On a Californian morning in July 2007, Jose Mourinho, then Chelsea manager, held court in Beverly Hills. Have you realised, he was asked, this is the first time in your career you have started a fourth consecutive season with the same club? It stopped Mourinho in his tracks for a moment. He hadn’t. In two months he was gone.
Mourinho is back in the consciousness of English football, starting today when he will be expected to deliver one of his epochal press conferences and tomorrow when his Internazionale team take on Manchester United in the first leg of their Champions League tie. He is up against Sir Alex Ferguson, a man whom he briefly regarded as an equal over two title-winning years from 2004 to 2006 when Manchester United struggled with their own turmoil and Mourinho’s Chelsea cleaned up.
But Mourinho will not be Ferguson’s equal, even if his team eliminate United come 11 March, as his Porto side did five years ago. He will not be Ferguson’s equal if he picks up his second Champions League title in May, although that will mean he has won that competition as many times as Ferguson. The only way Mourinho can be a comparable figure with Ferguson is if he throws in his lot with a club for the long haul, instead of the butterfly existence you expect he will lead all his coaching life.
Let’s not forget that when Mourinho departed Chelsea, four days before his side were due at Old Trafford, he did so quite willingly. His team, he knew, had come to the end of its cycle. Already the word in Italy is that Mourinho quite fancies a new challenge next season, perhaps even the Premier League. Maybe, as he said himself, Chelsea. He has nothing but scorn for managers who say they need time to settle into the job. But what about managers who never stay for long?
Watching from a distance, Mourinho has been through his now familiar card already at Internazionale. He has charmed and then provoked the Italian press. He has picked on one manager and tried to bury him with scarcely concealed contempt: now it is Claudio Ranieri where once it was Arsène Wenger. Judging by the win over Milan last week his team play the same brisk style as Chelsea did, knocking the ball long to a big striker. Instead of Didier Drogba there are Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Adriano.
Talented though he is, Mourinho is in danger of becoming the coach for hire, a mercenary reliving the same plot about as many times as George Peppard and the rest did in The A-Team. Their respective approaches are not that different. At every club Mourinho retreats into a bunker where he remoulds the team into some monstrous but effective hybrid capable of crushing the opposition. If your club has a problem, if no one else can help, call Mourinho.
He thrives on the momentum of his initial impact, although if you check the records he has never taken on a lost cause. When he took charge of Porto in January 2002 they had finished second in the Portuguese league the previous season. Chelsea were second the season before he became manager. Internazionale have been champions for the past three years before this summer. None of them was a club in crisis.
But what happens when the Mourinho magic fades, when two seasons down the line the team needs breaking up and rebuilding? What happens when a club needs a philosophy tangible enough that it can be passed to another generation of players? That was when, at Chelsea, Mourinho started to think about leaving. His rift with Roman Abramovich? Ferguson survived a much more sustained personal attack from the Cubic Expression shareholders in 2004 than Mourinho ever did from Abramovich.
The kindest thing to say is that while Mourinho is a great coach, Ferguson is a great manager. Ferguson has mastered the wider, more complex art of managing the life of a big football club and the infinite problems that presents. It requires a more sophisticated outlook than fixating upon the minutiae of your best XI. What Ferguson has done – and what Mourinho has shown no sign of attempting to do – is build an institution that is self-renewing, programmed to succeed.
Can Mourinho do it? He is only 46, just two years older than Ferguson was when he took over at United, and he is already much more successful than Ferguson was at that age. No one is saying he has to spend 22 years at the same club, but there will for ever be a hole in his career if he does not prove that he can throw his credibility and his reputation with a club and create something bigger and more enduring than just his own standing in the world.
It takes a kind of maturity to do that. A willingness to accept that on occasion you might be embarrassed, even let down, by the club that you manage. During games at Old Trafford, Ferguson does not get anything like the adulation from the home crowd you might expect for a man with his record. “Fergie, Fergie give us a wave” was the best of it as his team beat Fulham on Wednesday. Perhaps it is the years, the ups and downs, the sheer familiarity.
As Mourinho would probably tell him, to be really appreciated you have to leave. Should Mourinho return to Stamford Bridge in the Champions League this season he will, in all likelihood, be treated with reverence. That is what leaving does for a manager’s reputation: supporters only remember the good times. It is staying that is hard, trying to impress them all over again every week.
Keane fails to explain Short temper behind Sunderland exit
Roy Keane offered some kind of explanation over the weekend for his exit from Sunderland, but it still seemed like a complete waste of a good career in management for the want of some perspective.
Keane resigned when Sunderland’s majority shareholder Ellis Short is said to have ticked him off for ignoring his phone call, one that came a reasonable three days after the 4-1 defeat to Bolton in November. Keane said he objected to the American’s “tone” and largely on that basis decided to quit. Which begs the question: how offensive can one man’s “tone” be?
Keane also complains how once he had the “police come to the training pitch” about a matter concerning one of his players. All the same, it’s more convenient than having to go to the police station yourself as Sir Alex Ferguson once did when Keane was locked up for the night in Manchester’s Bootle Street station in 1999.
A little ray of light for hapless Hatters
Hard not to feel pleased for Luton Town, 30 points deducted in League Two but going to Wembley in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final. Their recent plight reminds me of a “Top Tip” that once appeared in Viz. It read: “Reduce the chance of depression and possible suicide by moving away from Luton, Beds.”
No pay no gain at hands of rough Diamonds
Weymouth’s senior players refused to play against Rushden & Diamonds in the Blue Square Premier League game on Saturday because they had allegedly not been paid for two months. The side fielded was almost entirely youth team players and they lost 9-0. Makes you wonder who it was on Saturday who backed Rushden to win down from 7-4 to 8-13 at the bookies.