Since the summer holidays are about the end for the majority of us and the hockey season will soon start, I’ve decided to add an article from a good friend of mine that is not about hockey (for a change) but about leadership and management style from a coach that is loved by few and hated by many… José Mourinho
In my earliest years as a football fan, I developed a strong emotional bond towards FC Barcelona. The reasons were quite simple; Barcelona had the best player in the world in that season (Ronaldo) but most importantly, my countryman Luis Figo was one of their main references. Soon after this season, the portuguese presence in FC Barcelona grew. Victor Baia and Fernando Couto were acquired and my emotional attachment to the club became stronger.
I followed the games religiously and even ended up convincing my parents to bring me to Camp Nou. Never before, and rarely after, had I felt so in love with football.
This love became somewhat dorment, until 2003. It was the season when Mourinho joined Porto, after a very successful campaign at U.Leiria and a short but impressive stay at Benfica.
Curiously and unknown to me, he was part of the FC Barcelona that I loved. As an assistant and translator of Sir Bobby Robson, and then Louis Van Gaal.
After the 2003/2004 season, Mourinho decided to tread not lightly. He was destined to become the most proficient and antagonizing football manager in history. Second to none at winning.
Even with the emotional weight that affects my admiration for Mourinho, I rarely let it interfere and skew my judgement when he fails as a manager and, more often, as a man. But I am sure that some of his flaws as a man, allow him to become one of the most successful professionals in the history of his job.
Mourinho is a genius, taunted by many, but most of all taunted by the dichotomies of his innerself. Mourinho swerves between two axis and this article aims to discuss this genius‘ dichotomies.
Mourinho, the Pragmatic
Mourinho is beyond any doubt a slave of pragmatism. It was not surprising to see at his office in one of his interviews a framed version of „The Prince“ from Niccolo Machiavelli. It is the clearest statement possible on the following: Mourinho believes it is necessary to rise above morality to achieve his goal, with the most cut throat pragmatism.
Niccolo Machiavelli wrote „The Prince“ as a gift for Lorenzo di Medici; hoping that this essay would enlighten the latter to conquer and maintain power. The ultimate goal should be the glorious and unified Italy.
In Machievellli’s analysis, the way to achieve it was to act beyond morality, good or evil.
Mourinho, as Lorenzo di Medici in several occasions of his life, lingered not in second thoughts on how to achieve glory. As a football manager and a manager of men, he follows this philosophy neglecting conventions of gentry or aesthetics in sport.
His pragmatism is seen often at the pitch. At his best season at Real Madrid, he crafted a team that could generate the most unforgiving counter attacks ending the season with 121 goals and 100 points (the best result achieved in La Liga’s history). His 11 players understood that passing the ball 4 times among them would suffice to score one goal. 20 passes would sometimes mean 5 goals to Madrid’s adversaries.
Real Madrid’s game was a pragmatic, but a byproduct of Mourinho’s first acknowledgement. As a manager of resources, he knew that Real Madrid would have more chances to win if he could implement a model that draws from his biggest asset; speed. Cristiano Ronaldo, Di Maria, Ozil and Higuain provided speed and accuracy.
Xabi Alonso was the enabler. A midfields’s pivot offering 30m passes, slashing positional defenses. Benzema had a dual function; against defensive adversaries he would often wander between center and wings to open spaces for his colleagues ruptures; against more offensive teams he would become a ofensive pivot playing with his back against the goal, assisting goal scorers.
In an era where Barcelona was the dominating force, and the ultimate benchmark for a playing style, Mourinho understood that copying this model was simply anti-natura. Unpractical.
Mourinho was equally pragmatic at the office, which was perfectly seen at his two seasons at Inter. His first year was disappointing, not in titles but in the way the Inter’s game failed to achieve a contending level for Champions league. Inter‘s two displays against Manchester United were a clear evidence that those players would not be able to win anything other than national titles.
Inter was a slow team, winning in a decaying domestic league, depending on the outbursts of its star; Zlatan Ibrahimovic. At the same time Zlatan conditioned entirely Inter’s game. This world class talent was slow, enjoyed having possession and rarely shot from distance.
