The familiar patterns of Jose Mourinho’s failure

Words By John Brewin Illustration by Phillippe Fenner
August 31, 2018

The last thing José Mourinho wishes to surrender is the idea that he is afraid of a situation, that he has lost control. Amid the blame-shifting, the shifting of goalposts, the challenges to authority and the defiance, machismo is an eternal flame. Vulnerability is for wimps and specialists in failure.

But as a catalogue of failure mounts up for someone who once seemed invulnerable, impervious to criticism, able to argue his way out of any situation, patterns of disaster can be traced through his departures from Chelsea, the parting with Real Madrid in 2013 and what is now a surely doomed tenure at Manchester United.

One of the many accusations made against Mourinho is that he is a chequebook manager, only able to deliver success via spending big money. It is not strictly true, since FC Porto’s 2004 Champions League-winning team were hardly luxuriously funded, and Inter Milan’s winners of the same competition were compiled through some careful dealing, including taking Samuel Eto’o and €46 million for Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Complaints about transfers, though, are often the first sign of a schism. Back in the summer of 2006, at the whim of Roman Abramovich, Andriy Shevchenko was parachuted in, and Mourinho acted like a child given the wrong bike at Christmas. He was correct in the sense that the Ukrainian’s best was behind him but meanwhile staged a battle with director of football Frank Arnesen over other signings, players like Khalid Boulahrouz and Tal Ben Haim.

At Real Madrid, similar patterns were struck in the summer of 2012, when after wresting the Liga title from Barcelona, he was allowed only the signing of Luka Modric before a rancorous season followed in which the Croatian genius was often played on the wing, due to a lack of physique. Three years ago at Chelsea, while players like Baba Rahman, Papy Djilobodji and Michael Hector came in, and Petr Cech was sold on, Mourinho did little to hide his disgust.

“It was not my choice,” he said of Djilobodji’s purchase, leaving him out of the Champions League squad. John Stones had been the target, in an outbreak of civil disobedience over centre-backs that has many echoes in his turf war with Ed Woodward over the summer of 2018.

Gripes over not getting the correct personnel lead to schisms with his incumbent players; implicit in such demands is the idea that they are not good enough. Back in September 2007, a group of Chelsea players who would previously have run through walls for Mourinho sighed with relief. His departing handshakes with captain, leader, legend John Terry and Shevchenko reportedly could have “frozen a mug of tea”.   

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Real Madrid’s players, released from the tactical and psychological cage he had them in, took great delight in playing attacking football and beating a Chelsea team coached by a returned Mourinho during a summer 2013 friendly. They would win the Champions League at the end of that season, a triumph echoed by Chelsea, with much the same squad he had moaned about, breezing to the Premier League title.

Attacks on the medical profession are another running theme. In October 2006, Mourinho made a series of wild accusations against the South Central Ambulance Service when Cech suffered a head injury after a collision with Reading’s Stephen Hunt. They were not borne out by the official version of events. His very public clash with club doctor Eva Carneiro during a season-opening 2-2 draw with Swansea precipitated a discrimination case eventually settled out of court.

Perhaps such incidences result from Mourinho believing he knows best about physiology. During a cathartic 2-1 defeat at Leicester in December 2015 that preceded his Chelsea sacking, he and Eden Hazard clashed on the touchline when the Belgian could no longer play on with a hip problem. During early months at United where his team’s austerity preluded their current guise, he singled out Chris Smalling for missing a game at Swansea. It turned out Smalling had a broken toe.

The end is surely nigh once he starts invoking world events to distract from his own predicament. “I think if you do what I did before the game, which was looking at the news and looking at Myanmar, I think that’s difficult times,” he said after the August 27th loss to Tottenham, an echo of comments he made after a 3-1 Chelsea defeat at Everton in September 2015 where he talked of Syrian refugees being “under big pressure” and a mention of “bird flu” back in 2006 when his first Chelsea team had temporarily let Manchester United back into the title race.

An image of Mourinho purloining CNN for material is irresistible, as is the sense that his multiple downfalls follow a pattern of uncontrolled behaviour that eventually exposes his vulnerability.

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