As football (soccer) fans, we focus a lot on the players on the pitch. The plays that just make them special, the mistakes that make them goats. However, I think we tend to overlook the managers that are on the sidelines. There are managers like Arsene Wenger, Sir Alex Ferguson, Pep Guardiola, who have their respective titles and accolades. However, I think there’s one person that everyone hates to list. Heck, I even dislike the guy for his over-the-top personality. But he could arguably be the best manager right now. That person being Jose Mourinho.
First off, you might be saying, “Didn’t his team lose to Barcelona twice in four games for a combined scoreline of 0-7?” The answer to that is yes. Isn’t he the epitome of defensive and negative football? Yes. Then how the heck can he be considered the best manager right now?
So here’s something to look at. It’s his résumé:
- Two UEFA Champions League titles (one while with Porto, one with Inter)
- One UEFA Cup (equivalent to today’s Europa League, with Porto)
- Six domestic league titles across three countries (two each in Portugal, England, and Italy)
- Four domestic cups across four countries (one each in Portugal, England, Italy, and Spain)
Let’s say we compare this to Sir Alex Ferguson, manager of Manchester United. Sir Alex blows him out of the water in terms of number of titles and cups won. 14 domestic league titles, 9 domestic cups, 2 UEFA Champions Leagues, and 2 UEFA Cup titles. However, he’s done that over the course of thirty-seven years. Mourinho’s done gotten all his in the span of only nine years. It’s quite impressive and he’s only 48 years old (which is quite young). But what about Pep? He’s about to get his third domestic league title, has one domestic cup title, and one UEFA Champions League title. Still not close enough.
One of the things that sticks out here is his ability to adjust to the different countries’ style of play. Be aware that he’s been to four different countries in the past nine years. He was manager for Porto from 2002 until 2004, Chelsea from 2004 to 2007, then Inter Milan from 2008 until 2010 and is currently with Real Madrid since 2010. It’s hard to really argue against this because each league is very different. Portugal, England, Italy, and Spain are all quite different in terms of their style of play. Portugal and Spain are less physical and more about finesse, while England is fast-paced and physical, and Italy is defensive and physical as well. Being able to adjust tactically is important as a manager when going from one country to another and he shows that ability to do so with these accomplishments. The UEFA titles prove this as well, namely when he lead Porto to win the UEFA Cup one season and followed it up with the UEFA Champions League the next.
The tactics issue might be an argument against him. This season, he’s been criticized for Real Madrid’s negative approach to the games against Barcelona. However, when you’re a manager, you’re expected to find ways to win games. Sure, it might be ugly, but you do what is most effective to win. In the case of facing Barcelona, his approach of conceding possession in non-threatening areas, focusing on defensive lines and stopping Messi has worked for him in the past. In the case of when Inter played Barca, he took this approach and won the aggregate 3-2. (Note: Here’s a great article discussing that match.) He could attempt to try to play the same game that Barca did with Real Madrid, but that’s usually a losing proposition, especially against two strong possession midfielders like Xavi and Iniesta. You cannot play the same kind of game. Instead, you need to stifle it, which is what they’ve attempted to do and he’s done in the past. What seems to be the problem (and always has been a problem for Real Madrid) is their lack of defensive discipline. Players like Pepe and Sergio Ramos have usually lacked this, compared to say Zanetti, Walter Samuel and Lucio of Inter or Terry, Carvalho and the defensive line from Chelsea (though incidentally, Carvalho is on the Real Madrid squad and was part of the starting squad that lost 0-2 in the first leg of the semifinals tie in the UEFA Champions League this year). The midfield could be blamed for this too, but I will admit it’s a little difficult to compare this Real Madrid squad to Mourinho’s previous teams. Mourinho obviously is making adjustments as he goes though and even down 0-2 in the aggregate, he’s capable of leading a comeback. It might be a little difficult with this squad, but can’t be ruled out completely. Regardless, his tactics have worked before. Whether they work with this Real Madrid squad is still too early to tell, but if he can pull it out this week, it’ll say something.
But what I think makes him such a strong manager is his ability to connect with players and bring out the best out of them. When they lose, he deflects all blame onto him either in the form of criticism towards officiating, making it his fault, or something outrageous. When he does this, it makes him look like a complete jerk. But why do this? It’s simple: Keep his players’ confidence up. It’s like baseball. When you see your manager run out to home plate to argue a call on balls and strikes, you as a player get motivated because he’s fighting for your cause. In the same way, Mourinho does this. He can handle it psychologically because he doesn’t have to perform on the pitch like the players do. By doing this, they can focus on their job at hand. From there, he can bring out their gifts and talents to the most potential. Something people fail to notice is he is capable of speaking in various languages to speak and connect with his players, something many other managers fail to do. This in itself helps tremendously. It does help that he gets the expensive players he wants, but he uses them well. But in interviews with his players, they usually aren’t ones that criticize or complain about him (though it happens once every blue moon). He’s a player’s manager. He cares about his players’ well-being and best.
In an article from Barca Blaugranes, they comment about Mourinho as a manager:
While it can be argued that Jose Mourinho is the world’s greatest manager, he is also the football’s greatest pragmatist. In Mourinho’s world the result comes before the aesthetic. Perhaps it is because of this mindset that Mourinho is as successful as he is. But then again, sometimes pragmatism doesn’t work and imagination is required, and judging by the wealth of talent at his disposal he certainly has enough of the latter.
I’ll agree with them on both parts. Yes, he usually has enough talent to be more imaginative in his victories. But does it really matter? As it’s best said in the first part, it’s all about the result, not the aesthetics. If you’re winning trophies and titles, do the fans care how you win? Sure, you might have a critic or two. It’s a matter of actually winning that counts, especially against squads like Barcelona. And even then, he doesn’t apply that same negative football mentality against everyone. Just against Barcelona. That’s why teams want to hire him. To win silverware, not to just play beautiful.
I will admit, I dislike his personality. It’s cocky and over-the-top in terms of personality. But it’s for good reason. His approach is definitely more defensive-minded, something I’m not a big fan of when it comes to watching football. But again, it’s been highly effective. So effective that he’s won titles with multiple teams in multiple leagues. That is why he really is “The Special One” and probably the best manager in the world right now… and possibly all-time.