“Football needs him. His contribution to football has been huge, not only for the titles, but also for the way of playing and his quality as a person. The manner in which he celebrated those titles is also important.” – Manuel Pellegrini
“What I like the most about him is his way of conducting himself off the pitch, he’s a person whose behaviour can teach you some very valuable things for your own personal life.” – Pepe Mel
“I admire what he has done. He’s a young coach with an important impact on the present, and we have to thank him for all that we saw from his team, because I’m convinced it’s the best team we’ve ever seen.” – Diego Simeone
“His departure is a huge loss because his presence has made this sport shine. What he has done is unforgettable.” – Marcelo Bielsa
These four tributes came from some of the most respected managers currently plying their trade in Spain. The subject? Not Jose Mourinho, who Real Madrid President Florentino Perez has confirmed will leave the Spanish giants at the end of the season, but Pep Guardiola, following his decision to leave Barcelona at the end of the 2011/12 season.
Such eulogies for Mourinho could yet emerge from the Spanish football fraternity, but don’t bet on it. Since arriving in Spain, Mourinho has scratched, bit and insulted his way to the top – and back down – in an effort to conquer all in his path, but in the end, has he really been successful?
On the face of it, a La Liga title with an historic points total, a Copa del Rey win and, on a lesser note, a Spanish Supercup suggests yes, but Mourinho must be judged by his own standards, and those are exceptionally high.
After all, this is a man who was made the highest paid manager in football when he joined Real Madrid in 2010, the first ‘Galactico manager’, if you will. At the time, it seemed like a logical decision. Key to Mourinho’s brand was his transposability; put him in any league, with any team (that can afford him) and he guarantees success.
Mou arrived at Madrid having just won the Champions League, his second with two different teams in two different countries. Clearly, this was the man to bring Madrid their long coveted decima – 10th European Cup – to end the ‘hegemony’ of Barcelona, and it was only a matter of Florentino Perez paying up. Why wouldn’t he? It couldn’t possibly go wrong.
It has. Despite the Madrid President’s attempts to suggest otherwise at his press conference yesterday, this isn’t a happy, mutual separation, but a messy divorce with plenty of collateral damage, the culmination of months of deterioration in their relationship. Most notably, Mourinho has failed in his primary objective, to win the Champions League, falling at the same hurdle on three occasions.
The most recent came after a 4-1 drubbing against Dortmund, a side who barely scraped past Malaga in the previous round. The Andalucians are a team Mourinho had once claimed was beneath him.
Mourinho’s supporters claim that getting Madrid the semi-final stage on three occasions is a dramatic improvement on the effort Manuel Pellegrini made before him, a last 16 knockout against Lyon. Yet it’s worth remembering that not only did Mourinho inherent the core of a team that racked up an astonishing 96 points in La Liga under Pellegrini, a then record for Real Madrid, but he was also given a degree of control that the Chilean could only dream of during his time at the Bernabeu, and a huge initial backing from the Madrid media to boot. Despite this, the Portuguese coach failed to achieve a key goal not only for the club, but for himself.
The target wasn’t only Madrid’s , but a personal one for Mourinho, to become the first manager to win three European Cups in three separate nations. Yet in three years his knockout round scalps included Lyon, Tottenham, CSKA Moscow, APOEL and Galatasaray, with Manchester United being the only former winners he managed to eliminate. By his ‘special’ standards, it simply wasn’t special enough. Not by the standards of the most successful team in European Cup history, either.
Then there’s the notion that Mourinho broke Barcelona’s hegemony. Cast your eye over Barcelona’s trophy haul during Mourinho’s time at Madrid and it suggests otherwise: two Spanish Supercups, two La Liga titles, one Champions League and one Copa del Rey. Mourinho’s on the other hand reads as one Copa del Rey, one La Liga title and one Spanish Supercup. This year there has been no trophy.
He may have disrupted the hegemony momentarily, but it certainly hasn’t been broken.
There is also the sense that Mourinho has stopped being fun. While he was once viewed as mischievous, in Madrid he has largely come across as spiteful, a stark contrast to the man that has come to be his foil in recent years.
If Guardiola’s Barcelona will be remembered not only for the beautiful football he masterminded, but for the way he conducted himself, as evidenced by the quotes from Pepe Mel and Manuel Pellegrini above, then Mourinho’s Madrid will perhaps be most remembered for his list of discrepancies.
To name but a few, his reading from a piece of paper containing a list of 13 ‘errors’ committed by referee Clos Gomez after his side lost to Sevilla, wild accusations that Barcelona’s success was a consequence of their relationship with UNICEF, claims that he would never coach a team like Malaga as Manuel Pellegrini did, his refusal to turn up at the UEFA Ballon d’Or Gala in 2012 and, above all, his thumb in the eye of Tito Vilanova, followed by claims that he didn’t know who the Barcelona coach was in the first place.
As erratic as Mourinho’s behaviour can seem at times, in the past it ultimately meant little when it was backed up by unmatched success. The logic was clear: buy into my methods, warts and all, and I’ll bring you the honours you’ve been dreaming of.
At Porto, he overachieved by winning two continental competitions, at Chelsea he delivered the league titles necessary to put them on the map as a genuine force in English football, while at Inter he brought home the European Cup that the club and Moratti family have coveted since 1965.
The objectives changed, the teams too, but the success was remarkable. So what if he ruffled a few feathers along the way? ‘It’s all part of the plan’, as the Joker said.
This time it’s different, however. This time, Mourinho leaves a beaten man, not a victor, a fundamental shift from his previous departures. His move to Chelsea is the most vital of his recent career, arriving at a pivotal stage for the Mourinho brand.
The emergence of young coaches that marry success and beautiful football, with impeccable off-field conduct like Pep Guardiola and, more recently, Jurgen Klopp, has some observers wondering if football is beginning to move on from Jose Mourinho.
At the turn of the year, Jorge Mendes put out ‘feelers’ to clubs like Manchester United and City, anticipating Mourinho’s departure this summer, and the response wasn’t to his liking. People at the very top are beginning to look at the Madrid coach, weigh up the pros and the cons, and decide ‘no thanks’, the potential rewards are not worth the long-term damage.
And so it seems that the manager who has run out of options must return to the club that has run out of managers to hire.
Failure at Chelsea would be disastrous for his image at this pivotal stage. Given the resources at his disposal and the upheaval at Old Trafford and the Etihad Stadium, that doesn’t look likely. Then again, it didn’t look likely at Madrid either; his arrival in the Spanish capital was met with widespread assumption that the was on the plane with him. The standards at Chelsea have changed in his absence, too.
Roman Abramovich has now tasted Champions League success, and will want more. Should Mourinho reach a third European Cup semi-final with the Blues (following defeats to Liverpool in 2005 and 2007), but ultimately fail to progress to the final, do we expect Abramovich to reach for the axe like Perez, or preach contentedness with what is an admirable feat for most managers?
History suggests the former rather than the latter. The ball is now in Mourinho’s court to prove them wrong, but doubts now justifiably exist over just how special he really is these days. Your move, Mou.