The Lost One

On July 2, 2004, a 41-year-old José Mourinho walked into his first press conference with Chelsea. The Portuguese manager already had the CV of a seasoned manager, including Europa League success with Porto, followed by an unprecedented treble-winning season which included an iconic Champions League tournament that left the image of Mourinho running down the Old Trafford touchline imprinted in the minds of the English media. Much was heard of Mourinho but not much was seen, but his arrogance made up for whatever weight his name lacked. Although he did not have a notable playing career, Mourinho worked his way to the top, gaining the trust of prestigious figures in football like Bobby Robson and Louis van Gaal. His good looks, black hair, and unique accent attracted the eyes of everyone, like a well-crafted Tarantino villain. His Machiavellian personality left the media at his mercy, and he was soon to take the Premier League by storm. With all the hype and anticipation that would surround Mourinho in his first season at Chelsea, he delivered a quote that would define him throughout his entire managerial career: “I think I’m a Special One.”

But that was then, now a 55-year-old Mourinho is at Manchester United entering his third season at the club with even more question marks than ever before in his career. The metamorphosis of José since that famous press conference is just as horrid as it is intriguing. All of the devilish acts, from whispering in Pep Guardiola’s ear in the middle of a Champions League semi-final, to poking the eye of the late Tito Villanova in the middle of a scuffle, all of the ‘mala leche’ that seemed to fuel Mourinho and keep him interested in competing, all of that has evaporated. The twinkle in his eye is absent, the countless, enigmatic quotes that he would orchestrate to gain a mental advantage over his opponents now look like toothless jabs to cover up for his own flaws. The days of a passionate Mourinho running on to the pitch of the Camp Nou after reaching a Champions League Final, or sliding on his knees with a new Armani suit after a Cristiano Ronaldo winner appear to be done.

Now, as his infamous third season begins in Manchester, all of the signs are showing what we’ve seen in the past. Having a go at the youth players, complaining to the board about the lack of signings this summer, and now cryptic quotes from Paul Pogba and reports of interest from Barcelona for the French midfielder have unsettled the fans. Is Mourinho tired of the repetitiveness of managing a football club? The everyday tasks of tactical analysis, developing player relationships, and traveling every week seem to have taken the life out of him. But does he still have it in him? How do we even begin to understand a man like José Mourinho? I’m sure his therapist could give us pages and pages of transcripts deep into the psyche of José, perhaps it’s some territory most people don’t want to dive into. To understand the person José Mourinho is and who he has become, I wanted to know the thoughts of people who love him and people who hate him. The people he has made cry tears of joy with success, and the people who he has made cry tears of anguish.

In Porto, José Mourinho was a godsend. Back-to-back European trophies brought unprecedented success to a Portuguese side that had no tasted European glory since 1987. In the eyes of Dragões fans, José can do no wrong, but even they can tell the difference with the man today compared to the early 2000’s.

“The amazing journey to the 03/04 Champions League title in Gelsenkirchen at the Auf Schalke Arena. So long ago, yet so fresh,” reminisced @Por_Soccer, a lifelong Portista. “Carrying back to back UEFA titles and winning them both is something only the elite in Europe expect to do, but other teams like Porto dream of. No doubt the accomplishments he completed at Porto made him ‘The Special One’. Towards the end of his time in Spain, I feel like he was in a decline. Same when he went to Manchester United, I feel he lost his special touch. Too many stars with their egos? His ego? I don’t know, but something didn’t mix well. Did the other coaches finally figure him out? I think so. I think he still has it in him though. He just needs to find that club that would be his perfect fit. I’m thinking the Portuguese National Team would be a perfect fit for him. Regardless of what’s going on, José Mourinho will always have a special place in our Portista hearts with the happiness and joy he brought us. Thank you, José, Obrigado Mister José Mourinho, sempre no coracoes de nos Portistas!”

Chelsea Football Club felt the ups and downs that come with a Mourinho-led team in both of his stints with them. Mourinho could wrap up the league in April but simultaneously start a feud with someone as menial as the team doctor. Joe Tweedie, a lifelong Chelsea fan, gives his perspective on the man who gave Chelsea their first Premier League titles.

“Mourinho was fearless in his first spell with Chelsea. There were games where he would make ridiculously bold substitutions twenty minutes into the match, moving his left-winger back to full-back and adding more attacking players to the equation. It was as if he could smell blood and this injection of impudent brilliance would underpin his entire tenure. There was also an element of unpredictability and standards that Mourinho injected into the Chelsea team. It did not matter who you were, you could be hauled off unceremoniously before the half-hour mark and no one would bat an eyelid. Delivering a first league title in fifty-years is always going to permanently weave someone into the tapestry of a football club. To then repeat the feat a season later was beyond any Chelsea fans wildest dreams. Mourinho created an identity and personality that lived within the club way beyond his managerial reign. It was evident in every trophy Chelsea won, as the spine and foundation of the club that had been galvanised under Mourinho’s stewardship delivered European football’s greatest prize. It was a title that rightfully sits in Roberto Di Matteo’s hands, but the DNA of that Chelsea side was inextricable from the identity Mourinho created. Mourinho’s departure at Chelsea during his fourth campaign by “mutual consent” was delivered with murmurings of a now familiar refrain. José Mourinho has fallen out with x, y and z – stop me if you have heard this one before. Rumblings about issues with owner interference when it came to the transfer market and possible disillusion amongst his playing squad led to his dismissal. This general narrative would be something that would follow Mourinho around and post-Inter Milan, it seemed to become an inevitable feature of his management. There is a certain school of thought that would suggest the intensity and defensive nature of Mourinho’s football taxes players too much. Equally, the way Mourinho would provoke a response from his players to perform seemed to antagonize rather than inspire as before. The way he moved on Romelu Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne and Mohamed Salah (rightly or wrongly, some would argue they had not shown much…) mortgaged a potential long-term future of enviable quality for a single league title. Mourinho’s insistence on playing the same tired players over-and-over suggested some fatal breakdown in trust between him and the squad. Have things markedly improved at Manchester United? Or is this supposed Real Madrid hangover still intact?”

