The Mourinho way — scorching the earth and burning bridges

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The former Manchester United manager comported himself with a brazen braggadocio that manufactures a mirage of unassailability — just what the spin doctor ordered for a robust political career.

José Mourinho may not find many takers after his chronic three-season lifespan, but he’d be a shoo-in for a career in politics.

“The third season is fatal.”

This was the opinion expressed by the legendary Hungarian coach, Béla Guttmann, about how long success can be sustained at a top club. He was famously nomadic throughout his career, never staying in a club for more than three years (ironically, his greatest success came in his third season at Portuguese club S.L. Benfica). These words may have as well been uttered in the context of another coach who managed Benfica in his very first assignment, José Mourinho. More on this, shortly.

On December 18, José Mourinho was fired by Manchester United in his third season in charge at the Red Devils. He may no more be a coach coveted at the highest level (although Real Madrid are supposedly casting flirtatious glances towards him yet again) in European football, but it is true that English football will miss this tremendously entertaining personality.

To watch José Mourinho in full flight, using his off-the-field machinations and undermining rivals early on in his career was a thrill in itself — the kind that you get when you watch a fascinating grey character in a rvetting dark drama. His Machiavellian machinations would not be out of place in the screenplay of any award-winning political thriller; his schemes could surely be compared to those of a Frank Underwood, a Walter White, or a Tyrion Lannister. Of course, all this would apply only if you were following his team early on in his career, enjoyed the misery of your fellow friends following his team, or didn’t care. For the uninitiated, quotes by José Mourinho paint a perceptible personality portrait of his, and this is what I’m going to utilise to illustrate my points.

“I understand why he (Alex Ferguson) is a bit emotional. He has some of the top players in the world and they should be doing a lot better than that. You would be sad if your team gets as clearly dominated by opponents who have been built on 10% of the budget.”

Mourinho burst into public consciousness (read: the pages of English newspapers) in 2004, when he famously knocked out Manchester United and won the Champions league. This was enough to land him a job at Chelsea FC, a club in London which was close to the top but never quite challenged for the title. With the billionaire owner getting more ambitious, José was the chosen manager to vault them into the high table after the previous manager couldn’t. What’s more, he could take on Ferguson’s mind games (who, like the Aussie cricketers, could mentally disintegrate opponents) and pay it back with compounded interest (think Virat Kohli dishing it out to the Australians). For the rest of the fans who loved to hate Manchester United’s arrogance and Ferguson’s guts, José was the new challenger.

“Please don't call me arrogant, but I'm European champion and I think I'm a special one.”

... on his Chelsea unveiling.

His first stint at Chelsea was a revelation, where he won the league with muscle in the midfield and time to spare; he also dominated the European scene but he didn’t have a trophy to show for it. And the English press had several field days with him, with his many memorable quotes filling newspapers.

“As we say in Portugal, they brought the bus and they left the bus in front of the goal.”

... on not being able to defeat an ultra-defensive Tottenham.

“Young players are a little bit like melons. Only when you open and taste the melon are you 100% sure that the melon is good”

“Omelettes, eggs. No eggs, no omelettes. And it depends on the quality of the eggs in the supermarket. They are class one, two or three and some are more expensive than others and some give you better omelettes. When the class one eggs are not available you have a problem.”

... on not being able to buy the best players.

In a different context, these would be termed as “rustic humour”, though José didn’t embody that quality.

Over time, fans would recognise other characteristic methods. He was fantastic at creating a siege mentality. The whole world was, according to him, conspiring to defeat José Mourinho; this created a rallying call for players and fans alike.

“Can Messi be suspended for acting? Barcelona is a cultural city with many great theatres and this boy has learned very well. He’s learned play-acting.”

... on Messi’s (supposed) playacting.

“When I saw Rijkaard entering the referee’s dressing room I couldn’t believe it. When Didier Drogba was sent off I wasn’t surprised.”

He also never hesitated to go personally attack players and managers. For instance...

“I think he is one of these people who is a voyeur. He likes to watch other people. There are some guys who, when they are at home, have a big telescope to see what happens in other families. He speaks, speaks, speaks about Chelsea.”

... against the genial Arsene Wenger.

The fans usually tolerated this bombast as something that came with Mourinho’s territory, as long as he was winning. The moment this combative and abrasive tactic stopped working due to diminishing marginal returns, the team usually let him know by not listening to his words and underperforming. And thus, after his first stint at Chelsea it wasn’t surprising that the teams that hired him next were the ones who were desperate to return to the high table of European football regardless of the baggage that he might bring along — Inter Milan, Real Madrid and Chelsea (again).

