Jose Mourinho happy to embrace the dark side to build his empire
The Chelsea manager looks like he has chosen vindictiveness and aggression
Some people interpret Jose Mourinho’s provocations as a deliberate, calculated strategy. His aim is to destabilise opponents and bring his own players together. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire
In 2008, two FC Barcelona executives went to Lisbon to meet Jose Mourinho. Marc Ingla and Txiki Beguiristain wanted to find out whether Mourinho was the right man to replace Frank Rijkaard as Barcelona’s coach that summer.
The story of the meeting is told in Graham Hunter’s Barca: The Making Of The World’s Greatest Team. Ingla and Beguiristain were impressed with Mourinho’s intelligence, his presentation, his deep knowledge and understanding. There was, however, one issue they wanted him to address.
Ingla told Mourinho that Barcelona didn’t like the way he constantly used the media to stir up conflict and controversy. “You cannot start fires everywhere, because that is not our style,” he said.
“I know,” said Mourinho, “but it is my style and I will not change.”
Mourinho didn’t get the job. He didn’t take the hint either. Why should he? It wasn’t his fault if Barcelona were too prissy to accept that top coaches sometimes have to take the fight to the opponent.
At Inter and Real Madrid, he continued to revel in vendettas and polemics. By the end of his time in Italy he was professing open scorn for the country: “I’m not happy in Italian football. I don’t like it, and they don’t like me.”
In Spain, he ceaselessly goaded the man Barcelona had preferred to him in 2008, Pep Guardiola.
Some people interpret Mourinho’s provocations as a deliberate, calculated strategy. His aim is to destabilise opponents and bring his own players together: the more he turns the outside world against his team, the better his chances of inducing the coveted “siege mentality” considered so advantageous in the game.
The thing about sieges is that they are hellish experiences that often drive people to cannibalism and usually end in disaster. In the fog of war, unpredictable forces are unleashed. At Real Madrid, the siege ended with the commander being thrown from the city walls by his own troops.
The defining image of Mourinho at Madrid is him taking advantage of the fog of war surrounding a row on the touchline to sneak up behind Barcelona’s assistant Tito Vilanova to poke him in the eye. There’s nothing in Sun Tzu about poking people in the eye. Mourinho’s actions showed no sign of cunning or calculation. It was a welling-up from some inner reservoir of wildness.
Mourinho left Madrid booed by many of the fans and shunned by many of the players. He can justify his failure there by blaming others – the self-regarding players, the dishonest media, the political set-up that limits the coach’s power.
Likewise, there is a self-justifying explanation for why he became unpopular in Italy. It wasn’t that he did anything wrong. It was that the Italians were dark-age feudalists who hated seeing a brilliant outsider upset their carefully-fixed football hierarchy.