Mourinho perhaps enjoyed his best form as a manager in two years in Italy. Two Serie A titles, a FIFA World Coach of the year, and a Champions League title that capped off a historic treble in 2010 cemented Mourinho’s legacy as one of the greats of all time. As an avid fan of I Nerazzurri, Eurosport journalist Siavoush Fallahi remembers all of the fond memories that Mourinho gave him.

“At his second year at Inter there was no doubt that he was the best coach in the world. There was always a tactical measure that he could use to win games, a way to beat superior teams whilst also offering spectacular performances. At that time just as know Mourinho’s teams didn’t offer a by nature offensive football but they had many ways to score and were lethal in many ways. Mourinho also offered off pitch shows on press conferences and sidelines. Seeing Mourinho today it feels like he lost what made him feel so special. Instead of being the special one, a charismatic and spectacular coach, he now feels more negative and his team doesn’t offer a football that his fans appreciate. Mourinho’s style builds on winning, and as long as he wins he’s excused for all the negative consequences of his football and communication. When he doesn’t win he becomes unbearable and as of today the feeling is that there are many far more special coaches around than him”

José’s time in Madrid would give football fans the sort of soap opera drama that was must-watch television for 3 years. His long history with Barcelona as an assistant and translator, his rejection from the job in 2008 that was given to Pep Guardiola, and the beginning of the duopoly of dominance in football between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi brought out the best and worst of José Mourinho. Long time Madrid fan and senior writer for These Footy Times Justin Sherman reflects on the eventful tenure of José Mourinho in Madrid.

“Mourinho brought a siege mentality to the club. He demanded unbridled loyalty from all of his players and a win-at-all-costs style that often times teetered on the edge of lawlessness. For a while, much of it was accepted. Madridistas understood that conventional methods could not stop Pep’s squad, so when they won the league in 11-12 with 100 points; scoring a record number of goals; and at a goal difference of +89; belief in the Mourinho way swelled to massive heights. Nonetheless, like almost all of his other stops, the curse of the third year happened. Mourinho decided that it would be wise to make enemies with the captain of his team and one of the club’s most legendary players: Iker Casillas. Their feud eventually spilled into the press, forcing other players in the squad to answer extremely uncomfortable questions and pick sides. In the space of a year, Mourinho had gone from the most loved man in Madrid to the most hated for a large portion of the fan base, while others defended the Portuguese to the end and even turned on their captain. For all of his genius, it’s often Mourinho’s ego and stubbornness that becomes his undoing. Even with his second tenure at Chelsea and now at United; the controversy he generates with his public comments and/or his stubbornness to adapt his philosophy often outweighs a lot of the good he can still bring to a club. In the end, you’re making a deal with the devil. Only now, he seems to be getting the much better end of the bargain.”

If there ever was a main recipient of the wrath of Jose Mourinho it was Arsène Wenger. The two have gone back and forth with sly little digs for over 14 years including Mourinho calling Wenger a “specialist in failure” and even a shoving match (if you can call it that) during a Premier League game. José holds the better record of the two when they matched up head to head, and he is not one to let Arsenal fans forget that. Popular Arsenal twitter voice @TheFalseNein shares his opinion on the man who has given him plenty of headaches over the years.

José is clearly a strong tactician who identifies the weaknesses in his side and upgrades accordingly. He identifies weaknesses in his opponent’s game and sets up accordingly. However, I was always skeptical about a coach who needs a large budget to then still focus on how his opposition play, not perfecting his own side’s game to impose over any other team. Now we see at Chelsea and Manchester United, what happens when Mourinho DOESNT get everything he wants. He doesn’t get the peak performers such as Perisić because the club do not see a £50m investment on a 29-year-old wise when you have the elite talent of 22-year-old Martial rotting on the bench in the same position. José throws the toys out the pram. The difficulty with José is that he will not admit tactical fault. If he does, it’s with a backhanded spin to place it on something else. Whether it be the board not getting his targets, young players not stepping up for him, or simply berating the lack of quality in his team, José will never adapt to the side he has, they will always have to bend for him, because he is never the problem in his own mind. It will be a matter of stick or twist for United eventually and judging by their refusal to meet his demands in the recent transfer window, it seems Manchester United have made their choice. José will finally get the best from the talent already at his disposal, or United will find someone who will.

Regardless of what you think of Mourinho, this is without a doubt the most critical season of his career. Should history repeat itself and the curse of the third season strikes José, I find it very hard for a top European team to take a chance on a man who will almost certainly cause a rift the locker room. Or José can prove them all wrong, that the special one still has it in him and that the footballing world hasn’t passed him by yet. This season is sink or swim for the Portuguese enigma, and only he can save himself or be the conductor of his own downfall.

By: David Sanchez