Jose Mourinho exclusive: ‘We now have a culture of vultures’
Chelsea’s embattled manager says there is no longer any stability for managers in England
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho feels that there is an inherent “culture of vultures” in modern football. Photo: Tony O’Reilly/Reuters
Here we are then, José Mourinho and your correspondent, ensconced in the “penthouse” suite in Harrods.
Before you ask: oh yeah, all the time.
There are caviar canapés, champagne, air kisses on both cheeks. This is where the handsome of the species come to serve and consume. It is decadent, confident, privileged. Yet it is a shop. You look and wonder. The working man’s game.
It is a few hours after Mourinho has been fined by the English FA and warned his behaviour could lead to a stadium ban. Mourinho is indignant. The fine is £50,000, which, nationally, is nearly twice the average annual salary. Around here £50,000 might buy a toilet.
This is the different world, a couple of floors above ‘Superbrands’. And all are at ease in it, Mourinho too.
He is in a private room inside this private room. In this cocoon he will promote an exclusive Swiss watch. He collects watches. Time has been on his side, mostly.
Journalists are ushered in, ushered out. They come from glossy men’s magazines and the lifestyle sections. Questions concern José’s preferred type of watch rather than Chelsea’s downturn, Eva Carneiro or his emotional monologue to Sky TV after the 3-1 defeat at home to Southampton. It’s in out, in out.
Unusually, The Irish Times have been invited along, too, in part because an article a few weeks ago pointed out that Mourinho might not be bad at his job.
While agitation grew because Chelsea had lost to Crystal Palace and Everton, it seemed reasonable to note that in eight of the previous 14 seasons – including last season – a team managed by Mourinho had won their league.
In Portugal, in England, in Italy, in Spain, in England again.
You could add two Champions Leagues – with Porto and Inter Milan – and, if you choose, that in 2003 and 2010 Mourinho’s team won trebles.
This is what is known as a body of work. Losing to Palace and Everton, that’s what’s known as losing two matches.
But let’s say it deteriorated and Chelsea were to lose at Porto in their second Champions League group match, then against Southampton at home. Let’s say it got really bad and they finished the season fifth or sixth in the Premier League. Would José Mourinho’s body of work be forgotten in that instance?
One question is whether our sporting culture has decreed that a proven manager – one of the greatest of all time – can tolerate one ‘bad’ season.
Unfortunately for José Mourinho, the answer is No.
Another question, particular to him, and significant, is whether his persona has obscured his achievements. The answer many would say is Yes and given what he’s done, given what he’s won, this perception is of enormous damage because the perception has become real. It is real enough for Chelsea to be considering sacking him.
Again, we can say, look at his CV. It is unmatched.
The response is that Mourinho’s personality has obscured his trophy cabinet. His ego has won, and won ugly.
He could be sacked tomorrow. It shouldn’t be this way, but it is.
Back to Harrods.
Career-wise things could be worse. Mourinho could be at Benfica, where he started out in 2000. Then Mourinho was appointed by a club president who promptly lost his next election. At board level there was immediate instability and in Mourinho’s first match, Benfica were a goal down within 60 seconds – his first pre-match team talk must have been something.
In Mourinho’s second match, Benfica were eliminated from the Uefa Cup, at home. In his third his captain, Calado, came in at half-time and made for the showers saying he wasn’t playing any more.
Rumours in Portugal said Calado was having a homosexual affair with a famous singer and the opponents had mentioned this a few times.
Put all this together: it’s not lift-off.
Mocked at Barcelona as “the translator” for Bobby Robson and Louis van Gaal, Mourinho had no playing career to shield him. Compared to Chelsea 2015, Mourinho’s position at Benfica 2000 looks flimsy.
But Mourinho does not go with that comparison.
“Nah, it’s different,” he says. “It was the beginning of my career. Obviously there is a doubt surrounding your ability. When I started my career at Benfica, and even at Porto before my first titles, there is a doubt – about what people don’t know. That’s a kind of pressure.
“In this moment, the pressure that I feel is the pressure I put upon myself. I know the world and I know the world of football, people are waiting for negative moments. The negative moment sells.
“But really, I don’t feel the kind of pressure of before.
“Because now I have a history, a big history. I really don’t [accept] people can doubt my ability just because I am having some bad results.”
Mourinho had warmed to his theme.
“In football there is a culture,” he says. “I’m not sure of the right word in English – but I think it is ‘vulture’.
“The culture of the vulture. When they feel something can happen, they start coming around [circling]. It’s something I never did. When I was without a job for six, seven months in 2007, I always behave the way ethics tell me to behave. I didn’t go to football, didn’t comment on football, didn’t fly over stadiums where they were having difficult results. I was quiet. I was waiting. Now there is the culture of the vulture.”
