By Uche Chris
Last week’s sack of the Portuguese sweat merchant, Jose Mourinho by the Tottenham football club board, is a sad reminder that whatever goes up in life inevitably and eventually comes down. It was evident that the lackluster 2-2 draw with Everton would be the last straw. Having struggled since the beginning of the year, even against sure bankers, as poolsters are wont to say – teams that ordinarily should have contributed three points to them – there was little doubt that the doomsday would come, soon than later.
It is not that Everton is a pushover in this season; perish the thought. Carlo Ancelotti, the Italian tactician, has elevated the club to reckoning. But it was a draw too many, especially given the long poor and woeful performance of the team, even though they salvaged a point. No Spurs’ fan would be excited watching the mediocre outing that had them consistently on the back foot. Indeed, the draw was really against the run of play; a loss would have been fairer.
So, what happened to Jose Mourinho, the Special One? Having led the table briefly this season, it was sadly a bad patch that things suddenly collapsed. This is his shortest tenure since he hit the limelight in 2003, when he won the Champions League with Porto FC of Portugal. Taking up the job in November 2019, after the sack of long serving Mauricio Pochettino, now in PSG, it looked like a fantastic replacement. But it now appears that it was a terrible mistake
Pochettino, whom he replaced, is now in the semi final of the Champions League, which he was also a finalist with Spurs in the 2018/2019 session, while Mourinho and Spurs are practically out of the championship for next year, the first time for the club in several years. Such will be the bitter taste Mourinho would leave behind in the club after his exit. Pochettino was sacked by the club due to poor performance shortly after they had dazzled the world with some of the most scintillating displays in the Champion League.
Remember that before coming to Spurs, Mourinho had been sacked by Man United after struggling for two years to find his feet. His performance in Man United foreshadowed what would happen in Spurs, as the team, renowned for its pedigree, produced the most inconsistent and often disappointing results. Managing a top club in Europe has an unwritten but generally accepted convention: You must win the league, or the FA cup, or a Champions League slot. Without any of these titles the coach must be ready for the boot.
What has happened to Mourinho is a lesson in management and social psychology. And the problem has to do with those who hired him. He has had the most unstable career – whether naturally or induced – of all the top coaches in Europe. His longest tenure of five years was in Chelsea, which eventually ended in players’ revolt against him. It was also there that he garnered his highest number of laurels, except the Champions League title.
Mourinho is a system disrupter, and those who hire him often ignore or overlooked this critical fact, or aspect of his personality, and based their decision solely on his accomplishments as a coach. They discount the importance of synergy between management, board and players in creating a winning chemistry for the club. Once there are incongruities and discontinuities in organizational relationships, a winning team could easily atrophy.
By every standard, Mourinho is a capable manager, and has produced incredible results as proof. But he is a poor leader because of his arrogance, narcissism and self-centredness. A manager aims for immediate result at any cost; a leader strives for cooperation and team spirit, which takes some time to achieve, but provides a more sustainable basis for success. Compared with arch-rival, Pep Gourdiola, the leadership difference becomes very apparent. Gourdiola’s performance in Barcelona, and even Bayern, was so consistent until he left.
As a disrupter, Mourinho does not inherit systems or strategies; he must build his own. The result is that he usually does not produce positive result in his first year, because he has to rebuild the team in his own image. For instance, Pochettino in PSG, inherited Thomas Tuchel team, and is already in the Champions League semi final; Mourihno has never achieved such record in any of the teams he had managed in the first year. Therefore, any club that engages him must make such allowance for a longer time to rebuild.
In big clubs like Real Madrid, Chelsea, Man United etc with the resources to buy players for him, the waiting time may be reduced; but any average club as Spurs does not have the luxury and would have to wait. He has never won a top trophy in his first year. His tactics are usually defensive because he is risk averse and does not want to lose any game. But in life you have to lose sometimes, because it is the spark and spur you need to continue winning. Often, teams that play not to lose rather than playing to win, usually loses.
It is this mentality of playing not to lose that has been responsible for the inconsistency and checkered nature of his managerial records. Every competition, like war, is strategy and tactics driven. Although strategy may be long term, tactics should be variable depending on situations. When both are written in tablets of stone, as his approach seems to be, there would be a major point of diminishing returns because competitors would easily master your aces.
His Spurs’ experience seems to be the lowest for him. It is unlikely that he will go higher than that again, even though there is a lot of recycling going on as a result of the disappearing number of top coaches. Yet Mourinho, it appears, has had the best of his football managerial times behind him. Whatever remains for him in football is making up for the lost glory. The Special One may after all not be special.