It was a long time ago when Jose Mourinho first shot onto the world scene proper by galloping from his dugout at Old Trafford to meet his celebrating Porto players as quickly as his designer shoes, suit and long coat would allow. A lot has happened in football since then and in that time Mourinho has been through a personal roller coaster that few if any in top level football management can rival. After departing his home country already leaving behind an historic amount of success behind him the self dubbed ‘special one’ took over the British game for a couple of years from the dynasty that was Ferguson/Wenger before leaving in mysterious circumstances. Next, Inter Milan where he won the Serie A twice in as many seasons before topping it off with the second Champions League triumph of his career as well as securing the Coppa Italia that season to secure a record breaking ‘treble’ Not bad going for a manager of just forty seven years, especially when you consider the recent fortunes of the Nerazzurri.
Such success drew the attention of one of the world’s giants in Real Madrid and in May 2010 Mourinho was appointed after being bought out of his contract with Inter. At this point, it looked as though he was ready to truly take over the world yet his arrival at Real and the bumpy thirty six months that followed marked the beginning of a steady downturn in his managerial career.
Winning one La Liga title and reaching three Champions League semi finals in three seasons was deemed not quite good enough from the typically demanding Real stakeholders yet it was issues away from the pitch that plagued his time in the Spanish capital. A renowned falling out with club captain and legend Iker Casillas reportedly split the dressing room which the ravenous Spanish press jumped on and never really let go of. Meaning that Mourinho, for the first time in his career felt ‘unloved’ and under appreciated, something that his current self will relate to all too well. So where better to go after a testing and tumultuous three years than back to a place where you are loved, Stamford Bridge. Mourinho famously announced himself as ‘the happy one’ on his return to Chelsea. Which if anything tells the tale of things have changed for José in the past few years.
The first season back in West London, which Mourinho saw a rebuilding exercise first and foremost, resulted in his side being only four points off the top spot in the league and reach yet another Champions League semi final. Yet just like at Real, boosted by a productive summer in the transfer market, Mourinho became a winner again in his second season as Chelsea won the league for the third time under his reign as well as beating Spurs in the League Cup final. There was a true sense of redemption in regard to this glory with Mourinho returning to perhaps finish what he had started at Chelsea. On the eve of the third season of his second spell with The Blues he signed a new four year deal and looked set to build on the already substantial legacy he had established at the club.
Most reading this article will know happened in the next four months, inexplicably by mid December the reigning champions had lost over half of their sixteen league games meaning that once again that the manager was at odds with a high profile dressing room. And despite Roman Abramovich showing an admirable amount of patience Mourinho and Chelsea parted company before Father Christmas came to town with both the club and the departed manager left reeling from a nightmare that had somehow crept its way into reality.
During that demise Mourinho was taken to places that he had never been as a manager, even when considering the under extreme scrutiny he was under from the Spanish media for months on end. For whatever reason his beloved Chelsea side had completely capitulated under his helm and it clearly rocked his iron cast pride to the core even though he inevitably remained defiant to the last. And now a couple of years later, after taking perhaps the biggest job in club football, he finds himself in a not too dissimilar position. Despite initial successes at Old Trafford (which you cannot deny him, winning the Europa League to gain Champions League qualification followed by second in the league last year was no small feat) Manchester United’s worst start to the league in nearly thirty years has put him under the kind of pressure that even he may not have braved before.
Since his time at Bernabéu, his abrasive and no holds barred approach to management, which helped him to jump ahead of the competition back in the glory days of mid-noughties Chelsea and Inter, now instead seems to overshadow and smother what actually happens on the pitch. Soap opera doesn’t quite cover his recent bust up with potential club talisman Paul Pogba, which at the very least, has surely struck a divide in the dressing room for the third club running in Mourinho’s management career. This time though it all feels different, during his last horror show few months at Chelsea many suggested that it was the players not he who had rocked and eventually sunk the boat. Now though, with the ‘third year syndrome’ looking (somewhat) legitimate a relentless amount of critique seems to be being levelled at a man who was once undoubtedly the best manager in the world. Times change of course and popular, and perhaps overstated, opinion states that Mourinho’s methods (especially the man management aspect) are outdated and worse till too stubborn to be adapted to the modern football climate.
As Mourinho looks to potentially be on the brink of another third season exit, a timely question to ask might be: is the ridiculous amount of pressure he is under ‘fair’? Many would say that by taking on the job at Old Trafford, especially post Alex Ferguson, that such pressure is par for the the course. And aside from that it is clear that there are critical problems at United that are much too far from his reach for him to solve. Yet seemingly it’s simply being José Mourinho that is keeping the Manchester United boss squarely in the worlds’ crosshairs. Player bust ups, defiant press conferences and frankly confusing behaviour are all one thing yet it’s the fact that the once ‘special one’ has placed himself on a pedestal so high that it’s only natural that once failure comes his way so too does an avalanche of critique,set on toppling him from those great heights.
Beating on your chest and famously proclaiming one of your rivals as a ‘specialist in failure’ is always going to come back and bite you at some point and somewhere deep down Mourinho will acknowledge that. The issue for him is that he is now seemingly fighting on two fronts. Firstly, to revitalise a disgruntled and downtrodden squad that he clearly isn’t happy with after not being sufficiently backed in the transfer market in the most recent window. Secondly, he is arguably wrestling with all the current issues he faces partly at least to keep his past legacy intact. Which could very well be hindering him from getting to the task at hand, which is not referring to resume at every opportunity but quite simply getting his team to play better football. One could see a younger, fresher Mourinho with less baggage and miles on the clock turning the situation around however now his persistent hubris is not being backed up by consistent results, he may have backed himself into a corner that even he cannot escape