Saturday 23 September 2017

Mourinho's reward is trophies and points - not praise

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This was Jose Mourinho’s dystopian moment, where he drew up his vision for what will become of football if it continues on this popular path (Reuters / Eddie Keogh)
This was Jose Mourinho’s dystopian moment, where he drew up his vision for what will become of football if it continues on this popular path (Reuters / Eddie Keogh)
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho appeals on the touchline during the Barclays Premier League match at the Emirates Stadium, London (Nick Potts/PA Wire)

Jack Pitt-Brooke

This was Jose Mourinho's dystopian moment, where he drew up his vision for what will become of football if it continues on this popular path.

Mourinho is a rare voice at the top end of the game, a proud unbeliever in the modern religion of ball possession. His simple commitment is to winning matches and while he is not wholly opposed to aesthetic concerns, he does not think they automatically equate to endless passing.

While Mourinho's Chelsea started this season playing expansive, attractive football - John Terry described it as "different class" - since Christmas he has reverted to type.

In the last two games - Manchester United at home, Arsenal away - Mourinho has plotted and blocked his way to four points.

In both games, Chelsea enjoyed less possession than their opponents. But in both games Chelsea got the result they wanted - and dragged themselves closer to their first Premier League title since 2009-10. Points and trophies are Mourinho's reward for his approach - not praise for style - and when he wins the Premier League next week it will be his 22nd major title.

Bafflement

The overwhelming emotion, then, when Mourinho has to justify his methods to those who have won less, is bafflement. Why does the world value anything other than trophies? Why has possession - an element of the game but not its goal - been recently elevated into the only measurement of morality or style in football?

Mourinho is proud of the fact he stands against this trend, against possession-fetishisation - and that is why he took the opportunity yesterday to mockingly imagine a world where it was the only thing that mattered.

"Sometimes I ask myself about the future," he said, "and maybe the future of football is a beautiful green, grass carpet without goals. In that beautiful grass pitch, the team with more ball possession wins the game. Because everyone speaks about teams playing fantastically well because 'my team had more ball possession'."

Free from the pressure of any particular feud or imagined grievance, Mourinho was enjoying himself and returned to his futuristic vision later on.

"It is the football they play on the moon - and the surface is not good," he said. "There are some holes. But no goals." If the goals were removed, and football were to become keep-ball, Mourinho suggested, it would get boring rather quickly. This was a persuasive case, as almost anything would be when delivered by a man with a 10-point lead at the top of the Premier League. As if to remind everyone of the successes of his anti-possession sides of the past, Mourinho talked up his old teams.

He spoke of his "golden team", the Internazionale side that won the treble in 2009-10, outwitting Pep Guardiola's Barcelona in the Champions League semi-finals.

When the popularity of that Catalan side was put to him, Mourinho brought up how another of his sides dethroned them in 2011-12. "When Barcelona were at their peak was when? When Real Madrid were champions!"

The clear identity stamped on all great Mourinho teams is control, not of the ball but always of the game.

They hold their shape, stick to their plan, avoid making mistakes while exploiting those of the opposition. Organisation, rather than imagination, is what Mourinho values most.

"For me, the beautiful game is to go to every game and know exactly the way you have to play and what you have to do," he said.

This is why the meticulously planned and executed 0-0 draw at Arsenal on Sunday scores so highly for him.

"Yesterday we were brilliant, brilliant," he said. "It was a game where we were brilliant from the first minute."

Roman Abramovich is said to have his own opinions on the game, but Mourinho insisted that Chelsea's owner was delighted with a season that is about to deliver a second trophy.

"I saw him hugging the players in the dressing room after the game," Mourinho said.

"I think he's happy and I think every Chelsea fan is happy if we win the title. If we win the title, we have a fantastic Premier League with everything."

All of which is true - and quite convincing. Mourinho's way works and, of course, few television deals for goal-less football would sell for £5billion.But if Mourinho cannot convince the majority that he is right, then why not, and who else could? (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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