By Ben Fleming
‘I am the happy one’ beckoned José Mourinho as he sat in the press conference announcing his return to Chelsea, the grey-tinged hair the only difference between the man that had sat in that exact same chair nine years prior when he first arrived in England.
Given all this, it would be inconceivable that merely five years later, the same man would be working at arch-rivals Manchester United and having to answer questions about defeats to Brighton, Derby and West Ham to name but a few.
What has gone wrong? Has the Mourinho mystique disappeared? Is this yet another example of an ageing manager being usurped by exiting, young apprentices? Arguably yes, but it is undeniable that Mourinho has a rare talent; something that has been found in very few managers in the history of football. Providing a club is willing to back this flawed genius, they will be ladened with trophies and successes.
At Porto, his first spell at Chelsea, and at Inter Milan, Mourinho brought unimaginable success. He won the UEFA Cup and Champions League with Porto, the back-to-back Premier Leagues with Chelsea, and the Champions League with Inter Milan, to name but a few.
The secret behind such success lies in Mourinho’s quasi-dictatorial control over first-team happenings. Infamously during the 2002-03 pre-season, Mourinho left nothing to chance even going as far to publish detailed reports of the team training on the club website
Such control was most important when it came to recruitment. Mourinho, rightfully, was given the money by these various owners to pick out his targets. Costinha and Derlei were both identified by Mourinho at Porto as the strikers to lead Mourinho’s high pressing system and were instrumental in their Champions League victory in 2004.
In the same vein, at Chelsea, Real Madrid and Inter Milan, Mourinho signed the likes of Robben, Drogba, Di Maria, Ozil and Sneijder, enabling him to storm the Premier league, win four domestic trophies in Spain and the treble with Inter Milan in 2010.
Where Mourinho has come into trouble, it is clear to see the link. He has not been given total control. His two reigns with Chelsea were ended due to complications with Abramovich. The first was largely due to the appointment of Avram Grant as director of football, something which left Mourino feeling threatened and his total control in question.
His second departure was a product of lack of transfer control once more, with Pedro being the marquee signing in a season where Abramovich was eyeing continental success and hence leaving Mourinho unable to develop the team.
However, whilst context is important, Mourinho’s current situation with Man Utd is perhaps the most pressing. During his first few seasons, Ed Woodward and the Manchester United board gave Mourinho the freedom to spend. He broke the then transfer record on Paul Pogba, as well as bringing in Baily, Mkhitaryan and Ibrahimovic, amassing nearly £200m in transfer fees.
The success was evident with Mourinho winning the Europa League and gaining entry back into the Champions League.
The following summer, it was clear that goals were the problem, and one that was exacerbated by Ibrahimovic’s lengthy injury, and so Manchester United allowed him to pick up Lukaku and such a signing propelled Man Utd up to second in the league and to an FA Cup final.
Whilst silverware wasn’t present, there was definitive progress. However, this summer, Ed Woodward decided to not back Mourinho in the transfer market as the manager looked to address the problems at centre back, with key targets of Aldeweireld and Boateng vetoed by the board.
Whilst the latter is somewhat understandable due to his injury record, Aldeweireld has often been regarded as one of the premium defenders in the league and signing him and crucially, trusting Mourinho surely would have been the right move given his previous track record at the club and in the past.
Mourinho isn’t an innocent bystander in all of this, however. Much like his nemesis Wenger, his stubbornness has only served to perpetuate the crisis, most notably in his decision to play Pogba, McTominay and Herrera instead of actual centre-halves to seemingly prove a point to the board at his lack of centre halve options.
His handling of the media and very public spats with Pogba are somewhat reminiscent of his troubles with Hazard and Casillas at previous jobs and his general demeanour would suggest that he is sick and tired of the job.
He has certainly not helped the situation, but arguably has a right be enraged. He has bred success in all of his previous jobs and his transfer recruitment record speaks for itself. For the board to not back him in this crucial period for the club, when they could have pushed for a title challenge, must feel like a personal attack on his managerial nous.
This is constantly under fire in this modern era especially when his stern and meticulous style is compared to the vivacious and exciting style of Klopp, Sarri and Guardiola.
Even if future success for Mourinho at Old Trafford seems unlikely, his pedigree and winning record means he is surely not yet done in management. By looking at his previous successes, one can see a clear recipe. If you are willing to give him total control and back him when it comes to transfers, he will invariably bring you success and if Man Utd want some of this success, they would be unwise to give up on the ‘special one’ just yet.
Photograph: Aleksandr Osipov via Wikimedia Commons