Why I will miss José Mourinho
Sex on legs - with egg metaphors. Duleep Allirajah may hate Chelsea but he's still sad to see the charismatic manager go.
Until last week there were only two good things about Chelsea. Firstly, the celery. Their fans throw bunches of celery and sing a lewd song about its erotic properties. Secondly, José Mourinho. He won stuff. You could also add a third endearing quality, namely the team’s admirable, bloody-minded will to win, though one might argue that this is just part of the Mourinho effect. Anyhow, the Special One has gone and with him Chelsea’s winning ethos may have disappeared too. Which only leaves the celery and even that has been banned at Stamford Bridge.
The response to Mourinho’s departure amongst rival fans has been remarkable. Of course there are plenty of people having a good old chuckle at Chelsea’s expense. And there is a vocal minority that dislikes Mourinho’s pragmatic style of football not to mention his self-regarding arrogance. But, if you listen to the radio phone-ins or browse the internet message boards, it’s abundantly clear that, however much they loathe Chelsea, a lot of rival fans are sad to see him go. In an online Guardian poll, 86 per cent said that Chelsea was wrong to get rid of Mourinho while 75 per cent of voters in an online Daily Mail poll thought he should be the next England boss.
So why is the British public so in thrall to the Portuguese manager of England’s most despised football club? I think there are a number of factors. Firstly, there is his charisma and wit. Mourinho could charm the birds off the trees or, more importantly, charm a roomful of cynical seen-it-all-before football hacks, which is probably more difficult than charming birds.
Secondly, he did actually charm the birds – not the feathered variety but the fairer sex. Football managers with sex appeal are as rare as rocking horse shit but Mourinho undoubtedly sets female pulses racing. Women want to sleep with him and men want to be like him (and, judging by the homoerotic post-match baring of waxed chests, I wouldn’t be surprised if certain Chelsea players wanted to sleep with him, too, but let’s no go there). In 2006, Mourinho was voted the sixth sexiest man in the world by readers of New Woman magazine. And it’s not hard to see why. Not only is he stylishly dressed but he’s also blessed with that to-die-for combo of Latin good looks, three-day stubble plus salt and pepper hair à la George Clooney that women seem to find irresistible.
Thirdly, Mourinho is a little bit mental. And, as I’ve said before, there’s nothing the British public loves more than a nutter. Look at Bez from the Happy Mondays or Ricky Gervais or even Peter Crouch. All it takes is one buffoonish dance and suddenly you’re a national hero. So when we first set eyes on Mourinho in 2004, dancing down the touchline at Old Trafford flicking v-signs at the crowd, the Brits instinctively warmed to him. And throughout his three-year tenure at Stamford Bridge, his slightly unhinged behaviour has continued to delight us. Whether he was accusing Arsene Wenger of being a ‘voyeur’, getting nicked for trying to stop the coppers quarantining his Yorkshire terrier, taunting Scousers with his finger-to-lips hushing gesture, or using an extended egg metaphor to justify his style of football, Mourinho was always endearingly eccentric. One minute he was suave like George Clooney, the next he was bug-eyed like Basil Fawlty.
Charisma, sex appeal and borderline lunacy: it’s a winning combination or perhaps I should say a special brew. As a consequence, the José Mourinho show has been the most entertaining show in town. However drab the football, his post-match interviews always made for must-see television. As well as being funny, Mourinho refused to stick to the script even if it meant criticising his employers, through the device of the egg metaphor, or infuriating UEFA officials. Volker Roth, chairman of UEFA’s referees committee, branded Mourinho ‘the enemy of football’ after his criticisms of referee Anders Frisk led to death threats and the Swedish official quitting the game.
But herein lies the paradox that led to his downfall. Mourinho himself was far more entertaining than Chelsea’s brand of football. Or to put it another way, he was sexy but Chelsea’s football wasn’t. And that, we are told, was the source of the rift with Roman Abramovich. As Peter Kenyon revealed shortly before Mourinho’s departure, Chelsea’s Russian owner was worried about the club’s on-field image. ‘He’s passionate about Chelsea; he’s passionate about how we are perceived, how we do things’, said Chelsea’s chief executive. ‘If we win, we want to win stylishly.’
It’s natural that Abramovich should be concerned about his legacy. He wants to be remembered as a modern-day Medici whose team played champagne football rather than the patron of ugly pragmatism. But ditching Mourinho because his team wasn’t attractive enough is a huge mistake for two reasons. Firstly, even if Chelsea players had more flair, it doesn’t follow that everyone would love them. Manchester United played the most attractive attacking football throughout the 1990s yet they were widely despised for their wealth and success. Chelsea players are hated today because they are seen as vulgar arrivistes who have bought their success and I can’t see how a few more stepovers are going to alter that perception.
Secondly, and crucially in my opinion, the demand for more style undervalues the difficult art of creating a winning team; a team that will give 110 per cent, die for the cause and grind out results week after week. It’s a knack that very few managers possess and that’s what makes Mourinho so, er, special. Of course, it helps having Abramovich’s chequebook but Mourinho showed at Porto that he could deliver on a shoestring budget. At Stamford Bridge, even with greater resources at his disposal, he still had to mould a collection of talented individuals into an effective team. And that’s no mean feat. Look at the problems that successive Real Madrid coaches have had trying to forge an assortment of galacticos into a team. It requires exceptional man-management and motivational skills as well as the tactical know-how to outwit the opposition.
I’ve got nothing against the new Chelsea manager Avram Grant but I hope he fails miserably and I hope that whoever succeeds him fails too. In fact, I’d love to see Chelsea completely implode. And I’m not saying that just because I hate Chelsea. It’s because I hope Chelsea’s demise will make people appreciate the value of Mourinho. He not only builds teams, he builds winning teams. And managers like that are like gold dust.
Duleep Allirajah is spiked’s sports columnist. He is speaking at the session Are we a nation of sporting losers? at the Battle of Ideas festival in London on 27-28 October.
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