his current pit stop, Mourinho has been sacked. At Madrid, he left after his third season as his position became untenable.


Falling out with Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos and Cristiano Ronaldo meant his days at the Bernabeu were numbered. At Manchester United, he had fallen out with Paul Pogba, the club’s highest earner, reportedly calling him a “virus”. 


He repeatedly criticized Anthony Martial and infamously called out Luke Shaw numerous times in the media, once famously saying that Shaw used Jose’s brain during a game where he played well and that the Portuguese was making every decision for him. 


In modern football, player power rules all. Gone are the days the coach was the most important figure at the club. If a manager has lost the dressing room, then management would rather cut ties with the manager than the multitude of players who no longer have the will to play under him.


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Even someone as decorated as Jose Mourinho is expendable, a fact which at every sacking, appears to surprise the Portuguese. If you scrawl through social media and his defenders in the media, they blame modern players for not being able to take public criticism from a legend of the game.


However, shouldn’t we instead blame Jose for not being able to adapt to the new generation of players like his colleagues have? Players are ultimately the one who win and lose games. Inspiring them to play better can be done in ways other than lambasting them in the media and a manager experienced as Jose should know that.


Maybe he misses the days in which doing so would only want to make a player prove him wrong and perform better. Still, you must push different buttons to inspire different people, something which Sir Alex, a man who Jose reveres, knows better than all as he was a master at doing so. A skill which allowed him to stay at the top of the footballing world for so long. 


The silver fox which entered English football in 2004 with such aplomb, had turned into a bitter old man by the time he left Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United. Football clubs want harmony, not a combustible personality who complains about the structure of the engine, whilst he’s been steering the boat straight towards an iceberg himself.


Hindsight is something which Jose has preached after his sackings, and for good reason too. After his sacking at Manchester United, the club has not reached his points tally of 81 points in the Premier League and nor has a trophy been brought back to Old Trafford.


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This has led to people saying United should have kept Jose and listened to his transfer suggestions. However, at the time of his sacking, United had lost 5 of their opening 17 league matches and were 11 points off the top four, with no hope of reaching the Champions League.


The football was especially dire, and it seemed like after Jose wasn’t listened to in the transfer market, he wanted to go himself. United indeed have a horrendous footballing structure with incompetent people making decisions.


However, would you have got rid of at the time, your young stars, players you have invested a lot of money in, such as Luke Shaw, Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial, and trusted a manager who is famous for never staying at a club beyond 3 years and who apparently downed all tools?


I cannot say Jose was not wrong, as all the above players haven’t hit the heights the club thought they would, but I cannot fault the club for betting on players they invested so much in. 


It used to be called 3rd season syndrome. After his first two seasons in charge which would be full of trophies and harmony, by the time it came to the third season, everything at the club which Jose managed, seemed to rot.


Players would be falling out with him; the football would become dire and he himself would look depressed being there. It happened at Chelsea twice, Madrid, United and at Tottenham, it seemed like the symptoms set in much quicker, which is why after 17 months he was sacked.


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He was cut ties with for the same reasons as he was beforehand, horrible football, devoid of any attacking ideas, publicly calling out the players and the players looked lost as to what to do on the pitch. Yet even though the rot had set in, the decision to sack him just days before a cup final may go down as one of football’s baffling decisions.


This is a man who’s won 12 out of 15 cup finals, a man who on the biggest stages, almost guarantees victories in finals. Given Spurs’s trophy cabinet collecting dust, having won their last trophy in 2008, you would think they would ride with Jose until after the final and then make a decision on keeping him or not.


Maybe Daniel Levy thought if he were to win and bring silverware back to North London, it would be impossible to sack him afterwards. Or against Manchester City’s domestic juggernaut, it wouldn’t have mattered if he were in charge or not as in their last game against the Cityzens, Spurs had lost 3-0.


