I write this blog as Manchester United sit 5 points behind the leaders and rivals Manchester City and 3 points behind Liverpool who are in 4th (Champions League place). So not exactly a team in crisis or are they? I would like to think that this is not a reactionary piece to some indifferent results but a view on Jose Mourinho's character which when read at any time during the season will hold an air of truth.
I approached this week's blog from the angle that one of the main reasons suggested as to why Jose Mourinho was a perfect fit for Manchester United was his 'ego'. By ego, I refer to the everyday use of the term and not the Freudian sense. It seems strange in a world where humility is considered an admirable trait and that its antonym, ego, is considered a necessary characteristic to be in a position of power be it business, government or sport. When Michael Essien was asked for one word to describe the genius of his former manager who signed him for both Chelsea and Real Madrid, ego was the word that sprung to mind. For Essien and the many others who suggested that ego was an important attribute to manage Manchester United they maybe mistook ego for what is needed, confidence, faith in one's ability which is a different thing and something Alex Ferguson had in abundance.
When Mourinho was announced as the successor to the disappointing reign of Louis Van Gaal at Old Trafford the universal consensus was that this was a perfect fit. A manager who had not only won at every club he managed but won quickly. Since taking over Porto in 2002, Mourinho has won 8 domestic titles, 2 Champions Leagues and 1 UEFA cup, which earned him the title of Portugals greatest ever coach in 2015. He has managed arguably the best clubs in Portugal, England, Italy and Spain so how is it that I stand before you critiquing such a successful manager. Is it that I’m some 'football Einstein' trying to delete 16 years of his career or is Jose's ego, so deep-rooted in who he is, becoming a problem to his managerial career success.
In the book ‘Ego is the Enemy’, Ryan Holiday debunks many of the myths which we may feel make it acceptable for people who are successful or in a position of power to be egotistical. In a recent interview speaking about his book, Holiday explains that "It's not so much that I want people to think less of themselves, it's that I want them to think rationally and objectively about their skills, not optimistically. Questioning ourselves is what drives us to improve and get better. In addition to that, the less time you spend thinking about yourself, the more time you spend thinking about others and the work you're doing and the standards you set for yourself. This approach is how you stretch and grow and throw off selfish, egotistical things". Sound familiar Jose?
The book is broken into three aspects of ego in the circle of life. We are either aspiring, succeeding or failing. How our ego reacts in each of these states will help define the type of person we are and how successful we will be in life. For Mourinho, his early career was spent as a devout student of the game. He got a sports science degree and his football qualifications. He worked in various areas of football such as youth coach, scout and interpreter for Sir Bobby Robson at Sporting Lisbon, Porto and Barcelona. From there he began his managerial career with brief but successful spells with Benfica and Uniao de Leiria. This eagerness to learn is an essential aspect of all our characters. For many being a student starts and ends in the aspiring stage when in fact it should stay with us throughout our lives. I'm not trying to say Jose stopped learning, but indeed, in this early part of his career, he gained a vast amount of knowledge which shaped his football philosophy before moving into a period of succeeding with Porto, Chelsea and Inter Milan.
From the moment Jose arrived on the shores of Britain we were in no doubt that this manager had not just ego but a massive one. Self-appointed the ‘special one’ he arrived at Chelsea on the back of remarkable managerial career started with Porto. Success followed to Chelsea (league and domestic titles) and then to Inter Milan winning the treble (domestic league and cup and Champions league).The calling of Real Madrid had everyone in no doubt that this one-time interpreter for Sir Bobby Robson was indeed the 'special one' and was destined to become the greatest ever manager. The juggernaut of Mourinho's ego was at full speed ahead. He was announced as the Galactico manager to manage a team of Galacticos.