Mourinho is correct. There is clear evidence of diminishing patience within football. But he doesn’t leave it there.
“I know the culture now, even in England. Before it was not the culture in this country, but, especially the pundits. They have a new job, which has become a very important job, it’s changed the culture a lot.
“Some of them [pundits] are really brave. To criticise someone with my history, you need to be brave, as there is a risk someone like myself will say: ‘Shut-up. You’ve won nothing in your life.’
“But I won’t do that. I just work and hope that the good results are coming.
“You know, stability for the manager, in general, it’s gone. It’s gone for everyone, except a couple of ‘special ones’.”
Mourinho’s ease within the room has decreased. He mentions rugby. He was at Wales v Australia at Twickenham and saw a masterclass in heroic defence. He does not expand.
Then asked about the arrival of Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool and the excitement generated, Mourinho replies: “You know, I feel sorry that somebody lost his job. And it is quite sad that football in this moment – even in this country – is happy with it.
“I’m not speaking about Jurgen, I’ve a good relationship with him and nothing will change that. I’m speaking about the circumstances that made Brendan [Rodgers] lose his job. I don’t like people being excited that a new manager is coming. I don’t like a player to say: ‘Now, we are going to give extra to prove to the new manager.’ Give to Brendan! Not to the new manager.
“I don’t like this at all. It’s part of my world I don’t like. My world is changing so much. It’s getting worse.”
In May Chelsea won the Premier League. It was for the first time in five seasons. In the six years between Mourinho’s first and second Chelsea jobs, there were seven replacements. The league was won once, though the Champions League was won too. But Stamford Bridge lacked the certainty of José Mourinho. In May it was back – Chelsea finished unbeaten at home – and there was a new contract taking him to 2019. A new era.
Yet within eight games of the new season, that trademark certainty was gone. Mourinho flipped after Southampton, spoke of departure, “the worst period of my career” and said: “There are other people in Chelsea that should also assume responsibilities.”
A public vote of confidence from the board followed.
Now he says: “The reality is that I’ve never lost so many matches in a three-month period. It’s strange. Strange for me. But it’s a good experience.
“I don’t like people to resign just because you are having a bad run. I don’t like that. You have to be strong enough, brave enough to believe in yourself and go until the moment somebody stops you. That’s what I said. The owners, the board, they’re the ones with the power. The managers, I think they have to be completely convinced of their ability, cope with the negative results and go for it. That was my message at the time.”
Mourinho adds of this period: “I think my career is not normal. I think it is not normal because I won so much, and consecutively. That’s not normal. What is happening to me after 15 years should have happened before. It’s not normal, not normal. In 15 years, in only one did I not win a major title. In 15 years I won 22 major titles. It’s too much. It’s too much.”
Such success, he says, has sparked “envy” and this is why he sees so much “happiness” in others at his and Chelsea’s difficulties. “I learn to be happy with the happiness of the others,” he says sarcastically. “But I repeat, it’s a moment. It’s not a moment that will last for a long time.
“Of course I’m entitled to [one bad season]. There are guys who have one good season out of 20. Some of them not even one good. I’m entitled. I don’t need to prove.”
Yet that basic issue of happiness is interesting. There is a palpable sense that Mourinho, for all the material wealth, feels under-appreciated. For someone so successful, Mourinho is curiously unhappy.
It is a philosophical question. Matt Busby was another successful man and manager. Busby, like Mourinho, had various qualities, once of which, unquestionably, was being a hard bastard when necessary.
It is all the more striking therefore that the last line of Busby’s 1973 autobiography Soccer At The Top reads: “Without affection we might win something today but in the end will have gained nothing.”
Busby’s book climaxes on affection, a career summed up. Mourinho reads and while he does not hiss with disdain, nor is there nodding approval, recognition. One imagines the same reaction greeted Graeme Le Saux’s opinion on Thursday that “winning things and being the best are different things”.
“I feel lots of affection,” Mourinho says, “more than I could imagine. I feel affection from my players, lots of people in the street. I have lots of affection. It’s the football world that is changing.
“I feel that I am a strange case because my world is football. I love it, I love my job. This is the job I always wanted and I dedicate myself to it.
“But I don’t belong, I don’t belong to what Desmond Morris called many years ago ‘The Tribe of Football’ [The Soccer Tribe].
“I belong to the tribe in the Desmond Morris concept of the tribe of football, but in the modern concept of the tribe of football, I don’t belong.
“I live in a different world. I’m not with the power. I’m not with the power. I’m a lonely guy in this modern world of football.
“I do my work. I’m not a politician, I’m not a PR, I don’t care what people think about me. I don’t, you know, I’m just what I am.
“When I am in a great moment it looks like nothing’s happened; when I am in a bad moment, I pay for this a little bit. I don’t have many friends in the football world.”
We leave it there. His watch says time’s up.