Adrian Chiles; Revealed: Why Napoleon had a Mourinho complex

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The Independent Online

A few weeks ago I pled for highly-qualified academics who are also football fans to contact me. (I use the word "pled" because the other day I was enchanted to hear Steve Bruce complain to journalists about the way he had been "tret".) I'm delighted to report that the very person I was looking for has materialised. Step forward, Dr E R Mayhew.

A few weeks ago I pled for highly-qualified academics who are also football fans to contact me. (I use the word "pled" because the other day I was enchanted to hear Steve Bruce complain to journalists about the way he had been "tret".) I'm delighted to report that the very person I was looking for has materialised. Step forward, Dr E R Mayhew.

Dear Mr Chiles

On the off-chance your pleas were serious to hear from academics obsessed with football, I have a first-class undergraduate degree in History, a Masters in History of Science, Technology and Medicine, and a PhD in Military History. I've been to every single Chelsea home game for the last 15 years except for two (oddly enough, both against Bolton)... I believe that Jose Mourinho's tactics are based on firm Napoleonic principles...

Yours sincerely

Dr Emily R Mayhew

PS: I am also a girl.

This was indeed promising, and I duly contacted Dr Mayhew. I was not disappointed. She is 41, writes about military history, got into football in her late 20s (via a Wolves fan, apparently), and though she talks and thinks a lot quicker than I do, if I really concentrated I could just about grasp the gist of what she was saying.

So, do you get more out of the game if you have a huge brain? "Well, I suppose you can bring extra analytical powers to the situation," she said, "but it can also be a frustration in that sometimes you analyse and analyse and it's pointless, because the truth is that you're losing simply because you're not good enough. The biggest benefit is that most football fans have short-term memories, but as a historian you can't help but take the long view."

But in the case of Emily - we were friends by now - all of this was less interesting than the specifics of how she applies her academic discipline to football. I asked her to enlarge on the point she'd made about Mourinho and Napoleon. It turned out this was no idle banter; she'd obviously spent an awful lot of time thinking about it.

"Virtually indistinguishable," she said. "Both men have black hair, Mediterranean origins, rapier-like intelligence and a mysterious and highly individualised sense of humour. And above all an overriding desire to dominate Europe, regardless of the cost domestically."

The thoughts are fired out as if from a Gatling gun. In fact, to be honest, I soon had to give up taking notes and get her to write it all down and email it to me.

"Napoleon was master of both strategic overview and tactical minutiae, studying all elements of his chosen battlefields, including ground, weather and light. His first success was with a relatively small army (of Italy), which despite its size and relatively small resources, had been incredibly successful, gaining him the attention of Europe." Perfect. There's Mourinho's Porto experience.

But there's trouble ahead: Napoleon, like Mourinho, was "ultimately dependent on the good will of a Russian to secure his long-term success". For Napoleon it was Alexander I. Initially there was a close bond, "but Napoleon's increasing successes, his interference in things that didn't concern him - like Poland - and the effect of the relationship on other Russian commercial interests enraged Alexander, who from then on determined to be rid of him." In other words, watch your back, Jose.

So what about the opposition? Who was Sir Alex Ferguson in a former life? Easy meat, this. "George Patton. Outstanding front-line commander of World War Two. Eccentric, arrogant, controversial, outspoken. Assumed command in 1943 of II Corps and turned a once-great, now demoralised, ill-disciplined rabble into a victorious combat force through sheer force of personality and constant use of (the) hairdryer."

"Hairdryer?"

"Oh yes: while visiting casualties of the Seventh Army in hospital he came across two suffering from battle fatigue. After several minutes of shouting, swearing and calling them cowards, he slapped them and walked out."

Fergie's, I mean Patton's, worst weakness was his temper. "He failed to get on with his superiors and picked ridiculous, unwinnable fights with them which distracted him and ultimately sidelined him from the action."

Only from the past can we understand the future. Sir Alex could do worse than submit himself for a tutorial with Emily, though I doubt she'd take the job on.

As for those managers who come to Chelsea looking only to avoid defeat, she points to the success George Washington enjoyed: "He had no rich central power supplying him with fresh troops and resources, so had to make do with a raggedy group of part-timers which he moulded into a determined, coherent, focused force." This could be Megson, Allardyce, Dowie or even the Greek national team. The list is endless.

"If all the general wants is to keep the army in existence (or to go away with a point), there is little that can be done to stop them. I ruminate on this every week, especially after the last Spurs game. And all I have come up with so far is a return to the long ball game (the equivalent of strategic bombing). George Washington, it should be remembered, seldom won a battle but never lost a campaign."

Tellingly, to find someone as brilliant as Arsène Wenger she has to go a long way back. "Alexander the Great. A tactical and strategic genius, he was distinguished from all other generals throughout history by his complete understanding of every element of his army and their combining in a strategic whole that was far greater than the sum of its already impressive parts." High praise indeed.

And the bad news is that in terms of a strategy, to overcome Arsène the Great the only clue history provides us with is as follows: "Alexander's only weakness was his digestive system. He died on campaign of either typhoid or poisoning, depending on who you believe. Advice to David Dein: get Wenger a food taster."

All fascinating stuff, but it's strangely reassuring to know that for all her formidable intellect the good Dr Mayhew is far from immune to the downward pull of human nature - a gravitational force to be found amidst all football crowds.

Do you ever abuse the ref, I ask her.

"Yes," she chirps proudly.

It's not clever or grown-up, you know. But does an academic do it in a particularly clever way?

"No. But it was me who spotted the other day that the linesman ran like a girl and he got lots of stick for that, and that was my idea."

adrian.chiles@btopenworld.com

'The Reconstruction of Warriors' by E R Mayhew was published by Greenhill Books last month.

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