Jim Carroll

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José Mourinho and the cult of the manager

There was one man missing from the Camp Nou last night and, strangely enough, people seemed to miss José Mourinho. The Barcelona fans didn’t get to jeer him, the TV cameras didn’t get to focus on his frown and the …

Wed, May 4, 2011, 09:53

   

There was one man missing from the Camp Nou last night and, strangely enough, people seemed to miss José Mourinho. The Barcelona fans didn’t get to jeer him, the TV cameras didn’t get to focus on his frown and the Real Madrid fans didn’t have to compete for attention with him. The game was a million times better than the mess at the Bernabéu last week, but that wouldn’t have been difficult as the two teams seemed more willing to play football rather than act like prima-donna eejits while kicking lumps out of each other. Yes, there was still some of the latter but there was a whole lot less of the former. The best team on the night and over the two legs won and progress to London for the final.

But the absence of Mourinho will still provide headlines. We get to imagine the (one-time) special one, sitting in his hotel room, watching the game on the box (probably shouting at the analysis provided by the Spanish/Catalan Mark Lawrenson) and communicating with his assistants on the touchline via his iPad. Above all his peers, Mourinho is the one who has most astutely played the cult of the manager game for his own advantage.

Of course, the cult of the manager is something which applies left, right and centre. You can see it in how so much of the coverage about Dublin’s fantastic win against Kilkenny at the weekend, for instance, concentrates as much on Anthony Daly’s management as anything else in the county which has brought hurling to the fore. Daly has done a great job as the boss, but he’s also had the fortune to come into the job when there’s a fine bunch of players to work with for once. Liverpool’s season will be probably seen as the season of two managers with fans wondering what would have been the outcome had Kenny Dalglish been in charge from the get-go instead of the hapless Roy Hodgson, especially given the good end to the season which Dalglish is overseeing.

It’s not a new phenomenon. Sports managers have long enjoyed – or endured – the limelight because they’re the ones giving the orders and making the final decisions. While it’s down to the players on the pitch to win or lose, it’s the manager who is as likely to get it in the neck if it all goes horribly wrong.

What’s rarely explored is how the players themselves really regard their superstar managers. Are those players who are at the peak of their career willing to take orders from and respect managers who may not have been great players in their own day? I remember talking last year to a former international who’d played for Inter Milan and he talked about how he felt Rafael Benitez wouldn’t last long at the club because he didn’t think the manager really got the mindset of the players. Sure, success breeds success and, as Mourinho has shown, good managers can win trophies but when things start to slide, players are as likely as anyone else to not want to blame themselves and look for scapegoats. Superstar managers are always top of that list.

At the end of this season, our friend Mourinho will have one piece of silverware (well, one slightly squashed piece of silverware) and a severly bruised ego thanks to those encounters with Pep Guardiola and Barcelona (especially the 5-0 defeat last year, the one which probably rankles the most). He was brought to the Bernabéu to win things, to beat Barcelona and to play the beautiful game that Real seem to believe is their due. Other superstar managers were given the same orders and were despatched with indecent haste when they failed to deliver. It remains to be seen if the galactico in the dugout will be spared the same fate or if he’ll spend the summer looking for a new gig. Despite what many think after his antics in this series of games – and Eamon Dunphy was fairly fortright on the radio this morning that there’s no chance he’ll end up at Old Trafford – there will always be clubs ready to welcome the cult of Mourinho. After all, he gets headlines, fills stadiums and – as long as he doesn’t have to face Barcelona – wins things.