The last round of Champions League fixtures marked a year since football’s most loveable rogue was strutting around the Juventus stadium, hand cusped to his ear after his Manchester United side had come from behind to beat ‘The Old Lady’ 2-1. Despite then manager Allegri’s side boasting the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Paulo Dybala and Miralem Pjanic, Mourinho’s side pulled off a victory that would easily fall into the ‘typical Jose’ category of wins. Alas, those scenes would only last for another month or so as Mourinho and United departed ways, as is the pattern with him, in his third season of charge in the club.
Less than a year later though, after numerous rumours, a chaotic twenty-four hours would see Spurs sack their well-liked but struggling manager, Mauricio Pochettino, and appoint the self-proclaimed ‘special one.’ Personally, I can’t help but feeling that it is only a good thing. Things maybe didn’t go quite his way at Man Utd, but football has missed the arrogance, the swagger and the underdog victories that have marked his managerial career.
Of course, Mourinho’s rise into football is somewhat of an underdog story. Unlike his arch-rival Pep Guardiola, who came through the Barcelona academy and epitomised the style of possession football the club demanded, the ‘special one’ did not have what could be classed as an illustrious playing career. He began in his home country of Portugal, serving as a translator and opposition analyst to Sir Bobby Robson. So impressed was the Englishman by the level of detail in Mourinho’s scouting reports, he took him to Barcelona with him, even though others were unsure of how he would fare. It seems remarkable now, but he and Pep Guardiola would often speak to one another – more on that later.
His first solo managerial job would not come until 2000, when he took over Benfica. He was to announce himself as one of the finest young talents in the game when he led his Porto side to unlikely Champions League triumph in 2004. We would probably associate Mourinho with more defensive football now, but his Porto side was an aggressive, high-pressing and energetic team. The underdog status that marked his rise had carried through.
Perhaps what defines Mourinho is that he always seems as big, if not bigger, than the club he is taking over. Chelsea were not the giants we see them as now, and the Inter side that triumphed for his second Champions League in 2010, whilst not underdogs, were competing when Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona were at their height. Arguably his team’s best ever performance was dispatching Pep’s team, which included Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta, with less than 30% possession. After his stint at Inter though, in which he made that team become the first Italian side to win the domestic treble, Real Madrid came calling. What made this so interesting was that only a few years before, Barcelona legend Johan Cruyff had vetoed Mourinho’s move to the Nou Camp on the basis that he was a pragmatic manager as opposed to one with the fixed philosophy that the Spanish champions were accustomed to working under.
His tenure in Spain alongside Pep Guardiola who, not all that long ago, he had worked alongside, was probably the most intense managerial rivalry in footballing history. Mourinho was able to stop Guardiola winning La Liga in what was Pep’s final season in charge, taking his revenge on the club that had so often doubted and rejected him. It was a period marked by mind-games and constant digs at each other which, coupled with the quality of opposition, made for an entertaining few years. Ultimately, a Bond film is only as good as its villain. If Pep was the smooth-talking Barca golden-boy, then Mourinho was his opposite, and together they created a period of football that will never be forgotten.
So, what went wrong? Did Mourinho simply become outdated? Was his football resigned to a period of nostalgia that would be remembered fondly but not suitable for the demands of the modern game? These were the criticisms thrown around by various pundits in the lead up to his last sacking, but we should not forget he won two trophies with Manchester United, before leading them to second in the Premier League before suggesting this was his greatest managerial achievement. It’s difficult for us to criticise managers given so few can put themselves in their shoes, but it certainly seemed strange from a serial winner such as him to suggest that second-best was, not just an achievement, but his greatest one.
His man-management is often called into question with his treatment of Luke Shaw at United criticised in particular. It’s a quality he’ll need if he wants to start getting the best out of a Spurs side low on confidence. If Spurs line of thinking was that a change was needed, then that’s certainly what they will get. It will be particularly interesting to see what happens to Christian Eriksen, Spurs’ Danish attacking-midfield star, given his contract is set to run out at the end of the season. Given Pochettino’s focus on pressing, Mourinho won’t be shy of players willing to work hard, with the like of Son-Heung Min probably being able to keep his place. As with anything, only time will tell. Mourinho is arrogant, he’s a wind-up merchant and, most importantly for any club he manages, he is a winner. Then again, isn’t that just what we love about him?