Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho is hugely talented, charismatic - and fatally flawed

THE LAST WORD: The Special One saw his Chelsea side knocked out of the Champions League by PSG in midweek

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It was a textbook piece of propaganda. Cryptic criticism of convenient enemies was condensed into the perfect soundbite. Self-serving headlines were shaped by a combination of caustic commentary, theatrical defiance and artful praise of those who have served him well.

Say what you like about Jose Mourinho – and we will – he is a master of the darkest art of football management. Spiritually, he has turned Stamford Bridge into Stalingrad, a stronghold defended by loyalists who accept the sacrifice of being under siege.

He has succeeded in shifting the agenda, so that his confidence Chelsea will win another Premier League title deflects a damaging inquest into an avoidable elimination from the last 16 of the Champions League.

The cult of personality ensures he will be welcomed back as a hero today, for the cleansing ritual of another important match, against Southampton, when he should by rights be being held to account for a failure of nerve, ethical indifference and tactical inflexibility. 

Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona were a sublime football team, which exaggerated fouls and routinely pressurised referees into pre-emptive punishment. Mourinho’s Chelsea are an extension of his manipulative character; gamesmanship is choreographed to unprecedented levels.

His achievements, in winning league titles in four countries, and overseeing Champions League victories at Real Madrid and Internazionale, deserve deference. He remains the pre-eminent defensive coach of his generation.

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Jose Mourinho

 

Yet judged objectively, difficult since he is such a polarising figure, Mourinho fails the ultimate test of leadership. The best coaches advance and adapt, and Mourinho’s methodology has not changed significantly since his first spell at Chelsea.

His siege mentality was pronounced even earlier, at Porto, where he posted a sign on the home dressing-room wall. It read: “Aqui, ninguem e permitido dentro – exceptonos” (Here, nobody is allowed in the dressing room – except us). It was not a physical instruction, but a symbolic reminder of the need to close ranks.

The age of the martinet is over. Fabio Capello has been marginalised, after looting Wembley. No-one will again wield Sir Alex Ferguson’s absolute power. Louis Van Gaal has discovered, to his intense irritation, perceptions of eminence offer no protection.

The All Blacks, widely recognised for the profundity of their culture, expect coaches and players to “plant trees they will never see”. That is an expressive way of confirming collective responsibility to something more substantial than short-term success, the nurturing of  future generations.

To extend the analogy, Mourinho prefers to buy a bouquet of flowers, sweet-smelling and eye-catching, before despatching it to the compost heap when petals begin to wither. His philosophy is stark; win for me today and tomorrow will take care of itself.

 

Chelsea’s Academy is a profit centre rather than production line. Promotion tends to be for PR purposes, given the experience of midfield player Reuben Loftus Cheek. He has not played a single minute since being promoted to the  first-team squad, with great fanfare, on 3 February.

Mourinho has never adequately grasped the modern leadership concept of distributing power without losing  authority. Phil Jackson, the fabled basketball coach, speaks of letting “each player discover his own destiny”, an  ambition beyond a group as regimented as Chelsea’s current squad.

He also ignores football’s currency of choice, professional respect. Three Premier League managers to whom I have talked privately over the last fortnight have spoken independently about their distaste for the orchestrated antics of the Chelsea bench.

Mourinho’s human failings, such as his hypocrisy in castigating critics for bending with the wind while shaping his stance to suit circumstances, and his  juvenile insistence on continually referring to Manuel Pellegrini as ‘Pellegrino’ are legion.

Guardiola, conscious that “ego is the source of the majority of a team’s problems”, had the humility to adapt to the players he inherited at Bayern Munich. Mourinho expects others to bend to his will. That is why history will record him as being extraordinarily talented, undeniably charismatic, and fatally flawed.

Three true role models

Role models are elevated by strength in adversity, and have special resonance when they are produced by something as relatively insignificant, but socially important, as sport. The antidote to the braying and bullying which has characterised this week can be found in the example set by three contrasting characters: Matt Hampson, Jonas Gutierrez and Neil Harris.

Hampson became a quadriplegic 10 years ago today, when a scrum collapsed at a training session for the England Under 21 squad. He asked himself: “Do I get busy living or get busy dying?” He chose the former, and has become a source of inspiration through the Foundation which carries his name.

Gutierrez has summoned the courage to speak graphically of the ordeal of fighting cancer, and the privilege of a second chance at life. The Newcastle United player seeks to educate and encourage, since “people think we’re super-heroes, but this type of thing can happen  to anyone”.

Harris, introduced yesterday as Millwall’s caretaker manager, once rummaged around in the attic of his home to show me a box containing 3,000 letters from fans moved by his successful fight against testicular cancer. “This is my life” he said. To his credit, he continues to share its lessons.

KP can now do his worst

Kevin Pietersen has called their bluff. His proposed return to county cricket will probably be no more than a charade, but it will serve his wider purpose of causing as much chaos as possible for those responsible for his excommunication from the England cricket team.

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Kevin Pietersen is in talks to return to the England team

 

Alastair Cook, in good spirits when I last saw him in our village pub watching England’s rugby team lose to Ireland,  deserves better than to be held hostage by the bumbling incompetents of the ECB, who have effectively invited  Pietersen to do his worst.

Feelgood factor lacking

The Cheltenham hangover is kicking in, literally and figuratively. Aintree will provide a final chance to celebrate the life and times of AP McCoy, but racing needs to share more feelgood stories, and develop a better appreciation of the synchronicity between horse and rider. Its future is in its own hands.

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