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.
But what story does Mourinho tell himself to explain why his great friend Alex Ferguson, with whom he had drunk so many glasses of wine, recommended David Moyes to be the new manager of Manchester United?
Mourinho has won seven leagues and three European trophies in four countries. He is the outstanding manager of the 21st century. Yet Ferguson preferred Moyes, a trophyless wonder. All Mourinho’s titles meant nothing.
The obvious implication is disturbing for Mourinho. It wasn’t just the more-than-a-club hypocrites at Barcelona, the medievalist lackeys in Italy and the fevered egos at Real Madrid who found his personality too hot to handle. His behaviour was also too much for Ferguson, the notorious tyrant and bully.
The 50-year old Mourinho has therefore reached a defining moment. He can use rejection to gain insight. He can master the part of himself that wants to poke people in the eye. He can accept that he has succeeded in spite of his tendency to make enemies and alienate people, and not because of it.
Or he can fully embrace vindictiveness and aggression. He can tear down the establishment that has spurned him. He can dominate the other 19 coaches in the Premier League until they all grovel before him and hail him without any hint of irony as The Special One, as Steve Bruce did a few days ago.
It looks like Mourinho is choosing Option B.
In a few days last week he patronised Paul Lambert, who “needs time to have some more maturity”. He irritated Manchester United by saying he would never be so “unethical” as to bid for Wayne Rooney before Chelsea played at Old Trafford tonight.
Those comments were also designed to annoy Arsene Wenger, whose pursuit of Yohan Cabaye was unethical by implication.
Then Mourinho wrecked the transfer plans of his former protégé, André Villas Boas, by snatching Willian. It wasn’t enough for Mourinho simply to get the player, he also made sure to have a good snigger afterwards at Spurs’ expense.
He seems to be having fun, but he cannot keep accumulating enemies at this rate and expect to get away with it. Many of us laughed along as he made fun of Spurs on Friday, but long after the laughter has faded the resentment remains. Mourinho’s enemies will lie in wait and their day will come.
He is still a young coach, and an exceptionally talented and entertaining one. It would be sad if he burned out his career before its time. He would have the whole world’s respect, if only he could find the strength to return it.