In some respects, the sports pages today are exactly as José Mourinho would want them to be. They are all about him. OK, they are all about his sacking, but at least they are about him. I can’t help thinking that in his eyes the most outrageous element of Dr Eva Carnerio responding to the referee’s summons to enter the pitch to treat Eden Hazard on the opening day of the season was that she became the story instead of him. At least for a little while. No way could José stand for that. To use the Chelsea phrase of the moment, the “palpable discord” perhaps began then.
Mourinho reminds me of Dennis Lillee’s comment about Geoff Boycott. “The trouble with Geoffrey,” said the great Australian bowler of the English batsman, “is that he fell in love with himself at an early age and he’s stayed faithful ever since.” In José’s own words: “Last season I did phenomenal work. Sometimes I find myself thinking that last season I did such an amazing job that I brought players to a level that is not their [real] level.” I’m not sure even Narcissus was quite that taken with his own reflection. When Mourinho looks away from the mirror this morning, he’ll find – like the Lady of Shallot – that his world has cracked.
Of course, the trophy count shows what an extraordinarily successful football manager he has been. For example, there have been eight league titles in four different countries and the European Cup with two different teams; a nine-year run without losing a home game (this being with different teams). Whichever professional marriage he fetches up in next, his employer can be confident that trophies will arrive and be sure that divorce will, too. That’s the cost: burn-out. After between two and three years, it’s all too much, for the team and for him. He left Real Madrid in a state of civl war; was ultimately chucked by Chelsea after saying the players had “betrayed” him.
Some people say Mourinho is/was a polarising influence. While that’s true, he is also a unifying one. I think the chant “F— off, Mourinho” may have been the only one routinely heard at every Premier League ground. A career of high-level management that was given a huge help by the wrongful disqualification of a Paul Scholes goal for Manchester United in a Champions League Round of 16 match in 2004 (without that, no European Cup for Porto, likely no Chelsea Part I, maybe a career continuing in Portugal?) has been characterised by a need for confrontation, whether relentlessly verbal with Arsene Wenger or recklessly physical, as with the Barcelona guy who’s eye he gouged on the touchline. I’m not saying he’d start a fight in an empty room; I’m saying he’d make sure there were people in the room so he could fight them.
In The Guardian yesterday, Marina Hyde berated herself for feeling no sense of sorrow for Mourinho but wondered if that might be because “he really [is] just an irredeemable prick”. The Special Onanist, perhaps?