For the past ten years, Jose Mourinho has been the titan on the world stage of soccer management. Records have been casually swatted aside with contemptuous ease. The force of his personality was simply too powerful to be contained but now that force appears to be slowly ebbing away.
Before we look at this slow steady decline though, we must remember the decade of excellence.
At FC Porto, Mourinho channeled a Brian Clough like aura turning mid level players into world-beaters with the UEFA Cup and Champions League trophies proof of his excellence at the Estadio Drago.
With Chelsea and a budget that would be the envy of small countries, the now self proclaimed ‘Special One’ showed the Premiership that the Manchester United beast could be tamed. Mourinho was all in his pomp patrolling the technical area, out-psyching opponents before a ball was even kicked.
In Italy, Mourinho, already a master of manipulating the press found new levels of control taking the foundation built by Roberto Mancini and supplying the pixie dust to catapult the club to the famed treble. Near immortality followed as he joined Ernst Happel and now Jupp Heynckes as the only men to win the UEFA Champions League with different clubs.
It was with Real Madrid that the cracks began to appear though. Unable to tame the press or a city desperate for a tenth European Cup, Mourinho found himself up against Pep Guardiola and a Barcelona club rewriting the laws of soccer. Failure was grounds for divorce and for the first time in his managerial career he couldn’t succeed on his terms.
With a manager like Mourinho, everything is staged managed. He calls the shots and dictates the terms. However the Madrid experience has damaged him and clouded his judgment.
He concluded that a swift return to management was the best option and Chelsea provided the safest destination given the budget supplied by Blues owner, Roman Abramovich.
One could argue that, to date, he’s been a success on his return to Stamford Bridge. Third in the Premier League, quarter-finals of the Capital One Cup, and the knockout stage of the Champions League. But let’s be honest, something is missing.
The Mourinho I see in press conferences, on the sidelines, and in post match interviews is tired. The spark that made him loved and hated with equal measure has gone. He seems like a shell of the man that could win matches just by staring at his team.
Chelsea, despite some of the most gifted footballers in the world, is a team missing personality and the drive of a manager. With his hands stuffed in pockets, head bowed, one wonders where the real Jose is?
I can’t help but think of his rival, the man he could not best in Spain, Pep Guardiola. The Spaniard no doubt was under the same immense pressures as his Portuguese counter-part but instead of stepping back into the cauldron after resigning from Barcelona, he decided to step away completely from soccer.
Viewing him now conducting the Bayern Munich machine is to see a man reborn. The haunted face has been replaced with a freshness and desire that provides a stark contrast to the man in the grey overcoat grinding in West London.
Perhaps at the end of the day, Chelsea is the club for Mourinho to reclaim his mojo but ultimately I think that he couldn’t bear to be out of the spotlight for more than a second and that this was the safest move for his ego.
Mourinho has claimed that he only wanted to be loved but I think that he is damaged, and like Cloughie, who I mentioned at the top of this piece, just couldn’t work out that it was time to step away until it was too late.
Mourinho is managing without joy, Chelsea is a club looking for its soul.
Nick Webster covered the Barclays Premier League for Fox Soccer for 12 years, becoming the voice of the Prem. He now has his own blog www.realfootytalk.com, which allows him to look at the world of football with an uncensored eye.