Comment - Jose Mourinho has lost his magical aura on and off the field for now...but can he get it back?
‘I can go home and not watch a football game, not think about football. At the beginning of my career, I could not do that.’
Amid the stream of words muttered by Manchester United Jose Mourinho in his interviews over the last few weeks, his suggestion that he no longer obsessed by the game may have been the most significant.
We should not be surprised.
A glance at the image of a half-shaven, disheveled Mourinho as he moaned his way through a depressing post match interview following his side’s Europa League win against FC Rostov two weeks ago cemented the suspicion that he is no longer a man in love with the game as he once was.
This is the same arrogant manager who has spent his career taking delight in pouring scorn on those who specilaised in finish second, yet he is now desperately scrambling to guide his current team to a fourth place finish in the Premier League.
From Porto to Chelsea, Inter Milan, Real Madrid and then back at Chelsea, it seemed that Mourinho’s was destined to be cast as a serial collector of trophies.
Here is a manager who has always succeeded in getting players to sing from his hymn sheet, yet the Chelsea players turned against him en-mass, with his fall from grace as brutal as they come.
Has he fully recovered from that chastening experience? It seems not.
A joyless first press conference as United boss has been backed-up by a succession of grumpy mood swings in the months that followed, with his muted celebrations following his side’s League Cup win at Wembley last month cementing the suspicion that his enthusiasm is waning.
Whether you love or loath this captivating personality, reporting on Mourinho over the last 13 years has been the most fascinating experience for soccer reporters in London and now Manchester.
So here are a few reflections on the evolution of giant who needs to prove he still a champion in an era when domination is harder than ever to achieve.
THE SPECIAL ONE
As Mourinho was unveiled as the new Chelsea on June 2nd 2004, all of us present knew we were in the company of a sporting superstar in the making.
This was the day when Mourinho muttered his iconic ‘I’m the Special One’ line that has stuck with him ever since, with the success he inspired Chelsea ending Arsenal’s brief reign as the kings of English football.
From the first day the London press pack met him, Mourinho oozed charm and charisma, with his eagerness to befriend us adding to his appeal.
One early memory of attending Mourinho press briefings at Chelsea’s old Harlington training base is the handshakes he offered to anyone crossing his path.
Here was a newcomer to English football going out of his way to forge relationships with journalists, as he appreciated that having the media onside may be useful if he hit a sticky patch.
In truth, we lapped up the offer to be his ‘friend’ and as Chelsea won back-to-back Premier League titles under Mourinho’s watch, his bravado was justified in an instant.
This was a story we all wanted to be a part of.
FAREWELL FOR NOW
“In this moment, the only pressure I feel is the pressure I put on myself.”
Mourinho’s comments to Sunday newspaper reporters at the start of the 2007/08 season were viewed in a very different light when his reign as Chelsea manager ended a few weeks later.
After a stuttering start to the campaign, Mourinho and Chelsea parted ways after a 1-1 draw against Rosenborg in the Champions League played in front of a modest 24,973 crowd.
The sparse attendance for that game highlighted Mourinho’s waning popularity at Chelsea and in truth, the media were also growing tired of his constant complaining about referees, his moaning about fixture congestion and his insistence that the FA had an agenda against him.
We had heard the same gripes from a coach whose desperation to portray himself as a victim of injustice was an annoying part of his character he could not shed.
In truth, the Mourinho novelty had worn off, but this story was only temporarily halted as he went on to achieve success with Inter Milan and Real Madrid.
When he returned to Chelsea in the summer of 2013, we dare to believe the old Jose was back.
GLORIOUS COMEBACK…AND GRIZZLY DEMISE AT CHELSEA
I was invited to a pre-season summit of selected sports writers when Mourinho return to Chelsea in the summer of 2013, with Mourinho vowing to change his image for the better following his.
His pledge to shed his tag as the game’s highest profile persistent sinner and become a role model for the next generation of managers.
We didn’t believe him at the time and it came as little surprise that ‘bad boy Jose’ was soon hitting hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons following a series of trademark outbursts.
During this extended media briefing, Mourinho offered up some sentiments that provied to be prophetic given what was to follow, as he outlined what he expects from those working under his command.
“Sometimes you have groups of players that adapt to my ways easily,” he stated.
“Other times, you can have a couple of guys who are not so keen to accept these rules and this is where you have some problematic relationships.
“At that moment, the club supports the problematic players or supports the manager. That is a big moment for a manager.”
After a sparkling Premier League title triumph in the 2014/15 season, a crisis soon gripped Mourinho and Chelsea as his players turned against him.
As he suggested in his comments above, Mourinho challenged Chelsea’s hierarchy to back him or his disaffected stars who were clearly trying to have him removed.
They chose the easy option and dispensed with the ‘unsackable’ manager in savage fashioned.
CAN MOURINHO REBUILD HIS LEGEND?
The Manchester United job might have been promoted as his dream posting, yet this icon was still trying to come to terms with the shock of his Chelsea humbling when he landed at Old Trafford last July.
That is why we are seeing a diluted version of the Mourinho we were all attracted to when he first came on to our radar.
Former United captain Roy Keane echoed the views of many onlookers when suggested he was ‘sick to death of his moaning’, but maybe this is what Mourinho has become.
Is this United fans turning on Mourinho already?— LFC Fans Corner (@LFCFansCorner) April 5, 2017
The manager who dared to believe he was bulletproof now appreciates that others will dictate his legacy and as a result, with his battle to be accepted as one of the game’s establishment continuing amid a backdrop of FA fines for his persistent petulance.
The League Cup trophy is now residing at Old Trafford, yet there remains a suspicion that Mourinho is no longer the force he once was.
“A victory no longer represents the moon, and a defeat hell,” declares the Mourinho of 2017, as he gives a hint to the quality now lacking in his armoury.
Winners are born with a unique magic that mere mortals simply cannot develop. These sporting giants have a hunger that separates from the pack and while Mourinho is one of the chosen few carrying the gene of champions.
Now we are waiting to see whether Mourinho still has the fight left in him to clamber back into the perch he has fallen from and for the first time in his remarkable career, there is no guarantee he will succeed.