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Breaking news: Understanding the Devil inside Jose Mourinho


What is it that makes Jose Mourinho’s inner Devil click?

Jose Mourinho Manchester United

As the story goes, he never even made it onto the pitch.

It was 1982 and it was going to be his first big football match. His father, Felix, an ex-goalkeeper who was following that time-honoured path of play-football-coach-football, was going to put him in after Felix’s first-choice centre-back pulled up injured in the warm-up.

That’s when Rio Ave’s President at the time, José Maria Pinho, learned of the change and he simply wouldn’t have it: away at mighty Sporting Lisbon, he wasn’t going to have himself and his team embarrassed by a mediocre centre-back who lacked skill and pace and was – in his eyes – in the team merely because of flagrant nepotism.

The 19-year-old, stung by the accusations and the sheer humiliation of the incident, was forced to watch the match from the stands – his side, his father’s side, lost 7-1 – and he decided, then and there, that he was never going to be humiliated like that ever again.

That day, he decided he was going to make himself a force to reckon with in the world of football. If not as a player, then as a coach… that they’d remember the name – José Mário dos Santos Mourinho Félix.

A touch cinematic, isn’t it?

Of course, as with any good anecdote, there’s more than a small element of exaggeration to the tale… Jose Mourinho himself recollects the story a little differently, and when talking to Mark Honigsbaum of the Observer, told him that he had already played a few games for Rio Ave at that point and that Pinho had put in the stipulation that he ought not to play against Sporting because, by then, his father had already announced he was moving on and joining Belenenses.

Besides, Mourinho explained, the match hadn’t been of much consequence – “It was the last game of the season. Rio Ave were sixth or seventh in the league and Sporting needed to win to become champions. They were playing at home, so normally they win.”

The popular folktale, then, was dismissed – but not completely out of hand, for in even the most popular myth there is a grain of truth. Playing under Felix, young Jose had seen first hand the eccentricities of club presidents and the demands of management at even the modest level that his father was at and… what is it they say about your experiences in youth moulding the person you eventually become?

Jose Mourinho Manchester united

Mourinho himself ascribes his inner drive to his failure as a footballer – “When you have a father, ex-top player, and your dream is to be like him but you feel you couldn’t do it, your motivation comes from that point. I want to be really big in football.” – but Joel Neto, a Portuguese journalist points to an even more important moment of reckoning for the young man.

His mother, a member of Setubal’s highest class – as close to royalty as you can be without being one of the truly elite – had impressed upon him early on the need to stand out, the need to live up to the family name… and having seen that he wasn’t going to make it in life as a footballer like her husband, she took matters into her own hands and enrolled him into a business school.

Mourinho, then 23, quit after one day before signing up for a course in Lisbon’s Instituto Superior de Educação Física (ISEF).

“I believe that was the most significant day of his life,” said Neto. “The day he said to himself: ‘I’m going to prove to my mother that I can make a living from football.'”

It is important to know what came before to understand what has come since, and what may be about to come.

The Devil within doesn’t just pop up out of nowhere, he is nurtured by circumstances, by paranoia, by inner rage… and the contradiction in his personal upbringing – a sense of entitlement that only an accident of birth can entrust upon a person, and an even stronger sense of resentment at the world for constantly reminding him of his failures as a footballer… well…

There is this revealing scene in the classic, ‘Damned United’, when Michael Sheen, playing the inimitable Brian Clough, walks onto the Leeds United pitch and reels off his (impressive) record, seeking to convince the professionals gathered in front of him that the management had made the right choice. Not his brilliant managerial record with tiny Derby County… but his goalscoring exploits with Middlesbrough and Sunderland.

Game recognise game and all that, eh?

Mourinho’s never had ‘game’ and that has always defined his personality.

In his early days, he barely had to hear the word ‘translator’ before his hackles were raised… you see, despite the great things that were said about him by Sir Bobby Robson, his first great mentor, “He’d come back and hand me a dossier that was absolutely first class. I mean first class,”Robson told the journalist Patrick Barclay. “As good as anything I’ve ever received. Here he was, in his early thirties, never been a player, never been a coach to speak of either, giving me reports as good as anything I ever got.” or by Louis van Gaal, his second, “[Mourinho was] an arrogant young man, who didn’t respect authority that much, but I did like that of him. He was not submissive, used to contradict me when he thought I was in the wrong. Finally, I wanted to hear what he had to say and ended up listening to him more than the rest of my assistants.”… there always hung about him at the Camp Nou an air that he was still an outsider looking in.

