For Jose Mourinho the Art of Management Is One Part Detail and Two Parts Salesmanship

By Liew, Jonathan | New Statesman (1996), November 29, 2019 | Go to article overview

For Jose Mourinho the Art of Management Is One Part Detail and Two Parts Salesmanship


Liew, Jonathan, New Statesman (1996)


English football has always had a curious fixation with its managers. We seem uniquely convinced that the power of the game ultimately resides not in the 22 players on the pitch, nor in its fans and benefactors, but in the vaguely sepulchral man sitting on a nearby bench, pointing at things. Even the etymology gives it away. Whereas our European cousins refer to their coaches by more holistic terms - entraineur, tecnico we expect ours to manage: to master, coerce, enforce.

I have a theory about all this. Maybe the reason we're so carried away by the idea of football managers as autocrats is that we have never experienced the real thing. We can indulge our latent strongman curiosities instead by sharing tales of Bill Shankly, Alex Ferguson or Brian Clough: men who --we like to imagine--asserted their ideas through a combination of animal magnetism and sheer will.

Jose Mourinho understands this better than anyone, which is why he has spent much of the past two decades cultivating an image of himself as a man who doesn't mind bloodying a few noses--or poking a few eyes--in order to get things done. For Mourinho, management is one part detail to two parts salesmanship: witness the artless and painfully unsubtle ways in which he will try to shoehorn his career achievements into casual conversation, claiming triumphs as his and his alone.

His performance is catnip to English football, which has always preferred to interpret the game through the prism of personalities rather than processes. Doubtless it is part of the reason why, despite beginning his career in Portugal and passing through Italy and Spain, Mourinho has now spent more time managing in the Premier League than everywhere else put together.

As 2018 drew to a close, though, it seemed Mourinho's schtick was beginning to wear thin. His job at Manchester United had ended in a familiar blend of needless rancour and terrible football: colourless, odourless and yet vaguely nauseating. Both tactically and tonally the game appeared to have moved on from his unique brand of snarling, iconoclastic pragmatism. By the autumn of 2019, he was 56 and had been out of the game for almost a year. His days as an elite manager looked numbered.

Yet there he was on 21 November, beaming away at his first press conference as the new manager of Tottenham Hotspur, nattering cheerily about how happy he was, what a wonderful club he'd joined and how much he'd grown in the 11 months since his previous job had ended. From his breezy demeanour you wouldn't know whether he had just completed one of the most sensational managerial switches of the year or popped in for a cup of tea.

Of course, we've seen it before. Nearly all Mourinho's jobs have begun with such abundant optimism only to end in the same staid tactics and sullen press conferences; bitter feuds; punishment droppings; transfer wrangles conducted in the full public glare. …

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