Mourinho's theatrics are vital part of his class act
Whether he stands, as indicted, as the Lord Voldemort of the beautiful game, it's difficult to argue that, as manager of Internazionale, Jose Mourinho hasn't established himself securely among the coaching gods. He has emulated his mentor, Bobby Robson, by achieving success in several different countries and dwarfed him by bringing a club from a down-at-heel league to the cusp of glory it hasn't known since the mid-1960s.
He doesn't do it in a particularly tasteful or likeable manner. The pictures of Mourinho being swamped by adoring fans at Malpensa Airport on Thursday made you wonder about the Inter players and, beyond spilling their guts at the Nou Camp the previous evening, how little the narrative appeared to concern them. There was room for one main protagonist only and that is how Mourinho likes it.
Of course, nobody likes a Billy Boaster and John Giles's near-comical struggle to say anything positive at all about Mourinho spoke volumes. Yet it seems valid to wonder whether Mourinho's achievements might not have earned him the credit he deserves. If you are your own greatest champion, don't be surprised if there is a reluctance on the part of others to take up the baton.
The truth is, however, that with Inter's remarkable run to probable Champions League success, a clear and defining pattern in Mourinho's managerial life has become clear. The three major posts of his career -- Porto, Chelsea, Inter -- have been marked by critical and, if you discount the falling out with Roman Abramovich, almost unblemished success. Ridiculously, a Mourinho-coached team has not lost a home league tie since February 2002.
It is much more than that, though. It is how he enhances the clubs he leads, dragging them forward in the wake of his own dashing comet. He refashioned Porto as his native country's strongest team. Using Abramovich's millions he left Chelsea as Manchester United's only serious rival for English dominance. And while Inter were Italian champions upon his arrival, they know only European success can release them from the shadow of their city rivals. Who would bet against them now?
In some quarters we are invited to imagine Mourinho's progress as a stain on the noble traditions of the game. That Inter's vanquishing of Barcelona capped a night when the light faded on another season. Really? Was the fact that Barcelona could only muster a pathetic four shots on target in 90 minutes entirely due to the supposed cynicism of their opponents? Surely it was equally plausible that having feasted on Lionel Messi's brilliance all season, Barcelona had become over-reliant on their little wizard; easy grist to Mourinho's mill.
Mourinho understands that, for all we cherish it, the thing we label sporting genius rarely comes without flaws that the sharp-minded can expose. So Messi was unable to wave his wand in the majestic setting of the Nou Camp. Ronnie O'Sullivan departed the Crucible, undone by the relentless cueing of Mark Selby. Yet was there not a certain beauty in their eclipse? If genius was impregnable, would we not tire of seeing the galacticos win out every time?
For sure, Mourinho's theatrics can be hard to stomach but they should never blind us to the intelligence and complexity of the character underneath. How can there be anything fake or superficial about a man who goes to three different clubs and commands an overwhelming sense of respect and loyalty among players at each one? The showman act, you suspect, is purely for the cameras.
Soon, no doubt, we'll take to wondering about his place in the pantheon of legends, just as we did with Messi after he dismantled Arsenal. And if Mourinho still pales in comparison with gods of the game like Matt Busby or Rinus Michels, the thing to remember is that he only recently turned 47. His best years, indisputably, lie some distance ahead.
Yesterday, Roy Keane mused that there were things he might learn from Mourinho. But what exactly? You think of the young man who became Robson's translator at Barcelona, learning Catalan and compiling detailed reports on players that astonished the veteran manager. The man of whom AC Milan midfielder Rino Gattuso said: "He speaks better Italian than me and I was born here." Keane often talks about the all-consuming nature of management. But he still doesn't know the half of it.
Keane might yet develop into a fine manager, but he'll never be a Mourinho. No slight intended. For Keane, management probably seemed a logical step after the glory of his playing days. For Mourinho, it was always the thing. And if it's any consolation to the younger man, Mourinho, like Mick McCarthy, had the first touch of a drain. So many of his ilk tended to be the same.