Jose Mourinho Manchester United

In 2007, when Barcelona preferred a thoroughly inexperienced Pep Guardiola over Jose Mourinho (Johann Cruyff reportedly made the decision without even talking to Mourinho), this view was re-affirmed.

When he talked to Rio Ferdinand at the beginning of the season (a warmer, more rounded Mourinho, his transformation in personal interviews from his usual snarling press-addressing self is startling), he dropped in a line during the end of it all that emphasised the non-footballer heritage of his – “[My father] was a good manager in that generation but I always felt that he could, and should, do much better. Because he didn’t have that extra piece of confidence, of desire, and I wanted to be better…

(This is just the way he speaks, he loved his father – who passed away last year – and has always had nothing but respect for him, but in order to explain himself, he needs to project himself against somebody… a control tube to his specific one and it’s not always a means of demeaning that other person).

“I had something that drove me, maybe the fact that I was not a good player. Maybe because when I start as a manager, especially in that generation, was the thing of ‘If you are not a good player you cannot be a good manager’… something which I think in this moment is broken.”

Of course, there have been some very good managers before him who haven’t played all that much, Arsene Wenger for one, but none quite successful as the Portuguese… He wasn’t one of them, but he can’t be prouder that he’s among the best of them now.

And he’ll never get bored of reminding us of the fact.

When Jose Mourinho speaks, especially in post (and pre-) match interviews and press conferences, he often gives out the impression that he doesn’t get as much credit for his work as his peers do, and this can often lead to explosive bursts.

When he slammed Paul Scholes for – in his eyes unfairly criticising Paul Pogba – it was obscene, ugly, and left a sour taste in the mouth… but Mourinho has never given a solitary one about our taste buds, has he?

What he was aiming for in that violent monologue was two-fold: protect Pogba at all costs, show him the lengths to which he would go to defend him, prove to the young, temperamental Frenchman that he had his back and… to remind everyone that Jose Mourinho knows what Jose Mourinho is doing. It was the same put-down he used when in the early days at Chelsea, and ahead of the first of his many explosive clashes with Barcelona, he mowed into their manager Frank Rijkaard with brutal directness – “Frank Rijkaard’s history as a player cannot be compared with my history. His history is fantastic and my history is zero. My history as a manager cannot be compared to Frank Rijkaard’s history. He has zero trophies and I have a lot of them.”

Ugly? Sure. True? Wasn’t it?

Jose Mourinho Manchester United

It was the same, ‘yes, yes, I know I am not a player. But damn you, you will respect me as a coach’ sentiment that was coming out in less than palatable form.

That he chooses to continuously talk about his achievements – throw them in our faces, more like – continuously comparing others’ records with his, speaks to an arrogance well beyond normal… After all, when asked why he was leaving Porto, he responded that at Porto there was “A beautiful blue chair, the UEFA Champions League trophy, God and, after God, me.” and that he was but choosing to take himself out of his comfort zone… and push himself, unlike his father. That our sensibilities are offended by this brashness matters a jot to him; he walks the walk so he naturally feels he can talk the talk, and if he is able to achieve his ultimate goal – winning – by saying things that normal people would consider offensive, then so be it.

But it also speaks to his continued sense of ‘paranoia’ that has gripped him from the get-go.

“Before the match people inside the club [Porto] knew it was going to be my last game and they changed their behaviour to me,” Mourinho said. “[These were] people who were next to me for two-and-a-half years, people who should think ‘this guy gave us a lot and we are in this final because of him’, and should accept my desire to leave the club and go on to a new life.

He was speaking after his appointment as Chelsea manager was announced and explaining why he had not been jumping up and down in joy after receiving the Winner’s medal in the final of the UEFA Champions League. He would also later reveal that there had been death threats levelled against him and his family.

Jose Mourinho Manchester United

All because he had wanted another job, a higher-paying, more challenging one.

Paranoia always has a root in one or two incidents that teach the afflicted person that it is wrong to implicitly trust, to take things at face-value when such incidents happen relatively early in one’s personal, or professional career, it’s hard to work yourself up against it.

It can, though, also be used as a weapon… directed at the media, the officials, the administration, as and when deemed fit.