But surely you ride with the man you brought in to win silverware, instead of sacking him and letting a novice like Ryan Mason take charge, especially for a game of such magnitude for a club like Spurs. Nevertheless, he was let go and Spurs inevitably went on to lose the final 1-0 without even sniffing City’s goal.


This looked like the end of the road for Jose at club football and many called for him to go to international football instead, as the style of the game there appeared to suit him much more than club football. But his stubbornness and love of the game meant that he would not meekly walk away and instead, he returned to the club game to Roma, where he hoped he too would experience a renaissance.


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Rome, the eternal city. After one season it is now a place where Mourinho’s name will be etched forever. For the first time in Roma’s history, he has bought them a European trophy and their first trophy in 14 years.


Even though it is the Europa Conference League, the Roma faithful will not care at all. For too long they have been longing for trophy success as on three occasions in the last decade, they have finished second in the race for the Scudetto.


The final against Feyenoord was a typical Mourinho final. They had taken the lead early through Nicolo Zaniolo, their young star, and afterwards they sat back and soaked up pressure. They did have to rely on some Rui Patricio heroics in goal, but no one cared about that after the final whistle.


The players were in tears, and Jose defiantly had 5 fingers stretched out to the sky to signify how many European trophies he had now won. As if to say to everyone, he is still here, he is still the special one and he is not going away. 


At his best, he provides great charisma, flair and drama to a role that has historically been seen as very mundane. Think to him cupping his ears after beating Juventus 2-1 away with Manchester United.


He had angered all of Turin with his actions, but it only endeared him more to United fans and neutrals. Pundits and media members may say it was childish and unsportsmanlike, but fans of the game want that. This is a high-level sport; emotions will boil over, and Jose represents fans with his raw honesty and his actions during and after the game.


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Maybe this is the reason so many fans are enamoured with him. The post-match sound bites, the look of shock whenever a referee’s decision has gone against him and the hounding of media members who he deems as unprofessional with their line of questioning.


It’s all part of the show that we call football, and fans deem Mourinho as their favourite character, who they would hate to have themselves, but whom they love to view from afar. 


The days you bring in Jose Mourinho to win the league for you have passed. He has not won a league title since 2015 and since then has only won cups for the teams he has managed. But is that such a bad thing? He spent 100 million last summer and only improved one league position from last season.


From 7th to 6th, their points tally increased from 62 points to 63 points. Even so, Roma fans will not care. For a club such as theirs, which feels like it should be Italy’s number one due to them already having such immense cultural significance, this triumph feels like an enormous victory.


It is an Italian club’s first European trophy since Inter Milan in 2010, who were also managed by guess who, Jose Mourinho. The joy that a trophy brings to a city is huge. Arguably, this trophy means much more than securing a top-four place.


Even if he were to be sacked next season, his time at the club will be looked at as a resounding success. He has bought pride back to a city that has been an afterthought in Italian football behind the Milan clubs and Juventus for far too long.


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Maybe that’s what Jose is now. A man who, if only for a short while, brings you the feeling of ecstasy and belonging. He lifts a whole club and brings them what he is brought in for. Trophies. Nothing more, nothing less. Expecting him to oversee a project for numerous years is wishful thinking.


All the talk of philosophy and culture are all buzzwords to a man focused solely on winning. And maybe, that is not a bad thing. He would argue hopping from club to club, whilst winning at almost every stop is more of a merit to his managerial abilities than staying at a club for a period of time, providing stability but winning nothing.


Unfortunately for Jose, the top clubs in Europe want both stability and success. And for a man who has not won a league title since 2015 and who was cruelly called “the sacked one” in some parts of the media, it appears that his time at the top is over. 


Although, this doesn’t mean his love affair with football is over. The joy he has brought to the city of Rome and may continue to bring there or other cities in the future shows there is still a place for Jose in the game, and to fans of these clubs he will always be known as the special one.


By: Abu Yasin / @Abuy2j

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Tottenham Hotspur FC