There’s something about Jose
Hated in Spain, loathed in Italy, but adored in Britain – what is it about Mourinho that makes him our special one?
Britain’s love affair with José Mourinho has been rekindled. His departure to Italy in 2007 left a gaping hole in the national sporting landscape. The Premier League has been a duller place without him. He had cynical sports hacks eating out of his hands. He was charm personified. And his appeal transcended press conferences. The whole of Britain, it seemed, was in his thrall. Mourinho possessed that winning combination of Latin good looks, impish smile, well-cut suits and GSOH. Women wanted to sleep with him, men wanted to be like him. Whisper it, but some men might even have turned for him. The million dollar question is why Mourinho is loved in Britain but so reviled in Italy and Spain.
Mourinho’s popularity in Britain, which transcended club allegiance, was quite remarkable. He was arrogant and brash. He thumbed his nose at the authorities. And he managed Chelsea, who were reviled for their new money and expensively assembled band of hired guns. Mourinho’s style of football didn’t suit the British palate either. He was the arch-pragmatist. Winning was all that mattered – not entertaining football. It was the kind of Italian-inspired philosophy which ought to have made him a national pariah. But still we adored him.
Ironically, although his approach to football owed more to catennacio than tiki taka, the Special One never charmed the Italians. Well, Italian men weren’t charmed. The ladies, however, thought he was HOT. In a survey for Dive e Donna magazine, he was voted the sports personality that Italian women would most like to bed. But outside female fantasies and the supporters of Internazionale, Mourinho won few admirers. He admitted that he wasn’t happy in Italian football. ‘I don’t like it and it doesn’t like me’, he said. His relationship with the media was positively disastrous. In an infamous rant in March 2009, he accused the Italian press of ‘intellectual prostitution’. Later that year he was accused of ‘physical and verbal aggression’ by the Italian Sport Union of Journalists (USSI) after an altercation with Corriere dello Sport reporter, Andrea Ramazzotti.
Mourinho’s tactlessness certainly contributed to his fractious relationship with the Italian media, but it was also a product of cultural differences. His explosive blend of cockiness, charisma and straight talking struck a chord in Britain. We liked his rebelliousness. He reminded us of homegrown gobby upstart, Brian Clough. But his lack of respect for conventions jarred in Italy, a country where antiquated unwritten rules still govern public life. As La Repubblica columnist Emanuele Gamba explained: ‘We do not have mind games in Italy, there is a certain way of speaking, a certain way of doing things. In mafia terms, it is an omerta. Some things are not spoken. Mourinho always had to be different. He is much more direct, much less diplomatic.’
Mourinho’s antics didn’t endear him to the Spanish either. Barcelona midfielder Andres Iniesta recently complained that he had ‘damaged Spanish football’. But Iniesta would say that wouldn’t he? As coach of Real Madrid, Mourinho was never likely to win friends and influence people in Catalunya. More tellingly, Mourinho was jeered by Madrid fans towards the end of his tenure at the Bernabeu. He reportedly fell out with Madrid stalwarts Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos. It’s the Spanish equivalent of having a bust-up with Frank Lampard and John Terry: a one-way ticket to Palookaville. Mourinho’s relationship with the Spanish press was also strained. As Spain-based football journalist Andy West recently told the BBC: ‘Mourinho effectively has no relationship with the Madrid-based media. He doesn’t trust them and has made that distrust plain, which of course has made them distrust him. It’s become a vicious circle.’
Mourinho’s opinionated, larger-than-life personality is more at home in England. Perhaps it’s a by-product of British disregard for football tactics. We care little for systems and strategy. We want passion and entertainment. And while Mourinho’s teams aren’t particularly entertaining to watch, the man himself is pure box office. He is the entertainment. He oozes passion. Of course, he spouts all sorts of nonsense about refereeing conspiracies. But, unlike Italy, which has been scarred by match-rigging scandals, we don’t take any of that seriously. We know he’s a mischievous wind-up merchant, but we’re fine with that.
Ultimately we love José because he’s a little bit bonkers. You see there’s nothing the British love more than a nutter. All it takes is a John Cleese silly walk, or a David Brent dance, to win our hearts. We were first smitten by Mourinho dementedly charging down the Old Trafford touchline in 2004 to celebrate Porto’s victory. Legendary. Yes he’s suave, multilingual and well-dressed. But what we find endearing is that, at any minute, he can morph into a bug-eyed loon, ranting about bent officials or cavorting on the touchline. That’s why we adore Mario Balotelli, another eccentric whose antics appealed to the Brits. Never mind that he played for a nouveau-riche club that had sold its soul to Big Oil. Never mind that he didn’t always deliver on the pitch. Nor that he smiled even less than Andy Murray. Forget all that. He was mad as a box of frogs and that’s what we found enchanting.
Last week Mourinho told the British press that he was now the ‘Happy One’. He also claimed not to enjoy press conferences. Who is he kidding? His love-in with the British media has resumed. The Prodigal Son has returned. His jokes somewhat obscure the fact that the best coach of the modern era is once again in charge at Chelsea. We ought to be terrified. We ought to hate him. But somehow we can’t help smiling.
Duleep Allirajah is spiked’s sports columnist. Follow him on Twitter @DuleepOffside.
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