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Monday 11 December 2017

Mourinho's latest boast lacks truth and beauty

James Lawton

James Lawton

It's official now, confirmed by the lips of Jose Mourinho. In the week which is odds-on to see him complete the treble of Italian Cup, Serie A and Champions League in Madrid on Saturday night, he has left himself with little or no scope for further self-promotion.

Additional achievements will, he suggests, be no more than the dull accounting of accumulated silverware. The essential business is done. This, anyway, is the implication of his declaration at the weekend. Magnificently deadpan, he announced, "Il calcio sono io" -- "I am football".

Not an intriguing, formidable, often maddening but rarely less than fascinating aspect of football, please note; not a psychological terrorist of the highest calibre, not a defensive tactician who knows few, if any, rivals, not even merely arguably the most potent property in the entire coaching firmament.

No, not any of that which so many brilliant football men would crawl over miles of barbed wire to have in their possession, but, as the Americans say, the whole ball of wax, the whole enchilada, the whole meaning of the show.

It is an absurd proposition, of course, even before you trawl the ages of football, but Mourinho knows his market, knows his ability to behave almost in any way he pleases, sometimes with charm, sometimes with a ruthlessness than can only be described as vicious, while still retaining the devotion of the kind of flock which you normally associate with the most manipulative evangelical preacher.

This is, of course, a stunning achievement but there are times when Mourinho's enhancement of his own performance can become a severe test of rational assessment.

"Those that love me," he has also announced, "follow me. Those that hate me, chase me."

Others, if it is of any passing interest to him, sometimes make comparisons with alternative major figures of the past and the present and rather wish he would go away. This, after all, would not condemn him to company which he would ever find less than enchanting.

Impossible to deny, though, is the sharpness of his understanding of his ability to absorb hostility and convert it into a natural force.


Even beyond the exultant ranks of Inter fans, there is a growing appreciation in Italy of his power to mobilise both players and support, and some feel the new wave of admiration might just delay what has been considered an inevitable move to Real.

"I may go, I may stay," he has just told a leading Milan glossy magazine, while softening considerably his at times strident criticism of the Italian game.

"No," he replied when asked if the exodus of leading native coaches like Carlo Ancelotti and Roberto Mancini, was out of fear of losing to him on a regular basis.

"I think they just had the opportunity to understand other cultures and ways of thinking. They did well to go and experience it. I believe they are well. My friends in London tell me that Ancelotti really likes it in England, and so does Mancini. They have understood that experience abroad is a good thing."

Sometimes it is as though he is the proprietor of all football truth, restless to implant his impact and his meaning across any border. "Staying in the same place doesn't let you grow," he says.

"I could have stayed at Porto after winning the Champions League there. The president asked me to, but I had already decided to get out. I wanted to go up a level in quality. I wanted to make my life more challenging.

"I will go back to Portugal, to train the national team for the European championships or the World Cup -- a short experience at the end of my career. I'm not nostalgic for my country, I'm not a stereotypical Portuguese that needs the sun and his excellent food.

"I was in London with 80 consecutive days of rain and I was still happy. You can't live in 2010 and be nostalgic. But I love my country and I will return there to die."

If anyone is tempted to say that such a development would give the rest of us a little bit of peace, they might also have to add that it would represent the end of one of the game's most remarkable stories.

His imagery is so often as brilliant as it is amusing, not least when he was deflecting criticism of the defensive performance which stifled Barcelona in the semi-finals.

"I often use the metaphor of a bus stopping in the middle of the road and not letting anything by. At Barcelona, however, we played the tactic of the airbus that opened its wings and didn't let anything pass."

No, he is not football, not even if it is true that any club shorn of striking leadership and a sense of direction at the highest level, clubs like Real Madrid and Liverpool, would sign him in a second.

A man who seeks to embody football, surely, must first understand that without imparting a degree of beauty the endeavour is pretty much a lost cause.

Irish Independent

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