José Mourinho – from ‘The Special One’ to ‘The One Left Behind.’

Sam Stewart explores the journey of one of history’s most decorated football managers and asks whether or not he truly has manged to keep up with the evolution of the game.

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Image courtesy of In Mou We Trust via Flickr

It almost seems a lifetime ago when a fresh-faced, mischievous, arrogant Mourinho waltzed into England, joined Chelsea and constructed one of the best teams to ever grace the Premier League. Times have undoubtedly changed – and with the success of more expansive coaches: namely Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino – some people worry that José’s pragmatic approach has become somewhat dated.

It is impossible to judge José without first understanding his history. In the words of Mourinho himself, we must show him “respect” in abundance. His successes and trophies speak for themselves. In his first full season at Porto, José guided his side to the league title (with a record points tally for the Primeira Liga). His team also won the Taça de Portugal and the UEFA Cup. In his following season he won the title once more (with five weeks to spare) and claimed the UEFA Champions League.

Mourinho then joined Chelsea. With arrogance and deceit – the likes of which the Premier League had never seen – the English public lapped up his facade with gusto.

“We have top players and, sorry if I’m arrogant, we have a top manager” “Please don’t call me arrogant, but I’m European champion and I think I’m a special one.”

In his first season, Mourinho won both the League Cup and Chelsea’s first league title in 50 years. In his second season he retained the Premier League title – a notoriously difficult feat – and the following season Chelsea won the League Cup, once again, and the FA Cup.

Mourinho then moved on to Inter Milan – leading them to the Serie A title in his first season. In his second season, Jose led Inter to the treble (Coppa Italia, Serie A and UEFA Champions League) – the first time that an Italian team had ever achieved this feat.

He then joined Real Madrid. His first season lead solely to a Copa Del Rey victory. However, the trademark second season led to a La Liga title win for Real Madrid for the first time in four years. The third season was dubbed by Jose as the “worst of (his) career” – which led merely to a victory in the Supercopa de Espaῆa.

He then returned to his beloved Chelsea. In his second season, Jose led Chelsea to a Premier League and League Cup double. His ‘Third Season Syndrome’ reared its ugly head once more and he left the club by “mutual consent” after yet another demise in both results and relationships.

To condense the timeline of Jose Mourinho is a lamentable task. He is undoubtedly one of the most successful managers of all time – specifically in terms of trophy wins. Many argue that, as football has changed, José has not. This is a rather naïve notion – Mourinho has definitely changed; just not necessarily for the better. In his second spell at Chelsea and his time at Manchester United it became clear that the mischievous and entertaining character, that we had once enjoyed, had long gone. In his place, now, is a grumpy old man – a shadow of his former self. His demeanour has certainly been detrimental for his image, but the structure of his time at clubs has not changed (with early success and ‘Third Season Syndrome’).

‘The Special One’ may not have been covered in glory during his time at Manchester United, but Mourinho was not a failure in this tenure. Since Sir Alex Ferguson, the record of Manchester United managers has been embarrassingly sub-par: with David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal merely winning one trophy each (the Community Shield and the FA Cup respectively) in their turbulent spells. In contrast, Mourinho’s opening season led to the successful acquisition of the League Cup and Europa League and the Community Shield. In his second season, Jose led his team to a second placed finish – only losing out to a record-breaking Manchester City team. In that season, it would have been ludicrous for anyone to suggest that any team could have won that league other than Manchester City – regardless of who was in charge. Finishing ahead of Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur was an achievement in itself and one must wonder why José received so much criticism, yet Pochettino and Klopp are applauded – despite them achieving no trophies at their clubs and finishing behind Mourinho in the 2017/18 season. Ferguson left Manchester United with a team in dire need of restoration and a near impossible job for the succeeding managers – regardless of who was appointed. Moyes and Van Gaal have fallen victim to the ‘Fergie Curse’ and it would be unfair to tarnish José with the same brush. We must be objective, open our eyes and not believe the fallacy.

Despite the deterioration of his carefully constructed image, it is not too late for Mourinho. He will likely have a few big jobs left in him and it is now up to him to decide how his legacy will be remembered. He has two choices: he can continue on his path to being completely cantankerous or he can attempt to rediscover some of his spark – the fire that burned so bright in his younger years. One can only hope that he does not mar his reputation – in a similar manner to Arsène Wenger. The José Mourinho of old is a great loss to the game and we must now wait and see if he can rediscover his greatness and excite us once more.