In November 2010, Diego Maradona visited Real Madrid's training ground at Valdebebas. Madrid's then coach, Jose Mourinho, spent a few minutes chatting with the legend. Their conversation was filmed by Real Madrid TV.
Mourinho explained the principle that had made him so successful: “I score and I win,” Mourinho said. “Sure,” Maradona said.
“And another thing – you score and you don’t know if you win!”
The anecdote appears in a book by Diego Torres: The Special One: The Dark Side of Jose Mourinho , which was published in English translation 10 days ago. Mourinho's verdict on the book: "The person who wrote that book shouldn't write books. He should write books for kids using his imagination".
Another view is The Special One is one of the best managerial character studies in years, and certainly the best book yet written about Jose Mourinho.
Torres, who writes for the Spanish broadsheet El Pais , suggests that "I score and I win, you score and you don't know if you win," is the essence of Mourinhoball. If you score first, I might equalise. But if I score first, it's good night, because I'll shut down the game and only venture forward to prey on your mistakes.
There’s just one problem.
“If I don’t score? Only then am I forced to attack, but only gradually . . . What if I still don’t score? Then the limits of a model that fits into one slogan have been reached.”
Mourinhoball was a cookie-cutter formula that had already succeeded in three countries.
Torres: “He owed his fame and his fortune to his ability to get great results quickly in a range of different countries. Until then, his cocktail of virtues had been enough: his instinct for perceiving the vulnerability of his opponent, his gift of explaining to his players how to organise defensively and how to counter-attack, and his acute power of persuasion . . .”
Mourinho’s mission at Real Madrid was simple: stop Barcelona, by any means necessary. The style of play he introduced was equally simple. Madrid would sit deep, lure opponents forward, pounce on their errors and score with lightning counterattacks.
The problems began when it became clear that many opponents would not mount any attacks for Mourinho’s team to counter.
According to Torres, Madrid “trained to counteract imaginary adversaries who wanted the ball and who were prepared to put a lot of players in the opposition’s half. Throughout the entire summer [of 2010] he did not devise a single plan for static attacking” – that is, the kind of clever, patient, probing attacks that would unlock deep defences.
Madrid repeatedly failed to dispatch weak opponents that surrendered possession and territory. Each of these results was a slow puncture to the cult of Mourinho.
Torres’ compelling (and frequently hilarious) narrative presents several reasons for the eventual breakdown of Mourinho’s relationships with the senior players and decision-making hierarchy at Real Madrid.
His tactics, his personal style, and the influence of his agent Jorge Mendes all come under scrutiny. But arguably the core problem was Mourinho's inability to accept responsibility for defeat. He never simply came up short. It was always somebody else's fault – referees, officials, the press, weak players in his own team. Always somebody else.
In 2011, Madrid lost 2-0 to Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final first leg. According to Torres, Mourinho told his players before the second leg it was impossible to win. The best they could hope for was to lose by a narrow enough margin that the referees could credibly be blamed for the defeat.
Nobody at Madrid would have been surprised by the manner of Chelsea's defeat to Crystal Palace three weeks ago. John Terry's own goal meant Chelsea had to chase the game, but they could find no way through Tony Pulis' patented defensive phalanx.
The defeat exposed the weakness in Mourinho's system, but rather than take responsibility, Mourinho blamed individuals. He announced that some of his players lacked "balls".
Last Saturday, a player with balls, Samuel Eto’o, put Chelsea 1-0 up against the bottom team in the league. That should have been the end of the contest – after all: “I score and I win.”
Ninety minutes later, the bottom team had inflicted Mourinho’s first ever home defeat in the Premier League. Football, bloody hell. Faced with a total systems failure, Mourinho and his team knew what to do.
If you can’t win, find someone to blame.
The fitness coach, Rui Faria, physically confronted the officials, and Mourinho later showered them with acid sarcasm.
But Roman Abramovich is probably sharp enough to have noticed that the real problem on Saturday was that Chelsea played for ninety minutes against the league's bottom team and scored only one goal.
Liverpool have outscored Chelsea by almost a goal a game, and that is why they sit five points clear today. Mourinho has never lost a title race to a team like Liverpool – a side he never even saw as contenders.
When he said that Chelsea were the “little horse” in the title race, the two “big horses” he believed they were competing against were Manchester City and Arsenal.
It now looks as though Mourinho will go two successive seasons without winning a league title for the first time in his career.
If he can persuade Abramovich that the blame for this lies elsewhere, it could be the greatest trick he’s ever pulled.