José Mourinho is widely regarded as a master of motivation, a genius at mind games, and one of the few who can win a game before it kicks off. He has managed at four different clubs on the world stage, and has made a huge impact wherever he went. But just how does he achieve the feat of drawing that extra few percent from his players that give them an edge when it matters most?
His first incarnation at Stamford Bridge started off like a storm with fans, players and media alike enraptured by this mystical man from Portugal. Having the cojones to label yourself ‘The Special One’ in your first press conference? Looking back at that moment now, we realise that quite possibly the first card in the greatest series of mind games had just been played. This moment of brilliance certainly made him an immediate favourite with the English press, but it was the instant rapport he built up with the Chelsea dressing room that was the determining factor in his immediate success.
Both the spine of the team on the pitch and the core of the dressing room were made up of the same Chelsea stalwarts; all of whom would go on to achieve legendary status at Stamford Bridge. Petr Cech, club captain John Terry, Mister consistent Frank Lampard, and the beast himself Didier Drogba were all Mourinho’s darlings. For him to have gained the adoration and respect of such massive characters within the club gave him the security he needed to carry out his work. Even between his two tenures at Stamford Bridge, these players have never been shy to declare the former Porto boss as the best they have worked with. During his first stay, unhappy vibes would very rarely emanate from the Chelsea ranks, even from those who were not in the regular first team picture.
A similar trend continued at José’s next appointment; Inter Milan. Here too, he was in the presence of many an experienced pro and even a club legend or too. Possibly the resounding image from his reign at the San Siro was Javier Zanetti crying profusely in Mourinho’s arms after winning the Champions League. It was almost common knowledge at this point that this would be the Portugese’s last action at Inter, and he had certainly built up a fantastic friendship with the veteran Argentinian. Zanetti was clearly distraught at the thought of Mourinho leaving and you can’t imagine that this sentiment was not shared by the majority at the club.
His impression on Internazionale’s players was again emphasised by Samuel Eto’o’s willingness to play out of position when required. In several important games, he would play almost as a right-winger and work tirelessly for 90 minutes. Seemingly just as keen to carry out his defensive duties as his continual goal threat, the lethal Cameroon forward put himself out for the team and for Mourinho. Seeing Diego Milito scoring most of the goals that campaign must not have been easy for such a prolific number 9, but shows just how influential and persuasive José must have been.
It must be said that while he certainly did not fail as manager of Real Madrid, it is still a blot on his otherwise almost pristine copy book. From the very beginning, the double Champions League winner did not get on well at all with the Spanish media. He would seem subdued during press conferences and would frequently verbally attack journalists for their line of questioning. Naturally disgruntled with this, football writers in Spain never gave him a great deal of slack from this moment on.
In his blatantly dour mood, the maverick Portugese would make team selections that hardly pleased the Bernabeu faithful. Club legend and stalwart between the sticks, Iker Casillas was the most poignant example of this. In a sharp contrast to his previous tactics at Chelsea and Inter, Mourinho would now often drop his influential figures for key matches rather than rely on them and request their loyalty. Casillas held the record number of International caps for Spain and so Mourinho’s decision to favour Diego Lopez in goal for vital games was a puzzling one at best. Rumours of arguments with Sergio Ramos and Cristiano Ronaldo; another vital pair of cogs in the Madrid machine, were never fully substantiated but nevertheless their emergence into the public sphere chucked another spanner in the works for Los Blancos.
Despite winning 3 trophies during his tenure; La Liga, the Copa del Rey, and the Spanish Super Cup, he never quite achieved his primary objective of displacing Pep Guardiola and Barcelona from the pinnacle of Spanish football. After quite a protracted exit from the Bernabeu, it was announced on 3rd June 2013 that the prodigal son was returning to London. This time though, he was in the guise of ‘The Happy One’.
In this second stint at the Bridge, he has not displayed nearly as much arrogance that we loved and abhorred in equal measure when he came to England for the first time. Tactics on this occasion have been much more subtle, such as repeatedly ruling Chelsea out of the title race even when sitting on top of the league. He even went to the extent of announcing that it was now impossible for them to win the league, even though they only sat 2 points off top spot. You can only assume that he has an entirely different attitude towards his players, but his outward display of pessimism must surely knck opposition managers slightly off stride.
José has undoubtedly relied once again on Chelsea’s experienced pros of Cech, Terry and Lampard. David Luiz; a centre-back by trade, has barely been an option in this position all season. Ivanovic has been shifted from right-back instead, despite the fact that Luiz is a penciled-in starter for Scolari’s Brazil at the World Cup this summer.
Eto’o’s continued presence in all of Chelsea’s important matches is startling. Although Fernando Torres’ form has been far from scintillating, chances have been far too scarce to regain form or confidence. In the recent second leg against PSG, Eto’o started the match despite only coming back to training from injury a day before the game. When Chelsea needed a goal, who did Mourinho turn to? Not Torres, but Demba Ba. A man whose opportunities have been even more limited. This must have been a hammer blow to Torres’ confidence.
And yet, it was Demba Ba who scored the goal to send Chelsea through. True, it was not an impressive individual effort, or one that you feel Torres wouldn’t have scored. But Mourinho’s decision was certainly vindicated. His declaration before the match that “we are going to score more goals than them” came true and so his methods are not placed under scrutiny.
The mark of a fantastic manager is obtaining the necessary result when you need it most. Whatever way he achieves this should not hold much importance. He is right to think that the ends justify the means, and so whichever players he either needs to befriend or ignore in the process does not make a difference. A few may be alienated as part of Mourinho’s squad, but what greater motivation is there than winning trophies?