Tuesday 16 January 2018

James Lawton: Klopp and Mourinho are polar opposites, but Chelsea boss desperately needs to find old magic

Jose Mourinho and Jurgen Klopp shake hands before a match between Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund in 2013. Dortmund won 4-1
Jose Mourinho and Jurgen Klopp shake hands before a match between Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund in 2013. Dortmund won 4-1
James Lawton

James Lawton

Speculation that Jose Mourinho is teetering on the verge of something akin to a nervous breakdown is maybe as inevitable as it is overwrought.

No doubt it is provoked by the extent of the personal pressure he faces under the inscrutable gaze of his sometimes reluctant sponsor Roman Abramovich at Stamford Bridge midday tomorrow. But then maybe there is a less dramatic explanation for his failure to arrest champions Chelsea's worst start in 17 years.

Perhaps it is rooted in his philosophy rather than his psyche. Maybe he has squeezed the last juice from his concept of a Special One bestowed with unprecedented powers to motivate and inspire a football team.

This theory is certainly given an intriguing edge by the man in the opposing technical area, Liverpool's new messiah Jurgen Klopp.

He brings so much more than a four-game unbeaten run, with his first win on Wednesday against Bournemouth, to gain a place in the quarter-finals of the League Cup which saw the back of Mourinho in Chelsea's defeat by Stoke City.

More significantly, it could be argued that Klopp is not so much a rival to Mourinho, as a counter-point, a polar opposite in the fundamental thrust of his working life.


At every stage of brief stint at Anfield he has been underlining an approach to the job which might have been conceived on a completely different planet to the one which gave birth to the Mourinho phenomenon.

Klopp has made it clear that as he approached his new charges at Anfield the style, as it had been since the start of his first coaching appointment at modest Mainz 14 years ago, has been not of the enforcer of his every whim, not the dictator, but more a supplicant, even a brother.

He says: "I've always believed that the coach is only as good as the faith he inspires in his players, their understanding that he has taken the trouble to analyse all of their talent and do his best to develop every aspect of it.

"A coach must first win the trust of his players - and never lose it however difficult the situation of the team."

This is something the Special One has never before found quite so elusive. Never, surely, has one of the great figures of football been locked so firmly into such a sudden and apparently unshakeable decline of his powers of sorcery.

It has hardly helped that his reaction has been grotesque, even when set against a track record of self-regard remarkable even in a man owning such a superb body of managerial achievement.

Each time he lashes out, at a doctor seeking to do her job, at a referee branded dishonest, or players failing to respond to his bidding, there is another surge of belief that on top of mislaying the plot he may also be, finally, missing the point.

The point, this is, of the job to which previously he has brought such a profoundly winning touch.

It is, maybe, that you can ride the ego train only so far. That somewhere along the line you use up the best inventions of even the most extraordinary personal momentum and reach a time when all the mystique in the world is no compensation for a failure to understand the mood, and the instincts, of those around you.

If Klopp can move beyond a clutch of draws, the breakthrough against Bournemouth, and show that the passion he has so plainly engendered is acquiring a degree more confidence, inflicting the eighth defeat of Chelsea's season would surely represent a massive step forward in his new challenge.

And, quite as much, a withering blow to the dwindling confidence of the man who once proclaimed that he would always be both the director and the star of his own movie.

It would suggest, more seriously than ever before, that last season's championship win against the ultimately feeble challenge of reigning champions Manchester City, might just have been the last defiant act in the career which was so heavily buffeted at Real Madrid.

Received wisdom at Old Trafford is that Mourinho blew his chances of succeeding Alex Ferguson at United with his antics in Spain and now another question has to be asked.

It concerns the damage to Mourinho's credibility being caused by current events at Chelsea. Each week brings a deeper sense that so much has gone missing from the style and the working efficiency of the man who did so brilliantly at Porto, Chelsea and, with astonishing pragmatism, delivered the Champions League to an essentially functional Internazionale.

There is still swagger of course but it is touching parody now - and is hardly supported by the fervent respect it once inspired in the Stamford Bridge dressing room. John Terry's face once glowed with appreciation for the miracles worked by Mourinho on behalf of Chelsea and the rise of his own career as England captain. Now it is a mask concealing, you have to believe, a new and immovable disillusion.

Meanwhile, Klopp preaches the dogmas and the passions which distinguished his formative coaching years at Mainz, and brought the club Bundesliga status, and led him to stunning success at Borussia Dortmund with two league titles and a thrilling Champions League final against big brother Bayern Munich at Wembley.

Klopp revered and nourished such talents as Robert Lewandowski, Marco Reus and Mario Gotze. He bombarded them with bear-hugs.

He said they were not his inventions but the extension of his will, his belief in how football should be played. Under Klopp, Dortmund shattered the Bundesliga scoring record and he wept, as he did at Mainz, when the club's selling policy prompted his belief that his best work had been done in the marking of the Ruhr's citadel of football.

Now he is talking up young, unproven players like the Portuguese Joao Teixira and Cameron Brannagan, midfielders of wit, and the defender Connor Randall, all of whom impressed him in the re-shaped team against Bournemouth.

He is also backing himself to re-launch the £29m Brazilian signing Roberto Firmino as something resembling more a player who he believed for a few months last year was arguably the best in the German game.

It is coaching methodology which lacks the hauteur of Mourinho's.

It is more about a collective belief, a unity of ambition and understanding of what might be achieved with the right level of spirit and self-confidence.

Tomorrow these utterly different, though in some ways equally outstanding, men inhabit some of the most crucial moments of their careers.

It is, when you get right down to it, as much a morality play as a football match. Not so long ago Mourinho might have smiled at such an idea but that was before his movie hit the cutting room floor.

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