Meanwhile the midfield block (Stankovic, Figo, Cambiasso, Zanetti) were unable to provide speed. The team played long balls to Ibrahimovic, which would hold possession while his team mates struggled to arrive in his support, losing any potential advantage from transitioning opponents. Mourinho tried to counter it by investing in Mancini and Quaresma; both failed to become real solutions.
In Italy, Inter’s football was more than enough; in Europe, both ball (Barcelona and Arsenal) and players (Manchester United and Madrid) ran at a much faster pace than the team was ready for.
The answer came with Guardiola’s insistence for the acquisition of Ibrahimovic. As a manager, Mourinho could not afford to shape the team’s game model into one that did not fit Zlatan’s characteristics. Ibrahimovic was Inter’s most valuable asset (financially and on the pitch), and he had to score. Neglecting him in the team’s strategy would be a managerial harikiri in front of the President, the players and the fans.
Mourinho knew that he had a world class player, that could only take him to national class results. Jose seized the opportunity and sold him. Zlatan’s character and skillset would prove to be inadequate to Barcelona’s style, and after his successful seasons at PSG, Guardiola is deemed liable for not being able to find a solution for him.
Immediately he understood that Ibrahimovic income would free up cash to acquire new players, to offer them better salaries and to reshape the team‘s game. Eto’o, Milito, Sneijder, Motta and Lucio were all acquired by a few more million Euros than the transfer of Ibrahimovic had generated. The team gained speed and efficiency through Eto’o and Milito, the ball flowed better through Sneijder and Motta, and the defense gained maturity and solidity with Lucio. Inter started the season winning 4-0 against Milan and ending it winning 2-0 against Bayern, giving the club the first Champions League trophy in 50 years.
Mourinho, the Idealist
Jose Mourinho’s idealism is not seen on the aesthetics of his football, but more in the way he manages the club and his players.
No one expects more from himself and from his players than Jose Mourinho. The exigence level is absolute and, arguably, irrealistic. He demands consistency in performance at sometimes unreasonable levels. There are certainly some exceptions, which Mourinho constantly reminds us of; Javier Zanetti, Lampard or Drogba are examples; work ethics crafted from adamantium.
They lived up to Mourinho’s idealism. Contrary to incredibly talented players like Balotelli. The exigence levels are from where Mourinho draws his biggest weakness; unsustainabile personnel managent at long term.
Mourinho’s idealism is also seen on how he expects the club and the team to unify towards a single goal. In every organic structure you have idiosyncratic interests that flow through the variety of egos.
Nonetheless, according to Mourinho’s philosophy, the club structure should be shaped into an absolute unified entity with a single purpose. Instead of a social behavior seen in a pack of lions, Mourinho believes in a structure more similar to a colony of ants.
The purpose is simply winning. Every action of a club employee should be made having in mind this single objective. Mourinho shields the structure from external idiosyncratic interests, and tries to reduce the internal political factors to a minimum.
Throughout his career Mourinho benefited from solid club structures. Porto had a winning mentality implemented by one of football’s most underrated club president’s; Pinto da Costa. Abrahmovic power was undisputed due to the investments he had brought to the club and Moratti family had the charisma and tradition to prevent any internal disruptions.
The 3 club structures were able to fulfill Mourinho’s requirements and he quickly implemented his vision. In Real Madrid, Mourinho struggled to shape the club structure into the likes of the turtle used by roman legions to fight german tribes. Florentino Perez had his own political agenda at the summit level, even though he publicly defended his manager “Mourinho represents the values and excellence of Real Madrid”. Politcally Mourinho was one of his capital investments, and Florentino’s credibility was politcally bond to Jose’s success. Mourinho also failed to convince Zidane to assume a more active posture in shaping the club structure into a monolit. He hoped that the club would become less permeable to external influences.
Lastly, and more importantly, Jose’s idealist belief on “one club, one purpose” was undermined by the presence of Casillas. Casillas was an inherited captain, very different in character from Jorge Costa, John Terry or Javier Zanetti. These players were the extension of Mourinho’s character on the pitch, which is probably less true in Zanetti. Casillas is the captain that every parent dreams of. His unquestionable talent and inhumane calm in extreme situations, together with his low profile and looks make him a reference in football.
