Date Published: 05/02/10
Jose Mourinho By Okechukwu Peter Nwobu
Jose Mourinho was practically an unknown football coach when he won the Portuguese league with FC Porto and the UEFA Champions league the following season. That victory catapulted him to Chelsea FC where he won the Premier League and ‘other things.’ He also took Chelsea to the semi finals of the UEFA Champions League.
When a string of poor results with the same Chelsea players manifested, the impatient owner of Chelsea FC eased him out. If Mourinho was bitter, he never revealed it. Instead, he rested, plotted and landed at FC Internazionale Milano, also known as Inter Milan to English speakers. The feisty Italian league is also combative but Mourinho was determined to make his mark and prove a huge point especially when it became so obvious that his contemporaries in Italy viewed him as nothing but a loud mouth. He was unperturbed, allowing his players to complement his verbal fireworks by winning the Scudetto, the Italian equivalent of winning the Premier League.
Many still did not take him seriously, choosing to focus on his regular utterances as if that would somehow diminish his accomplishments in three different nations. Then came the dethroning a few days ago of Barcelona FC, arguably the world’s best football team parading the world’s most feared player, Lionel Messi who an awe struck Arsene Wenger had dubbed play station. These home and away semi final clashes revealed to doubters that Mourinho is a class act, indeed the special one. It revealed his depth of expertise, so ruthlessly tested and exhibited before the world on the field of play. An Inter Milan first leg 3-1 home victory did not look comfortable to many who remember the demolition of Aresnal FC by Barca. A freak injury to a key player just before the game started and a red card early in the game looked like an uncanny conspiracy against Mourinho but it is only circumstances like this that reveals the stuff of which great tacticians are made. No one knows how deep Mourinho had to dig but he dug deep enough to stamp his authority on the game, repeatedly frustrating Barca with holding battles, rear guard actions and occasional raids to relieve pressure. That it worked playing ten men against Barca’s eleven for more than an hour has cast in concrete Mourinho’s place as the special one, a general whose men will follow blind folded to battle.
Any army general fighting at full strength under ideal conditions will be expected to win. The real test comes when circumstances suddenly change. That is when the real warrior, the special one is revealed. This reminds me of the exploits of my favourite American general during the Second World War, General George S Patton. During the Battle of the Bulge in 1944, this general was the only one ready with a plan for every eventuality. He raced units of his United States Third Army 150 kilometres through running battles and fire fights, in the middle of very severe winter, night and day without pause or sleep to relieve American units under German siege at Bastogne. Many times he came down from his staff car to walk side by side with his proud men who had dubbed him ‘blood and guts.’ When he had announced that his men will turn around immediately to rescue the besieged Americans and other generals shook their heads in disbelief, he simply said those soldiers were his men and he trained them. The other generals who said they needed two weeks to reposition their troops thought Patton was grandstanding. This was one of the reasons he was the general the Germans army feared the most.
Without £200 million to spend buying players and with the heads of Barca and Chelsea hanging on his belt, Mourinho is right now arguably the most feared coach in the world. He has earned the bragging rights. Like Mourinho, General George S Patton always spoke his mind privately and publicly in unforgettable colourful language and that also got him into trouble many times.
After the Battle of Nou Camp, Mourinho said his men had left their blood on the pitch, defending and holding ground for more than an hour, playing with ten men fighting to the end. His pride at the men he trained, men he called heroes is understandable because they had faced the best in the world. Yes it was not winter, but the circumstances – firecrackers going off outside his team’s hotel at night to deny them sleep, the harassment of Samuel Eto for ‘unpaid’ tax, the freak injury and playing with ten men were enough to chill the hearts of lesser men.
Jose Mourinho has now taken three different teams from three different leagues to the UEFA Champions semi finals. His victory over Barca means he will be taking a second team to the UEFA Champions finals. If he clinches victory on May 22, he would have won the Champions league twice with two different clubs within five years. How else do we measure greatness in this most competitive of sports?
Mourinho is cast in the mould of boxing all time great Mohammed Ali who fought with both his mouth and fists, mesmerising opponents first with his mouth and then with his fists and silky skills. Similarly, Mourinho ignites verbal fires before sending his teams to conclude the battle on the pitch. Just as it came naturally to Mohammed Ali, so it is with Mourinho. Just as it was difficult for opponents of Mohammed Ali to understand him, so it is for Mourinho. But after the fall of Barca, it is possible that many of his contemporaries including those who see him as contemptible will acknowledge even if privately that he is indeed a coach with the special touch.
The lesson for all humanity from a man still so young is that once you have honed your skills, you know what you are doing, believe in yourself and abilities, all you need is to stay focused and seek new and higher challenges. Your talents and expertise will not only make way, they will speak for you in spectacular fashion.
Is it not ironic that it was Mourinho that halted Chelsea’s UEFA Champions dreams with home and away victories right inside his former stadium at Stamford Bridge, in front of Abrahamovich who had thrown him out? At this stage Abrahamovich’s regrets is the type you do not share with anyone. Perhaps in his memoirs, we will read about the sacking of Mourinho as his biggest mistake.
Again the message of Mourinho is when people lose patience with you, be patient with yourself. When people doubt your talent, do not give up. Do not let their label stick. Do not get mad, get even as Mourinho did emphatically with Chelsea.
I am not a fan of any football team but a fan of good football. But after the dethronement of the seemingly invisible Barca, I have become a fan of Jose Mourinho and will remain a fan where ever he goes. It will not matter even if in the unlikely event his team is defeated by Bayern Munchen on May 22.
On May 22, Inter Milan vs Bayern Munchen will be real war. Jose Mourinho, football’s equivalent of the colourful and audacious General George Patton will take on the Germans. If the results of General George Patton’s encounters with Germans which started in North Africa, through Italy, France, Belgium and eventually inside Germany is anything to go by, then Mourinho will triumph against the German team. During the Second World War Allied soldiers used to say that the only good German is a dead German. There is no telling what Jose Mourinho will say before and after the defeat of Bayern Munchen at the Battle of Bernabau on May 22.
Okechukwu Peter Nwobu