What he had learned from Bobby Robson was man-management of the highest order, from Louis van Gaal tactical astuteness of a similar degree… but he bent both in his own unique way, with a dash of paranoia and a twist of rage. And no one has used paranoia to build a siege mentality quite like Mourinho since, well… Alex Ferguson (remember how the Scot banned the BBC, the freaking BBC, from Old Trafford for having the temerity to question Juan Seba Veron’s purchase?).

Vitor Baia, the former custodian of FC Porto’s goal, recollected recently how Mourinho emphasised on drilling them for specific events, on pointing out specific weaknesses in opponents – “Sometimes it was as though he could see the future. I remember a specific incident against Benfica when throughout the week he prepared us for what we should do after we scored a goal … He told us that [the Benfica coach José Antonio] Camacho would make a specific substitution and change his tactics, which was what happened. So we already knew what to do when he did it; we were completely prepared for it. For the same match, we also prepared to play with 10 players, because José knew the referee would not be able to take the pressure and would show a red card along the way. That also happened … so we knew what to do and got a narrow win.”

This fed into his larger-than-life persona within the team, where – when at their best- no one questions him, or feels the need to. Working on this solid foundation of tactical awareness, safe in the knowledge that he was continuously covering every aspect of the game, Mourinho would work on his players’ psyches.

“He knew everybody so deeply that he could control our emotions in every situation,” Baia said.“In my case, he would just pat me on the back and I was ready to go. However, there were players who needed motivation, who needed to be praised, and he knew which ones needed what, that’s what made him so good.”

Speak to John Terry, and it’s the same… “Mentally and psychologically, he had us from day one. We bought into whatever he was going to deliver that day and he was the same when he came back. Having his presence there was enough. He had his eyes on everyone and when he speaks, no one messes about or plays with a ball. You listen to him, he was the boss. I would give everything for him. I would leave that pitch in a coffin for him and every player felt the same.”

Victor Baia, John Terry, Marco Materazzi, Frank Lampard, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Samuel Eto’o, even Mesut Ozil… they’ve all spoken out about just how much they were willing to give to Mourinho during their time with him

Such loyalty is not bred by accident.

So when the press, the experts, and the common man slam him for his treatment of Luke Shaw or Henrikh Mkhitaryan, what they do not understand is that sometimes that viciousness is exactly what works.

Sir Alex Ferguson once tore Dwight Yorke apart in a pre-match press conference when he felt the Trinidadian was slacking off… and Yorke responded by scoring four goals in 20 minutes the next day…

(In Mesut Ozil’s case, Mourinho got the best out of him by slamming him, in public and private, squeezing him, pushing him to the edge, screaming at him – “Oh, are you giving up now? You’re such a coward. What do you want? To creep under the beautiful, warm shower? Shampoo your hair? To be alone? Or do you want to prove to your fellow players, the fans out there, and me, what you can do?” – he loved the German but knew that allowing him to rest on his laurels was bad for him – and by extension the team).

the Portuguese, like the great Scot before him, understands that different personalities require different types of handling.

Psychology is something he uses shamelessly outside the pitch, too… in press conferences, it’s a weapon and it usually works – Pep Guardiola famously lost his rag on the eve of a Clasico: “In this [press] room, [Mourinho] is the puto jefe, the puto amo – the f*****g boss, the f*****g master. I don’t want to compete with him for a moment [for that]. Off the pitch, he is the winner … but this is a game of football.”

(Pep’s great team, of course, won that match, a UCL semi 2-0, but were ousted as the kings of Spain soon after)

He can be cruel, vicious, and utterly venomous. It’s one of his famous rants that set off a chain reaction that forced referee Anders Frisk to quit, and Volker Roth, chairman of the UEFA referees’ committee to remark… “We can’t accept that one of our best referees has been forced to quit because of this”. “People like Mourinho are the enemy of football.”

When Antonio Conte was misled by a rather unscrupulous member of the British press into believing that Mourinho had called him a clown for his touchline antics, the fiery Italian said that maybe his predecessor was going senile, and that dementia was getting to him.

Mourinho’s response was to launch into a diatribe that absolved Conte of blame and slammed the press… before he went in for the knock-out punch: “The only thing I want to say to end the story is that yes, I made mistakes in the past on the touchline. Yes, I will make fewer, but I think I will still make a few. What never happened to me – and will never happen – is to be suspended for match-fixing. That never happened to me and will never happen.”

It was oh, so mature till that below-the-belt line… another that had most neutrals blanching but the vast majority of United’s fans gurgling with guilty pleasure.