However Casillas has a peculiar vision on how a team should pursue his interests, and certainly a different sort of values and ideals from Mourinho. Real’s goalkeeper believes on certain values, universal ones, that should guide sportsmen beyond defeat or victory. Mourinho’s universal values are confined to the universe of the locker room. The breaking point between them was the moment Casillas offered trouces to Xavi after the series of conflicts in the Clasicos.
Mourinho’s is an idealist man; as he believes and expects that every person at the club will go as far as he will to achieve victory.
Mourinho, the Arrogant
A good friend of mine once told me at a dinner that Napoleon used to say “If you win, open a bottle of Champagne, if you lose, open a bottle of Champagne”.
I cannot confirm the sources of this quote, but it made me reflect seriously on how a genius deals with defeat. Ego, as in identity, is larger and thus more exposed in people who conquered great achievements. Leaders that fail will have their followers questioning their decisions.
Question marks affect self confidence, which affects one’s perception of Ego. Mourinho is the type of manager that draws his confidence from his Ego; he partially believes that being who he is, is key to leading the team to success. Thus it is necessary to preserve his etre; primarly before his and his players eyes; to assure them the man who leads them to success is not diminished by defeats. Perserving his etre, has been done through severe outbursts at the press conference, blaming and accusing others for failures, and at the same time praising his accomplishments and excusing his shortages. This is correctly perceived as arrogance.
Even though my goal is not to justify Mourinho’s arrogance, I would like to provide an interpretation beyond the Ego as the root of it. His displays at the press conferences are filled with large amounts of relativism, in which Mourinho plays with others perceptions on success and failures. It is an important characteristic of genius to be able to skew the importance of things and maintain the leader image integrity. This relativism is seen both in Napoleon’s sentence and on how Mourinho can simply say “Pressure is millions of parents having no money to feed kids” in a week where rumours had come up about him being sacked from Chelsea.
As a very intelligent manager, Mourinho is surely capable of severe and perhaps even crippling auto-criticism; being arrogant is a way to counter the low and maintain is position as the undisputed leader. Mourinho’s arrogance is a self-preservation tool, which is something people should also acknowledge.
His arrogance has made me question Jose’s actions several times; yet I am still a “Mourinhista” as several spanish journalists would put it. I understand the utility of this character flaw. What is yet to be seen is to which extent will this arrogance blind Jose Mourinho, making him forget that introspection and self criticism are essential to achieve success. He knows his flaws, and in the moment that the Special One wholeheartedly believes he is Special, it will be the moment where he loses the ability to lead man to victory. So far it has been through exceptional dillence, reasoning and charisma.
Mourinho, the Humble
Perhaps in this chapter a few lines will suffice.
Recognize that we experienced a decade where football style was imposed. Guardiola’s philosophy became almost a dogma, from which any respectable manager should be inspired from. Mourinho offered always a different way out.
Pep’s once said “the playing style is innegotiable”, as if he had found the only truth from which his team should live by. Barcelona’s success is a testament to the value of his philosophy, but what about Mourinho?
A winning coach with such “larger than life” personality, that is willing to put 11 players defending as a block if the adversary thus requires, surely has to reveal a certain degree of humbleness.
Being aware of his teams limitations, accepting the consequences that come with it (public criticism), and adapting the playing philosophy to the specific games is surely something to be praised.
Mourinho’s most humble feature is that he does not impose, like Guardiola. He proposes. A variety of them, according to the limitations of the club and squad and his adversaries virtues.
… Jose Mourinho is a flawed man in a flawed sport.
In 1986, Diego Armando Maradona scored the most controversial and perhaps most famous goal in history against England. He described it as „La Mano de Dios“ (God’s Hand), which was at the same time an aberration for millions.
Maradona’s goal proved that doing what needs to be done to achieve glory, beyond right and wrong, has the potential to become poethic and in time admirable. Mourinho is doing exactly the same as a football manager.
Afonso Falcão Gomes