Archive | June, 2015

Anatomy of a winner

8 Jun

It was dark inside the laundry bag. Darker than a Nigel Pearson practical joke. Warm, too. But crouched inside was an ethos; a microcosm of what one man was all about. Finding a way.

This is my moment, Mourinho must have thought. This is my Sistine Chapel, he must have silently muttered to himself, as his face pressed tightly against a freshly laundered jock strap.

It was uncharted territory. Louis van Gaal might be capable of episodes of searing creative brilliance. But faced with a stadium ban, would van Gaal’s mind have turned to smuggling himself into the home team dressing room? For Mourinho, it was simply a question of telling the kit man to lift with his thighs. Nobody puts Jose in the corner. He was going to the game.


Like Tony Blair, Mourinho is on a journey. But unlike Blair, Mourinho’s is not a journey that heals one troubled state after the next. Quite the opposite. The voyage of Mourinho is to somewhere few of us can bear to face. An expedition to the dark side of our souls. Because he knows that if he is able to look deeper within – at that which others are unable to stomach – he will understand us better than we even understand ourselves. Then we’re his and his alone.

Discovery is often framed as seeing what everybody else has seen, but thinking what nobody else has thought. Mourinho looked at Sacchi’s Dutch dynamos, Ferguson’s wing wizards and Wenger’s fast-flowing Frenchman, and saw what nobody else did. That none of this shit was really necessary. Football is a simple game, but nobody had realised quite how simple it was. All you really had to be was a complete bastard.


Nobody’s questioning the results. In ten full seasons of club management, Mourinho has only failed to win the domestic title on two occasions. He’s a colossus; on track to be remembered as the greatest manager ever. But while the 9-year unbeaten home league record was breath-taking, it also served as an empirical study into how many yellow cards are required to defend a one-goal lead.

Add to that a referee hounded into retirement, players ordered to time-waste to clear suspensions and – perhaps most tellingly of all – an arrest for refusing to quarantine his pet dog, and you have the image of a man who takes single-minded pragmatism to new levels. The Mourinho Show is very much one in the eye for purists as well as, on occasion, opposition staff.


But the man understands a simple truth. Better than anyone that has gone before him in the gaffer kingdom. He knows that scoring goals simply isn’t the problem. You’ll always score. Whether you like it or not, really. You can be as awful as QPR this season and still snaffle 42 of the buggers. Like Jack Wilshere ending up in an e-Cigarette commercial, it’s a matter of when, rather than if.

It’s stopping them that counts. Not as your main focus. As your sole focus. It’s about always setting your team up as the underdog. Even against Burnley. Never chase the first goal, never over-commit. You’re bound to score, anyway, so why worry?

More than anything, it’s about bringing Jon Obi Mikel off the bench to sit behind your two other holding midfielders. Mikel is grist to Mourinho’s dark satanic mill and a napalm bomb on the beautiful game. The tall Nigerian was Africa’s hottest prospect when he arrived at Stamford Bridge in 2006. A physically gifted attacking midfielder with an eye for goal. Mourinho reduced him to a role only ever deployed at a point at which football, as a concept, was no longer required. It’s difficult to know how Mikel feels about his downward spiral from toast of a continent to becoming his manager’s go-to plughole, called upon to stem any flow from proceedings. Deep down I suspect he’s sad.


Except, of course, that he isn’t sad. Mikel loves Mourinho. They all do. Mourinho’s ability to get players and fans alike to buy into his bleak-but-effective system reminds me a lot of another evil genius: pint-swilling demagogue, Nigel Farage.

Farage, you see, also knows something better than anyone that has gone before him. He knows that only one Labour Party leader has won a general election in the last forty years. The lesson? Stop appealing to people’s best intentions and start appealing to their real ones. There’s an inner fucker in all of us; you just have to find it. Listen to the visceral self-interest that silently screams from every voter’s beating heart. There’s nobody in the booth with you making you justify your decision, so why bother to try? The shy Chelsea fan knows this. Players, too, know they will be handsomely rewarded if they carry out Mourinho’s despotic bidding.


To his credit, Mourinho is at least honest. There’s no pretending he isn’t a rotter, and that’s refreshing. Arsene Wenger bangs on about financial fair play, and well he might, given his 7-year tenure managing in a tax haven in the late 80’s. For all his loveable granddad routine, Roy Hodgson chose to play football in apartheid South Africa. Now I’m not saying Mourinho doesn’t drown new-born kittens in his spare time – he almost certainly does – but you get the impression that he’d happily pose for a photo as he holds one of the little cuties under.


Ultimately, the world’s full of bastards. It seems harsh to single Jose out. His footballing philosophy remains a concern, though. There occasionally comes a point in a sport when someone becomes not only too effective, but also in a way that rubs against the spirit of the game. Something of the contest diminishes because, whatever happens, you know Jonny Wilkinson is just going to kick for goal at every opportunity, marginalising the importance of scoring tries. Or the entire focus becomes centred on Calum Giles slamming in short corners. Noughts & Crosses was fun until you worked out that the middle square was all that mattered. Then it became a procession.

If even the top football teams start doggedly defending their 18-yard box, above all else, the game risks becoming a Cold War of inaction. Mourinho’s entitled not to care; why should he? But the rest of us might want to.


Can anything be done? Two options seem open to us, as far as I see it.

The first is fairly obvious. We march on Stamford Bridge, round Mourinho up, and pull his toenails clean off. Engage in a line of conversation hinting that if he plays Ramires, Matic and Mikel all at the same time again, his knee-caps will be next. I won’t lie: this is the riskier option. Especially with Roman knocking around. But it sends out a message.

As for the second option, well, what did Neville “Oxlade” Chamberlain do in ’36? That’s right, we can appease Mourinho. Stand back while he wins league title after league title, crunching inevitable results out of grimly certain probabilities. Lie down and let him trample us, while a swooning Henry Winter bats his eyelids from behind the press-room door. What the hell, he’s good value in interviews, right?

It might sound tempting. But remember this, you cowardly little worms. Appeasement wasn’t exactly a roaring success the first time around. A right old hoo-ha followed. So think on before you elect to cower behind the sofa.


Winter is coming, my friends. Financial Fair Play is about to be relaxed and Mourinho’s settling in to create his dynasty. With increased funds, he will bring in even more protection to sit in front of his back four. And then, soon enough, Claude Makelele’s children will be fully grown.

The witheringly effective tactics will take root in others. Teams will have no choice but to mimic Jose’s 11-man rain dance in the defensive third. And it will have happened on your watch.

First they came for the Socialists. But you didn’t do anything, did you, because you weren’t a Socialist? Well, Jose’s coming for you now and the game you love. I suggest you stand a post, sir. I suggest you fight tooth and nail to protect that which you hold dear. Defend as though your very lives depend upon it because, when all said and done, that’s exactly what Mourinho would do.

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Keep moving the ball around, lads.  It’ll come.”

“Keep moving the ball around, lads. It’ll come.”