“As for Lo Monaco, I do not know who he is. I have heard of Bayern Monaco [the Italian name for Bayern Munich] and the Monaco GP, the Tibetan Monaco [Monk], and the principality of Monaco. I’ve never heard of any others.”

... reacting to Lo Monaco’s statements of wanting to smack Mourinho.

“If I can’t hunt with a dog, I will hunt with a cat. With a dog you hunt more and you hunt better. But if you have not got a dog and you have got a cat, you hunt with a cat.”

... on having to play Karim Benzema instead of the injured Gonzalo Higuain.

Mourinho won the treble with Inter Milan and propelled Real Madrid back into European reckoning, but his methods weren’t as effective. Yes, he did continuously chafe at Barcelona, forcing Pep Guardiola into a sabbatical, and create animosity between the Real Madrid and Barcelona factions of the Spanish national team, but his antics damaged his team as well.

For one, no one was falling to his routine of anointing members of his own team as the best in each position while continuously undermining them in public. Whenever there was a defeat, he was hardly gracious, and it was almost never his fault. As an exception, he did once publicly claim that the best had team lost (not his team); but often as it is with Mourinho, one could always attribute it to his ulterior motives — him wanting to antagonise his squad in his third season while endearing himself to the Manchester United hierarchy in order to stake his claim for his next job, after his old foe Ferguson publicly had announced his retirement.

And this is where the Béla Guttmann quote (“the third season is fatal”) comes in. His previous two appointments (at Chelsea and Real Madrid) too had lasted no longer than the third season. And all three stints revealed a pattern; the third season was when Mourinho turned increasingly abrasive and combative, playing turgid football and losing the faith of the dressing room through a bad breakup. The clubs seemed to be in free fall but the situation was turned around in a season or two by an experienced manager applying the healing touch and coaxing the squad to win a title or two (though it remains to be seen if United can rebound). Of course, he never lost an opportunity to go for the low blow, throwing jibes at one and all.

“I think the lady needs to occupy her time, and if she takes care of her husband’s diet she will have less time to speak about me.”

... on fellow manager Rafael Benitez’s wife, after she suggested that her husband tidied up the messes that Mourinho left behind.

Each time, he has paid a price for his scorched earth policy but he didn’t have trouble finding a suitor who would take him on for his ability to help them regain their lost glory, notwithstanding the damage that he might cause. This time, though, it might have gone too far. Supporters of Manchester United weren’t exactly shouting off from the rooftops when he was appointed in 2016; his teams haven’t been known for playing attractive, easy-on-the-eye football anyway and now everyone is weary of his predictable methods of alienating one and all. But he’s never lost his victim complex.

“A lot of things have been directed at me personally. There is too much talking. I have begun to feel that if it rains in London tomorrow it is my fault. If people don’t like Brexit it is my fault”: on the perceived manhunt against him

But what one and all should learn from Mourinho (I claim sarcastically, of course, lest I be accused of other intentions) is his ability to shift the goalposts and cherry-pick to make his case. It isn’t exactly post-truth in the classical sense, but a good old marketer’s ploy to make his point.

“…Three-nil but it also means three Premierships and I won more alone than the other 19 managers together. Three for me and two for them”: a tetchy Mourinho reminding the press his credentials after a 3-0 loss.

“We have not seen two games where we had 11 players versus 11, so we have not seen Barcelona win against 11 - that's all I can say”: on Barcelona going through after a 1-1 draw in a controversial game

Looking at all this, Mourinho may not land a top-notch appointment anytime soon, but he certainly has a future in politics with all his gifts, if you ask me. He can selectively quote statistics to claim the upper hand; he’s a master of media manipulation; he can create and feed off an “us versus them” mentality and victim/martyr complex; it is impossible to write him off and he makes many improbable comebacks when you least expect him to; and there is no one dirtier in the distasteful personal remarks department. He will fit right in, especially in today’s times. Who knows, perhaps a higher office beckons sometime in the future?

Me? I don’t want him managing my team, Real Madrid (although he might just) but would definitely love it if he managed any other team — a close friend’s team would be a bonus. Why wouldn’t you enjoy the misery and agony of a close friend who is torn between the duty to support the team in a crisis and loathing this captivating personality?

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