Not every public figure is fortunate enough to be saddledAi??with a nickname of hisAi??own creation;Ai??and certainly not someone in the big bad arena of sports. Yet JosAi?? Mourinho, who entered the big leagues just over a decade ago, has been accorded that honor. ‘The Special One’ has seemingly been granted his titular privileges from friend and foe alike because, adore him or despise him, there simply is no denying or ignoring that JosAi?? Mourinho has been this past decade’s single biggest footballing phenomenon this side of the touchline.

 

It's a hard life

 

What’s often ignored, however, is how former teams of his cope with his departure from their clubs. ‘Cope’ is an interesting choice of word here, because the evidence seems to indicate they simply do not. Itai??i??s almost as though these clubs – newly minus Mourinho – go into relative periods of depression, for want of a better phrase, at the unlikeliest times. It beggars belief that teams, studded with talent and overflowing with cash reserves (a criticism that is so often leveled against Mourinho), can go through such extended periods in the trophyless wilderness with virtually the same line-up that seemed all-conquering under Mourinho, just a month ago.

Perhaps there is no better explanation for this than the notion that success in football is as much a function of the mind as it is of the body. While Mourinho’s teams are invariably fit, though not spectacularly or extraordinarily so, it is in matters of the mind and spirit, that Mourinho’s strengths and efforts are best imbued. That infectious self-belief, some say bordering on arrogance, can turn men into monsters; his teams never quit, and are relentless in their pursuit of an ambition – no matter how unglamorous the task at hand. Once Mourinho leaves, that fabled self-belief of his teams crumble. Perhaps self-belief is a trait needs persistent bolstering from someone in charge. And Mourinho does precisely that, with his ability to cut through the barriers of race and language and personality, as well as his ability to get anyone in his team to buy into the siege-mentality – or the ai???world-against-usai??i?? philosophy.

Rallying around the flag certainlyAi??helps. Except, once Mourinho leaves, so does that collective symbol around which the team rallies. The sudden absence of the nucleus of the team, as Mourinho invariably fashions himself, can be frighteningly deflating. Perhaps there is some truth after all, to the allegation that Mourinho can overshadow the team – sometimes to the latter’s detriment.

But even that overshadowing is no accident. Mourinho’s insistence on putting onAi??his larger than life act, is not the outburst of an egotistical soul looking for validation. There is a method to the madness. In drawing all the barbs and heckles his way, Mourinho frees his team up to play without regard for the hostile crowd and the unfriendly atmosphere they are faced with on their travels. His players play for him ensconced in a virtual bubble, as it were. That might explain why, after Mourinho leaves, the team struggles to deal with reality minus a man who was oftentimes their first, last and only line of psychological defense.

 

The Wonder Years

 

That Mourinho gets his team to give more than a 100%, is well known. There is no more telling anecdote than the one where Chelsea faced off against Bolton Wanderers in a game where victory would have guaranteed them their first ever league title in 50 years. As the half time whistle blew, with the score 0-0, the Blues trudged back under the stands unsure of what to expect from the manager. Mourinho took them to the cleaners, almost immediately, telling them they had lost their will to fight.

And that the team he saw in the first half did not deserve to be champions. So far, you might say it was all pretty expected. He then took it a step further – into vintage Mourinho territory. Having grabbed their attention, Mourinho offered to take the pitch himself. He said he’d give it his all, but that the team would need to call an ambulance to take him off at the end of the game. The insinuation was as explicit as anything could be – he would die giving it his everything. It did the trick; Chelsea won the game and the league title.

Not many managers can elicit that kind of a response from their men. Not many managers can engender that kind of loyalty in his team. Mourinho’s brand of loyalty is a fanatical one – bordering on maniacal; a band of men willing to lay down their lives and limbs for a man in a suit. That is not a feeling that can easily be replaced with another. Which is why, after Mourinho’s departure, shoulders slump, chests sink and chins droop. Any other manager thrust in that situation, is never going to succeed in that cauldron of raw emotion and unhealed bruises. Avram Grant came close, but then it’s likely the team wanted to win it for Jose.

Felipe Scolari tried his luck altering Chelsea’s style of play, but it fell flat. He ran into a brick wall of players determined to live and die the Mourinho way. A bunch of individuals dedicated to keeping the influence of their mentor alive. Hiddink succeeded because he accepted this was a team in Mourinho’s mold; there was no desire to prove his superiority. During his cameo, the Dutchman’s father-figure attitude and his studied respect towards the edifices that Mourinho built, worked wonders for Chelsea.

 

My way or the highway

 

Carlo Ancelotti, too made light of his famous verbal barbs in the Serie AAi??against Mourinho. He was smart enough to realize that trying to unseat Mourinho from his position of near universal adoration was a recipe for disaster. So Mourinho’s favorites would have to be his favorites too. There was always going to be place for two icons in their hearts, and Carlo was content to let bygones be bygones. He proceeded to endear himself to the dressing room, granting the powers-that-be in the squad a platform to voice their concerns.

Contrast that with Rafa Benitez, who succeeded a smashingly successful Mourinho at Inter. Not only did the Spaniard barely disguise his contempt for his former Premier League rival, he was seen as trying to hurriedlyAi??break with the past – an unpardonable sin towards a team that wasAi??clearly not done withAi??its Portuguese honeymoon. Inter crashed and burned, and Rafa Benitez became radioactive in the market for managers.

You could argue both Chelsea and Inter, never truly recovered from the dip in form after the self-assuredness of the Mourinho years. Chelsea could be out of the fourth spot, for the first time in a decade. Inter have now been reduced to also-rans, far from the dizzying heights at the summit of the Serie A they once ruled. Porto too struggled after his departure – falling to second in the domestic league, and never tasting success in Europe again until afterAi??a decade had passed.

There’s something about Mourinho leaving that rips the heart out of champion teams. Not only do the players go spiralling down in form, cynics might argue they even go out of their way to get their next manager the boot. A team willing to commit hara-kiri, if you will. In a sport, where the influence of big money seems to have diluted everything the game stands for, the passion that surrounds Mourinho is surreal.

 

When Mourinho was around

 

Last week as Inter and Chelsea stared down the bottom of the barrel, desperately trying to salvage their reputations and some semblance of a fight back, the reaction of their fans spoke volumes. It wasnai??i??t the boos directed at their own teams and managers that resonated around the stadium. It was the unabashed chanting of JosAi?? Mourinhoai??i??s name – voices in the wilderness calling out for a second coming.

Mourinho showed some uncharacteristic modesty in his measured response. If Mourinho does return to either of these clubs, they are likely to experience an inexplicable swing in fortunes almost immediately. The biggest question a team under Mourinho faces, is not whether their celebrated manager will suddenly lose his magic touch, and that famedAi??ability to turn lead into gold. It’s whether they’ll ever be able to reach those heady heights again, after Mourinho inevitably leaves them. Chances are they will never win again.

And no, thatai??i??s not a dig at Liverpool.

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One Response to “Op-Ed: Does JosAi?? Mourinho Spoil His Teams?”

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  1. Aditya Sharma says:

    All eyes are on Mourinho to see where he’s plying his trade next season.. He’s won trophies in England, then Italy, and now looks set to win La Liga. I doubt whether he’ll want to move to a lesser league after this (Germany/ France). My money’s on a Stamford Bridge comeback; and with Rafa no longer around I want to see who he’ll be battling in the press this time around