Despite his side recording a clinical Champions League win over Ajax last Wednesday, José Mourinho’s genius was once again overshadowed by his dishonesty, writes Paul Fennessy
“Please don’t call me arrogant, but I’m the European champion and I think I’m a special one.” As José Mourinho spoke these words, the English media licked its lips and a new rent-a-quote footballing personality was born. Having arrived in English football with success only in the relatively low-key surrounds of Porto FC, Mourinho was under huge pressure to deliver success to the-then most expensively assembled team of footballers ever, Chelsea, who were stark underachievers up until that point.
Mourinho immediately made himself the footballing equivalent of Kanye West: a man known for his relentless exhibitions of egotism, in addition to proffering behaviour which seemed questionable at the best of times and downright despicable on occasion. Yet like West, his bravura was legitimised to a certain extent, owing to his obvious talent – talent which would arguably be impossible to possess in the first place, without these blatant insecurities which presumably drove him to succeed.
Yet to suggest Mourinho has merely ‘succeeded’ would do a disservice to the extent of his achievements. Although he left Chelsea in acrimonious circumstances following a dispute with owner Roman Abramovich, he did so with his reputation firmly intact and perhaps enhanced from his Porto days.
In Mourinho’s brief three years at the club, he had swiftly become their most successful manager ever. He achieved more in that space of time than most managers could hope to do over the course of an entire career. Mourinho’s excellence and Chelsea’s ill-advised decision to consent to his departure were highlighted by his near-miraculous record at the London club, notwithstanding the endless millions he had at his disposal.
The Portuguese manager’s record while at Chelsea comfortably outstripped those of his competitors. Consider the percentage of games he won at Chelsea (70 per cent), in comparison with his rivals’ records: Alex Ferguson (59 per cent), Arsene Wenger (58 per cent) and Rafa Benitez (56 per cent).
Based on such evidence alone, it is easy to see why many journalists already seem exceptionally keen to induct Mourinho into the pantheon of great football managers, though his charming and articulate nature undoubtedly add to his appeal. Moreover, at 47, he is quite young in managerial terms. Just imagine what he could achieve were he to prolong his career into his seventies, in a manner akin to Giovanni Trapattoni or Alex Ferguson.
In addition to essentially revolutionising English football with his 4-3-3/4-5-1 formation most memorably spearheaded by Arjen Robben, Damien Duff and Didier Drogba, Mourinho also did not lose one home game during his entire tenure at Chelsea. In fact, as I type this sentence, Mourinho as a manager has not lost a home league match for the sides he has managed in his last 143 games – as potent an indicator as any as to his seemingly superhuman aptitude for management. His last home defeat, incidentally, occurred when Porto lost 3-2 to Bier Mar on February 23 2002.
Yet despite these incredible achievements, all but Mourinho’s most ardent admirers would admit that he is a flawed character. His proclivity for exhibitionism in form of a flurry of controversial and yes, arrogant statements, mean he is criticised as regularly as he is praised.
Supporters of Mourinho claim that he is drawing attention onto himself purposefully, in order to take the pressure off his team. And while this theory may indeed be correct, there are nonetheless occasions when his words and actions are inexcusable.
In the 2003 UEFA Cup Final, his Porto side gave one of the most ignominious footballing displays of recent memory, diving, as they seemingly did, at every conceivable opportunity. After the match, Celtic manager Martin O’Neill criticised Mourinho’s team’s unethical approach to the game, singling out Vitor Baia for “lying out on the turf for three or four days”.
In addition, following a Champions League encounter in 2005 between Chelsea and Barcelona, Mourinho accused Swiss referee Anders Frisk of bias. Frisk promptly received a barrage of death threats and felt obliged to take early retirement as a result of such intense abuse, owing to Mourinho’s highly irresponsible, inflammatory remarks.
Moreover, in a 2006 game between Reading and Chelsea, Reading winger Stephen Hunt was involved in a seemingly innocuous collision with the opposition goalkeeper Petr Cech. This incident again prompted Mourinho to speak out against Hunt, as he did with Frisk, without legitimate merit for doing so, inferring that the Reading player deliberately sought to fracture Cech’s skull. And again, the incident resulted in the recipient of Mourinho’s abuse receiving death threats and generally being vilified, though in this instance, the thick-skinned Hunt did not go into retirement or even publicly respond to Mourinho’s insulting comments.
The events of last Wednesday, when Mourinho more than likely advised two of his players to get sent off so they would miss a meaningless group game instead of risking suspension for a key knockout match, represented another unsavoury episode in the José Mourinho drama series. For all his accolades, he will not be considered truly great until he refrains from persistently cheating and begins acting like a reasonable human being.