“Any trained monkey can win at Barcelona with Messi!”
“Pep is overrated!”
You have heard a friend say things like these correct? Or yourself uttered a variation of it? We know you have…We’ve heard it a million times ourselves. It is a sensible enough sentiment if you think about it. A basketball team with Lebron James will have greater odds of success regardless the coaching/management. So using that example here’s our premise perhaps as heard in a different context – TO WHOM MUCH IS GIVEN MUCH IS EXPECTED.
With that premise established let’s pick up the curious case of Jose Mourinho – “the Special One”.
As Manchester United finally end months of speculation and hire Jose Mourinho; Soccer Surgery examines his legendary status, probably deeper and more concisely than you have seen before.
If one asked 95% of his disciples why they believe him to be a “Special” coach they will robotically repeat the following: “he’s a winner, he’s the only manager to win titles across all the major leagues”. This is true and admirable but wait a minute. We just agreed that to whom MUCH is given MORE is expected (we changed it slightly). Therefore, what is the expectation for Jose based on the resources he was given (compared to his contemporaries)? Has Mourinho just matched or exceeded these expectations?
For some reason, these considerations are unanimously ignored by pundits/fans in judging Mourinho‘s achievements. The Surgeons have studied Mourinho for years and have derived a theory on his legacy as follows – Mourinho is clearly a good coach, tactically sound and inspiring to his pledges but his success is heavily reliant on a patented step plan to rig the competitive balance in his favour wherever he goes. This step plan is as follows:
1) Identify an interested big club with hefty resources
2) Draw up a list of top level players currently in their peak
3) Employ a massive spend to obtain identified players and provide immediate squad superiority
4) Blend his expensive assembly into a well oiled machine – ignoring youth/projects who invariably drag on current performance
5) Reap the spoils and accolades
6) Hop to another team/league, rinse and repeat steps 1 through 5.
Stick with us as we ride back in the time machine and maybe you’ll see what we mean.
Porto (2001 – 2004)
After deservedly climbing the coaching ranks in Portugal, Mourinho arrives to what was a dominant force in Primeira Liga – with the club having won the league title FIVE straight times up to 1999 before a short resurgence by Sir Bobby’s Sporting Lisbon side. Mou finds a squad of quality with Deco, Costinha and Carvalho but demands, at no small expense, SIX players immediately in the summer of 2002 – most notable of which being Paolo Ferreira, Maniche, Derlei and Nuno Valente. The side then goes onto to win the 2004 champions league final which is what cements Mourinho onto the world stage. 99% of football fans, of course knowing little about Porto (Liga to this day is not televised widely), marvel at this accomplishment – after all he wasn’t the coach of Man U, Real Madrid or some other big club one would normally expect, at that time, to win the Champions League.
The truth though is that Porto side had an abundance of quality. In fact, as our proof, SIX players played in the Euro 2004 final loss to Greece later that year. That confirms these weren’t slouches he was coaching; these were good and in some cases great players Jose had at his disposal – particularly Deco and Ricky Carvahlo. So because many didn’t rate Porto as “a big club” is it possible we set an incredibly low bar in examining the size of that achievement? Well.. A Russian billionaire is paying attention to all of this and had just invested heavily in a London club but wanted a bigger character to lead his personal football circus..and that’s how we get to..
Chelsea (2004 – 2007)
Just two days after the Champions league final triumph with Porto Jose doesn’t build on that success ..instead Mourinho signs onto Chelsea. He inherits a brick strong squad including Cech, Makelele, Duff and Crespo – all in the prime of their careers of course and then turns the tap to blast – bringing $100M in players in the summer of 2004 alone – Tiago(yes the one who later starred at A Madrid), Essien, Robben, Drogba, Carvahlo and Ferreira -again all in their prime, all massive players.
Chelsea immediately dethrones the Arsenal “Invincibles” squad who were just at the time ageing and falling hard from the previous peak of their powers as Viera and Berkamp entered the twilight of their careers. An observant Mourinho would have detected this decline. The proof of the decline? After an 8 point gap in losing the 2004/5 title to Chelsea, Arsenal attains just 67 points the following 2005/06 season -a whopping 24 points behind Chelsea. Arsenal fans will also remember this period quite well as the “Emirates years”(2002-2006) where Wenger’s frugal spending took birth as constrained by the stadium being built just as Mourinho was ramping up his own year on year investment at Stamford Bridge.
So what about Manchester United? – Well this was the end of the Roy Keane era and Man u fans also remember the ineptitude of this period – a pimple faced “CR7” was the “flash but no substance” version with just 5 goals in 04/05, Wayne Rooney, yet in full bloom, was probably the biggest star which speaks volumes and the spine of the team was Keane, Scholes and Mikel Silvestre! – We say they were the spine as factually they played the most games in the Premiership in the 2004/05 season. This Man U team was so weak it did not even make it out of the group stages of Champions League in the 2005/6 season.
So this was the perfect storm for Mourinho to be successful – (A) weakened opposition in transition combined with (B) Chelsea’s 100M melting pot of star talent. Did we EXPECT he would fail in this environment? Seriously?
After years of titles the Russian billionaire isn’t satisfied – He has spent near $300M (no joke) but his circus looks more like a chess game, a boring one too. Mourinho is reprimanded behind the scenes according to sources but refuses to entertain the masses, he has his way of playing..so he is effectively fired and departs to …….
Inter Milan (2008 – 2010)
In the heat of Calciopoli, the 2006 bribing scandal which almost crippled every major Serie A power (Juventus relegated to Serie B and AC Milan docked points), Mourinho of course chooses the only team left standing amongst the ashes – Inter Milan. At that time(and still) the club was controlled by an oil/communications Baron by the name of Marotti who spends through his ears such that he averages $140m in club losses during Mourinho’s tenure (Source: Bleacher report)..We know what happens next. Mou wins multiple Serie A titles and another Champions League title..but again given the environment he has placed himself in has Mourinho exceeded expectations here? He must be given credit for his Champions League triumph but the circumstances raise considerable question marks over the Serie A titles.
You know Mourinho’s next stops (Real Madrid and a return to Chelsea) and these are recent enough in memory we will forego the dissection. The Step plan applies to these last two stops as well. Given the picture painted in full colour is Mourinho the Special One or just the Calculated one?…a matter of opinion of course… but there appears to be plenty of evidence to support our theory.
How he navigates a significantly more competitive Premier League will be interesting to see.