“Jose enjoys it more than I do,” said Alex Ferguson of the mind games warfare. “He is brilliant at it. He plays games too. He has that mischievous part. You are never quite sure what he is up to. I don’t contest that because he is a clever bugger. I let him get on with it. As long as he keeps bringing a decent bottle of wine, I let him off.”

The twinkle in the smile at the end of that Conte insult just proved the Scotsman right… again. He is getting into Conte’s head and he loves it.

He’s been trying to get to Guardiola with the brazen duplicity of accusing him of spending too much money, buying fullbacks for the price of forwards was his line… and it isn’t like he doesn’t understand the hypocrisy.

He’s actually using it to prove a point.

When he said, “Money makes a difference. I remember my time from my first Chelsea period where everyone was saying money was making the difference. So I don’t think it’s changed.” what he meant was… ‘when I won with Chelsea, you accused me of buying the title. Why aren’t you levelling the same allegations at the man who’s spent £100 odd million more than me, Pep Guardiola?’

Jose Mourinho Manchester United

He’s also saying, without actually saying it – ‘Look at Pep, he wanted Kyle Walker and City simply paid what Tottenham wanted, no haggling, no delays. I wanted Ivan Perisic and Inter refused to sell him because we couldn’t up the payment by £5 million’ – a message to the board as much as it is to the press and the fans.

Of course, he’s deflecting attention here… from himself, and from the team… but s’long as it keeps working, he’ll keep doing it.

Some of his outbursts, though, have been completely indefensible – like the time he ended Eva Carneiro’s sports career by absolutely plowing into her in front of everyone on Live TV during a game – arguably it had been done to get a reaction from his players, if the doctor isn’t safe from getting verbally abused no one is… but it backfired – and even if it hadn’t, what Mourinho had done was simply awful, he had not so much crossed the line as erased it completely.

It was the same with what he did to Tito Vilonavo, then Guardiola’s assistant… an eye poke that prompted the normally reserved Bobby Charlton to speak out – “A United manager,” Charlton at the time a United director, said in December 2012 “would not do what he did to Tito Vilanova … Mourinho is a really good coach, but that’s as far as I’d go.” 

In the end, though, Mourinho knows that all that matters is the results. He probably derives some perverse pleasure at the sight of Sir Bobby applauding his every move now.

Boring, boring Chelsea. People talk about style and flair but what is that? Sometimes I ask myself about the future, and maybe the future of football is a beautiful green grass carpet without goals, where the team with more ball possession wins the game. The way people analyse style and flair is to take the goals off the pitch.

Substitute Chelsea with Manchester United, and fast-forward a decade and a half, and it can almost, word-for-word, be reproduced even today can’t it?

Mourinho’s attack of Scholes was also prompted by a feeling that ex-United players, Fergie’s boys, were getting on his back a bit too much about the so-called ‘United’ way… something that share quite a lot with the haughty Barca-Ajax philosophy that he had so grown to despise – that there is a right way of playing football, and a wrong way.

Jose Mourinho Manchester United

It was innocuously spoken, but in that interview with Ferdinand, Mourinho dropped a line that neither really dwelled upon – “But football is football, football is to win. Football is not to enjoy. Enjoy(ing) is winning.”

Roy Keane used to say the same thing.

That’s also the reason why Ferdinand didn’t linger on that point.

For, he knows, from first-hand experience that the essence of the United Way… the Ferguson Way… the drive that had him going incommunicado with his former best friend Frank Lampard, the commitment that had him stay put at United… all of it, it has always been ‘winning’.

At United, for Alex Ferguson… that’s always been the ‘right’ way.

“The moral of the story is not to listen to those who tell you not to play the violin but stick to the tambourine,” said Mourinho once.

He’ll always be angry (at things like Guardiola being praised to the heavens for his development of Raheem Sterling, while he’s ignored for the magic currently flowing through Jesse Lingard’s boots), he’s no violin player, and he’s not the easiest to love and understand… but no matter how much people talk, he’s not going to change. Love him, hate him, despise him… he really couldn’t give less of a f**k.

Jose Mourinho Manchester United

Sir Alex Ferguson isn’t at the helm anymore – and United will not play the Ferguson Way anymore because what the great man did in 26 years is irreproducible – but the man who is in charge has a Devil inside of him that could just match the one inside Ferguson for viciousness, passion, and the pure, unadulterated, lust for winning.

Write that Devil off at your own peril.


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