All the great managers learn. They evolve and adapt. Failure doesn’t give them blind, reckless motivation to win; it teaches them, directs them, and makes them better. When Sir Alex Ferguson retired in May, it was impossible to finger a tactical legacy, because the manager’s style evolved consistently over time.
Jose Mourinho certainly fancies himself as one of the great ones. A Special One, in fact. Mourinho also fancies himself a smart one, so he’ll know that there is a lot riding on the results of his second spell at Stamford Bridge.
After three years of tumult and division at Real Madrid, Mourinho’s name is viewed with more apprehension than it ever has before in football. For the first time in a long time, there are doubters. There is no question: Mourinho sullied the gleaming reputation of the Real – he led the most aristocratic club in football like he was in a street gang.
The Special One may have aged in appearance since first came to Chelsea in 2004 – a gray buzz-cut replacing a wavy head of black hair – but Mourinho’s wit and charisma are as vibrant as ever.
In his recent press conference, Mourinho mixed philosophy and sass, memorable one-liners with thoughtful, revealing responses. Mourinho is a gifted speaker. He draws attention like a magnet – there was more media in attendance for his introduction today than Roberto Di Matteo’s press conference before the 2012 Champions League Final.
But Mourinho has always been a gifted speaker. The wit and charisma hasn’t aged a day. Littered in Mourinho’s press conference were signs that Mourinho doesn’t want this job to go like every other job he has had in football.
First of all, Mourinho wants us to believe he’s in for the long haul at Chelsea. Mourinho said that he had made up his mind that he wanted to leave Chelsea in 2007, that he wasn’t fired, but instead flew the coup through a “mutual agreement” with the club.
Believe him? Who knows. But Mourinho was revealing in his press conference, talking openly about his career, his plans for Chelsea, and his plans for his future.
Is Mourinho at peace? He’s always been a man focused on what’s next, the next Champions League title, the next job. This is a man who has celebrated both his Champions League triumphs by leaving his club, Porto for Chelsea, Inter for Real. On both of those occasions, he was going to a bigger club.
But Mourinho can’t go up on the managerial ladder anymore. The only two clubs possibly bigger than Real — Barcelona and Manchester United — won’t have him, even though he’s tried to get both jobs. As much as Chelsea need Mourinho right now, Mourinho needs Chelsea. It’s the only job for him at the moment.
At Real Madrid, Mourinho slashed, and he got burned. If he truly is a manager for the ages, he’ll have processed what went wrong, and he’ll strive to fix it. Already, he’s extended an olive branch to John Terry, a man who he fell out with around the time of his departure in ’07, in an effort to unite the Chelsea dressing room. Terry may not be the player he once was, but he still has clout.
That’s a mature move from Mourinho. Has he learned? Has Chelsea? Are both ready to settle down and accept that they are best with each other, that stability breeds success and happiness?
“We all want the same, we are heading in the same direction and it is a moment when there is maturity, a very good feeling and we have the same perspective for the future,” Mourinho said of his relationship with the club.
Tellingly, Mourinho also said, “I analyze myself every day and I try to improve. I am the same but nine years is a big difference and when I arrived in 2004 I was pushed a lot in that first press conference to have a strong approach.
“Now you know me and my history and now I don’t need that approach, I want to be calm and work the best I can and I think I am in the best moment in my career. I am so sorry the pre-season does not start tomorrow.”
That sounds like a more mature, respectful Mourinho. And you get the feeling out of Stamford Bridge that both Chelsea and Mourinho have achieved a lot in absence of each other, and now they’re ready to be happy together. After all, Mourinho has already quipped that he is “The Happy One.”
Chelsea hopes that Mourinho has grown up, but they also better hope he hasn’t lost his insatiable thirst for victory.
Sir Alex Ferguson is the only opposition manager that Mourinho has ever looked up to. But even in Ferguson’s latter years as manager, he continued to learn, to adapt his tactics and man-management. He continued to win, right to the very last day he managed.
Chelsea is Mourinho’s club. It always has been. Mourinho looked like 100 pounds had been lifted off his shoulders when he started his first press conference recently. The Portuguese said it best: He’s the same as when he stepped onto the stage in 2004, but he’s different. Nine years is a long time.
The charisma is the same, and Mourinho hopes the results will be the same. But they won’t be if the style is different than it was at Real, different than at Chelsea the first time around. If things are the same but different, Mourinho will last a long time at Chelsea, and go down as one of the greatest managers ever.