If you had asked me a month ago, I would have found it incredibly difficult to argue that José Mourinho was anything other than the ‘Special One’ he famously proclaimed himself to be. Now though, as his once all-powerful Chelsea side continues its unprecedented disintegration, it would appear the ‘Petulant One’ would be a far more fitting title.
This is a man who has never played by any rules. From bursting onto the scene with a victory by his Porto side over Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United, Mourinho’s team have won very stylishly, very dirtily and everything in between. But the important thing was that they won. The statistics speak for themselves: Mourinho has won 66.18 per cent of the games of any team he has ever managed. Eight league titles in 14 seasons. Two Champions Leagues. An unbeaten home record stretching from 23rd February 2002 to 2nd April 2011, covering 150 games and four different clubs. Mourinho may not win pretty, but he wins.
When Mourinho strolled, ever-nonchalantly, onto the scene of English football in 2004, his enigmatic charm and playful arrogance rapidly cemented his position as the darling of the British game. For those inside Stamford Bridge he was the messiah, the man who would bring them the world. For those of us looking on, he was the genius we loved to hate. Mourinho was mischievous, he was controversial, but most importantly, he was brilliant. His Chelsea were winners, they were record-breakers; the dominant force in our domestic game. They remained so until his departure in 2007. When Milan beckoned, English football mourned the loss of one of its most celebrated, most decorated figures. In three years, he had captivated fans, entertained the media and achieved success wherever there was success to be achieved. When Mourinho walked out of Stamford Bridge and into the San Siro, he did so as one of the greatest managers the Premier League had ever seen. Once he had finished in Madrid, he returned to London having secured his place as one of the finest footballing minds to have ever lived.
A lot can change in football. Perhaps the warning signs were there all along; his selfcentred style caused immediate factionalism within the Bernabeu. He had left Chelsea amidst rumours of a fall-out with the club’s billionaire owner, Roman Abramovich. On top of this, his approach to referees and other managers drew frequent criticism during his first tenure in the Premier League. And it has always been evident that he does not lose well. When a team is winning trophies, however, it is amazing what can be forgiven. Unfortunately for Mourinho, Chelsea is not winning anymore.
First came the Eva Caneiro debacle. At best, he let his competitive nature infringe upon his decision-making in the heat of the moment; his team was chasing the game. At worst, he showed a dangerously arrogant disregard not only for his colleagues around him, but also for the fundamental rules of the game. When Mourinho won his most recent personal award, he was photographed with his backroom staff, celebrating a ‘team effort’. When he disciplined Caneiro for doing her job, his obstinate self-interest was painfully clear.
To make matters worse, Chelsea began to lose. Then they lost again. A poor start became a prolonged blip; the blip became a slide. As reports emerge that senior Chelsea players are preparing themselves for their manager’s imminent departure, it is clear that the slide has now become a crisis. When Mourinho was sent to the stands for yet another altercation with a match official, his petulant lack of sportsmanship or humility in defeat was unavoidably apparent.
Talking of a ‘Mourinho team’ used to involve speaking of a team that won. Sometimes they won at all costs, but they always won. Now, in the light of the £25,000 fine Chelsea received after seeing seven yellow cards against West Ham, it seems a ‘Mourinho team’ displays nothing more than the abrasive qualities of its manager. This is not so endearing, nor does it illicit any respect, when the results do not follow.
It should not be surprising, though, that Mourinho’s players seem to struggle so much with on-field discipline. Mourinho himself faces yet another FA misconduct charge and an internal club sanction. On this occasion, like so many occasions that have come before it, it is his blatant disregard for the game’s expected levels of respect, restraint and humility for which he is to be punished. The game against West Ham was not the first time Mourinho has been accused of using ‘abusive or insulting’ language towards the referee. As long as he remains in charge, it will not be the last. If Mourinho leaves Chelsea, as the media is predicting with increasing conviction, one of football’s most incredible falls from grace will be complete.
His legacy is under considerable threat. His status as the effortlessly cool enigma of football management is in danger of total evaporation. Arresting the current decline of his haplessly misfiring Chelsea side may well confirm his status as the best there has ever been. But what if he fails to do so? Perhaps he was never so special after all