Offside, 31 March

Is Mourinho the new Old Big Ead?

Duleep Allirajah

Topics Politics

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As a rule of thumb, if a leading UEFA official declares that you are the ‘enemy of football’ – as Volker Roth branded Jose Mourinho – then you must be doing something right. And judging by the column inches devoted to him in the British press, Mourinho is doing quite a lot right.

By rights we ought to hate Jose Mourinho. He is the arrogant, attention-seeking, manager of a parvenu Chelsea team that is shamelessly buying Premiership success. But instead of loathing the mouthy Portuguese upstart we can’t get enough of him. Why is that?

It’s not just his coaching skills and entertaining soundbites that we admire. With his Latin good looks, dapper suits, signature grey overcoat, three-day stubble and Clooneyesque greying hair, Mourinho has become a fashion icon. In short, men want to be like him and women want to sleep with him (and some men probably want to sleep with him too). ‘His grey coat has become a thing of beauty during a dingy winter, his suits-with-no-tie have become a fashion statement copied by British politicians and his swagger attracts instant attention’, noted Neal Collins in the Mirror (1). Newspapers are running fashion articles advising male readers how to acquire the Mourinho look. Don’t be surprised if sales of Grecian 2000 plummet as fortysomething Mourinhistas decide that grey is the new black.

Invariably comparisons have been widely drawn with the legendary Brian Clough. When Cloughie died last September I lamented the fact that there were no contemporary managers who could match Old Big ‘Ead for charisma. Gordon Strachan and Neil Warnock were the nearest we had, but both were Cloughie-lite by comparison. Cloughie however, was quick to recognise something of himself in Mourinho. ‘That new Portuguese bloke at Chelsea’, he remarked shortly before his death, ‘He’s got a lot to say. He reminds me of what I was like at his age – but I was better looking’.

Clough was of course joking. As Hunter Davies observed in the New Statesman recently, ‘People are comparing him to Brian Clough, but Cloughy had the sexual attraction of a plate’. There are other differences too, notably Clough’s wilful eschewal of tactics. Clough was a supreme motivator and man manager but he freely admitted that ‘Tactics played very little part in my method of management’. Mourinho, by contrast, appears to be capable of combining motivational ability with tactical astuteness.

The one defining characteristic common to both men is a swaggering self-belief that frequently spills over into outright arrogance. ‘Please don’t call me arrogant but I’m European champion and I think I’m a special one’, declared Mourinho on arriving at Stamford Bridge last June. No other manager, not even Fergie who was a European champion, would dream of saying anything like that. Only Clough would have been able to get away with such preposterous self-aggrandisement in the past largely because his remarkable managerial record effectively entitled him to a lifetime’s supply of bragging rights. Undoubtedly Mourinho would be mercilessly ridiculed if he failed to back up his cockiness with silverware, but he has delivered the goods at Porto and looks likely to do the same at Chelsea.

UEFA’s vendetta against Chelsea will only succeed in raising Mourinho’s stock in the eyes of football fans. We love a rebel who speaks his mind rather than an automaton who recites bland PR-managed platitudes at press conferences. And, in any case, is there any football fan who doesn’t hold the joyless bureaucrats of Nyon in utter contempt? So what if Mourinho criticises referees? What is the point of referees if we aren’t allowed to slander them? So what if the Chelsea boss likes to play mind games with his opponents? A bit of gamesmanship might offend Corinthian fundamentalists but football without needle would be like a Shakespearean tragedy in which nobody got killed and everyone was nice to each other. Mourinho isn’t bringing the game into disrepute. He is single-handedly making football a far more colourful and entertaining place.

I’ve been trying for some time to put my finger on the secret of Mourinho’s appeal and I finally reckon I’ve cracked it. He is cool and stylish most of the time but he can also be a bit of a nutter. Remember that ecstatic dance down the touchline flicking v-signs at the Old Trafford crowd when Porto had scored a last-minute killer goal to put United out of the Champions League? Or the hushing finger-over-lips gesture at the irate Scousers when Chelsea equalised against Liverpool in the Carling Cup Final? One minute he’s the epitome of urbane sophistication and Continental sangfroid, next minute he’s leaping around like a bug-eyed madman. American sports fans love a winner but the British are different. Of course we admire winners but more than anything else we love a nutter.

Read on:

spiked-issue: Sport

(1) Daily Mirror, 16 March 2005

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Topics Politics


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