Although cracks started appearing during his time at Inter (bitter arguments with rival managers, authorities and media) success on the field helped paper over these warning signs. Therefore, I feel the history books will cite his move to the Galacticos of Madrid as a pivotal moment in the demise of Jose Mourinho's managerial career. He had reached his apex of success at the San Siro and was now entering a new era in his career where failing was something his ego would have to become adjusted to. Despite having the most expensive squad in the history of Real Madrid, he only managed one league title and one domestic cup in three years of reign. It may be argued by "Mourinhistas" that he was unlucky to have led Real Madrid at a time when Barcelona was so dominant. That may be the case but acknowledging the role of external circumstances on the success of his career is something Jose just does not do. All of his significant accomplishments could easily have been undone but for lady luck having a hand in them. While at Porto, Robert Douglas goalkeeping error and Bobo Balde sending off in 2003 UEFA cup final with Porto or the last-minute winner versus Manchester United in the Champions League in the last 16 in 2004. The fact he was the most financial backed Chelsea manager in their history. The beating of Barcelona in 2010 by his Inter side, in one of the most one-sided Champions League semi-finals. As far as Mourinho is concerned all his teams had won because of the 'special ones' influence on the side. This is the difference between confidence which is based on what is real and ego which is based on delusion and wishful thinking.
His time at Madrid came to a bitter ending. The former general manager of Real, Argentinean legend Jorg Valdano was scathing in his attack of Mourinho, saying “he [Mourinho] is a figure which is perfectly suited to the bombastic shallow times we now live in”. The bright light that shined on Mourinho was beginning to fade and fear kicked in. Failing in his dream job hurt Mourinho and his ego reacted the only way it knew how telling him what he wanted to hear when he wanted to hear it. In true egotistical fashion, on leaving Madrid Jose deflected the blame on everything from conspiracies, bad luck, to those in the press room, to Madrid legends Ramos and Casillas and most surprisingly his fellow compatriot Cristiano Ronaldo. When questioning his attitude saying "maybe [Ronaldo] thinks that he knows everything and that the coach cannot improve him any more". Mourinho arrived at Madrid as a Galactico but left with his ego exposed. On defeat to German side Dortmund in the semi-final, he spoke of the disappointment of not winning a third Champions League, an individual record (Madrid were going for their 10th European title). This personal disappointment was something that didn't go unnoticed by the Spanish press and got him rightly criticised. He expressed his need to "be somewhere where I am loved unreservedly". A return to Chelsea a month later was to be a return to that place of worship. The Messiah had returned. The most successful Chelsea manager. His second coming was short-lived, however, despite winning the league in his first year. A terrible start to his second season resulted in him publicly blaming his players and the infamous Carneiro incident which embarrassed both manager and club which was pivotal in his dismissal. Again his ego had burned bright but burned quickly.
So the 'special one' arrived in Manchester to much acclaim. The man to lead this club to the glory days of Alex Ferguson when a disappointing season was finishing second and winning only the FA Cup. There is no doubt that Jose Mourinho came into football with great self-confidence, but as the former NFL coach Billy Walsh explained: "self-confidence becomes arrogance, assertiveness becomes obstinacy, and self-assurance becomes reckless abandon". It is this belief in Mourinho's specialness that may ultimately undo his creative abilities which the late Sir Bobby Robson saw in him all those years ago. Jose's managerial career has always been a case of 'better to burn out than fade away' spending less than three years at each club. As success in the premier league becomes more and more difficult, burning out may be his only option unless Jose returned to his aspiring years when he was a student of the game, always willing to learn and most importantly to show humility to his staff, players and fellow peers. Something which hasn't been evident in a long time.
In the third paragraph, I listed Mourinho's career titles, what I failed to do was break it down to was pre-Madrid and post-Madrid. Between 2002-2003 to 2009-2010 he won 7 league titles and 2 Champions League titles. In the last 6 seasons, he has won 2 league titles and no Champions league. This statistic may be food for thought Manchester United fans!!!
In next week's blog, I will look at Matthew Syed's book 'Black box thinking' and discuss how failing does not make you a failure.
Thanks for your time