The ‘Special One’ has finally cracked

After comparing his players to third-rate eggs, José Mourinho has walked away from the Chelsea 'omelette'.

Tim Black

Tim Black
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‘Chelsea Football Club and José Mourinho have agreed to part company today (Thursday) by mutual consent.’ And so it comes to an end. A man who combined sublime self-certainty with self-aware prattishness has finally ‘consented’ to a separation from Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, the Russian with the watery smile. Not that it really comes as a surprise. Mourinho’s egg-shopping analogy before Tuesday’s Champions League match, the cause of affected bemusement among some commentators, said it all and so much more besides.

Mourinho’s euphemistic dig at his paymasters – more of which in a moment – is the latest in a long line of such comments. Football managers have long wrung insight from extended metaphor. After a rather drab win over Chesterfield at the beginning of the 2003/4 season, Ian Holloway, QPR’s then manager, famously caught the match’s essence in, as he put it, ‘gentleman’s terms’: ‘If you’ve been out for a night and you’re looking for a young lady and you pull one, you’ve done what you set out to do. We didn’t look our best today but we’ve pulled. Some weeks the lady is good looking and some weeks they’re not. Our performance today would have been not the best looking bird but at least we got her in the taxi. She may not have been the best looking lady we ended up taking home but it was still very pleasant and very nice, so thanks very much and let’s have coffee.’

There’s a curious reversal at work here. While football has frequently provided writers and thinkers with a rich metaphorical seam – Martin Heidegger was convinced Franz Beckenbauer revealed something about the nature of Being – for those involved in football, the poetry has to be sought elsewhere. As Bill Shankly tacitly recognised, football takes life itself as its figural fodder.

In another recent example, the Spurs manager, Martin Jol, reached into the conjugal realm in search of a suitable analogy for the club’s abortive but positively adulterous pursuit of Seville boss, Juande Ramos: ‘If my missus would go to Spain and I would see pictures of her I’d be gutted. But I always realised that she would come back because she speaks French, Dutch, English but no Spanish, so she can’t talk to the bugger.’ While Mrs Jol may still be there when he comes home in the evening, his footballing marriage still seems to be on the rocks.

Which brings us to the break-up of Chelsea and José Mourinho, aka ‘the Special One’, a man who makes Bono look unassuming. ‘There is God’, Mourinho once proclaimed, ‘and after God, me.’ Although it’s unlikely he’s that high up in the cosmic hierarchy, there’s no doubt he’s an excellent football manager. His record of four consecutive titles, two while at Porto and then two at Chelsea, plus one Uefa Cup and one Champions League (both at Porto) is up there with the best. But that, it appears, is no longer good enough for Chelsea. His departure means one of two things; either Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon has lined up God, or, more likely, Mourinho’s aims and Abramovich’s demands finally proved irreconcilable. There’s plenty of evidence for the latter.

As part of a recent documentary, Kenyon revealed that Abramovich had concerns about Chelsea’s ‘on-field image’. He continued: ‘(Abramovich) is passionate about Chelsea; he’s passionate about how we are perceived, how we do things. If we win, we want to win stylishly, everyone buys into that.’ (1) Mourinho’s response added a new range to the football manager’s stock of metaphor, namely, groceries: ‘The style of how we play is very important. But it is omelettes and eggs. No eggs – no omelettes! It depends on the quality of the eggs. In the supermarket you have class one, two or class three eggs and some are more expensive than others and some give you better omelettes. So when the class one eggs are in Waitrose and you cannot go there, you have a problem.’

Despite a vast number of cunning punts making great play of just how eggs-istentially cryptic it is, it’s hardly Kubla Khan. Mourinho is simply saying that the manner in which you can try to win, ‘stylishly’ or otherwise, depends on the resources available. Whether their availability is affected by injuries or financial restrictions is the only real source of ambiguity. In fact, in some ways, it was not quite cryptic enough. And perhaps that was the point. His grievances with Chelsea, his refusal to meet his boss’ expectations, were not only publicly aired, but highlighted by the pyrotechnics of the extended metaphor.

Ultimately, his approach was always going to force him into conflict with Abramovich, and this for the main reason that anyone would want to buy a football club – reflected glory. Mourinho was simply never going to assemble the All-Star Team, a team of SW6 Galácticos to bewitch opposing fans from the Reebok to the Riverside. Rather, he builds teams. And he builds them to win. Upon taking charge at Porto, he sent a letter to every player, at the bottom of which he wrote: ‘Team building; Motivation + Ambition + Team + Spirit = SUCCESS.’ This would never be enough at the modern Chelsea. The constant carping over Chelsea’s lack of style and their ruthless win-at-all-costs mentality were entirely at odds with Abramovich’s aim – not just to win, but to look good while doing so. There was only one man to blame, and that was the preening one, his supreme self-confidence matched only by the public antagonism towards his achievement.

Ultimately, Mourinho lost out to a chairman’s vanity, a desire for public acclaim that elevated the accumulation of several superstar eggs over its product, the omelette. So what next for Chelsea? Expect the languorous Ballack and arthritic Shevchenko to be joined by Ronaldhino, who, if is his expanding waistline is any indication, is fast becoming Barcelona’s answer to Mickey Quinn. As for Mourinho, it’s difficult to see his incredible omelette-making skills without employment for long.

Indeed, with Mourinho available, Martin Jol may soon be filing for divorce…

Duleep Allirajah is away.

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spiked-issue: Sport

(1) Mourinho is key to glory – Kenyon, BBC News, 18 September 2007

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