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MARTIN SAMUEL: Here's why Jose Mourinho really is so...special
Published : 24 Feb 2010 08:28:44
It seems strange that, all these years on, we should still be debating what precisely makes Jose Mourinho special. The 'self-proclaimed' special one, as he is often called; 'His Specialness' as Carlo Ancelotti, coach of Chelsea, brands him, mockingly. So, is Mourinho all that special? Of course he is. Mourinho is the figure against which all Chelsea managers are judged: and not just Chelsea managers, but the Premier League's foreign managers, too. Nobody has delivered in English football quite like Mourinho. Not Rafael Benitez, whose astonishing success, winning the Champions League in his first season, could not be sustained; not even Arsene Wenger, who altered the culture of his club, Arsenal. Poetry in emotion: Jose Mourinhoreacts to Inter's late win against Siena - the kind of display that has endeared him to fans and owners Benitez has been on a downward trajectory since that night in Istanbul, while the nature of Wenger's work is now shown to be entirely different from that required of Mourinho. From the beginning, Wenger was involved in a long-term project, not a short-term glory hunt. He had the unquestioning support of his employers, through the former vice-chairman David Dein, and was given time and freedom to reshape Arsenal top to toe. He did this, until recently, while consistently winning trophies, which was an outstanding accomplishment but does not compare to the instant pressure Mourinho faced when arriving at Stamford Bridge in 2004. The fact is no Chelsea manager could survive five years without winning a trophy as Wenger has done; indeed, until Manchester City's owners found their trigger finger with Mark Hughes, Chelsea were unique in demanding an immediate dividend from their senior employees. This gives Mourinho his special status. He delivers on demand. For all the reverence with which Wenger is held, there are many Arsenal fans who believe the title might have been won this season, or at least recently, had the steelier Mourinho been in charge. Roman Abramovich, the Chelsea owner, was not interested in planning when he took Mourinho from Porto. He wanted the league title that season. Fail and Mourinho would have got the sack; start slowly and experience suggests he might not have seen Christmas. In the circumstances, then, it was a stunning achievement to ride that pressure, no matter the financial advantage. Manchester City have thrown money at the problem, too, but are yet to find a manager who can hit the ground running as spectacularly as Mourinho did. That is what sets him apart. It was the same at Inter Milan: nothing less than the title in his first season would do, and he provided. Now holes are being picked in his record because he did not also win the Champions League, as if every manager does that in year one. Sir Alex Ferguson had 13 years at Manchester United before claiming it as his; Wenger is 13 years at Arsenal and still waiting. Abramovich 's front men play down the ruthlessness of his regime but the bottom line is: Win the league or get the sack. Mourinho won the league, stayed a second season, retained the league, was given a third season, didn't win the league and failed to make it out of September in his fourth campaign More from Martin Samuel... 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He will need to be thereon May 10, however, to turn his time in England into something morethan a sabbatical. Fail and he will come up short when compared,inevitably, to The Special One. Mourinho's critics say his success was down to Abramovich's money, asif he should have won the league in his first year and been financiallydisadvantaged in order to be judged a success. Yet Roberto Mancini is finding it hard to propel a lavishly assembled squad into the top four, let alone to the title. It is testament to Mourinho that he made it look so very straightforward that it was felt any coach with a few quid could walk in his shoes. As has been shown subsequently, they can't. It is also tribute to the man that, four managers on, his methods still define a certain type of Chelsea victory. In the matches in which Arsenal were swept aside this season, many compared the compelling physicality and forcefulness of the performances to the most memorable displays under Mourinho. There is no way of winning that evokes Grant or Scolari, even Hiddink, but when Didier Drogba is battering down the defensive wall, epitomising the brutality and beauty of Chelsea at their best, thoughts turn to Mourinho. He will know Drogba is the Chelsea player to stop if Inter Milan are to win tonight. Chelsea still have a powerhouse midfield and John Terry remains a rock at the back but, on his game, Drogba is as near to unplayable as any striker in Europe. Whatever Mourinho has in store for Chelsea, Plan A will include provision for the visiting striker. ourinho is often associated with brute force or stifling tactics, but rival coaches most admire his ability to influence matches from the bench with substitutions. For a pragmatist, he can be cavalier, bringing on a raft of attacking players if he fears a tactic is not working. In Chelsea's second championship season, losing 1-0 at home to Bolton Wanderers, he introduced Eidur Gudjohnsen at half-time for left-back Asier Del Horno and overwhelmed the opposition with five goals in 29 minutes. It may not be a trait he is willing to display in the San Siro tonight, but his risk-taking is an undervalued quality. The Special One was, indeed, Mourinho's own description, but revisiting that speech in the light of his achievements, it seems almost understated. 'I'm not a defender of old or new managers,' he said, on his first day at Chelsea. 'I believe in good ones and bad ones, those that achieve success and those that don't. Please don't call me arrogant, but I'm European champion and I think I'm a special one.' There will always be those who disagree, who sneer, who despise the hint of vanity; but to dispute he is in that first category these days is merely obtuse. If Ancelotti wants to remain Chelsea manager next season, the task is very plain: he simply has to be half as good as Jose Mourinho. Turning a blind eye to Pompey circumstancesWhat sets the green and gold protests at Old Trafford apart is that the movement is not diluted by the success of the team. Were Manchester United struggling to make the Champions League, had they gone five years without a trophy, had they deteriorated as a force since entering private ownership, the dissension would not carry such weight. Instead, with the club on its way to Wembley again on Sunday, with a fighting chance of Champions League success and the possibility of a record fourth successive title, the dissenters make it plain this is about soul, not short-term prospects. For this they are admired. Yes, Richard Scudamore, the chief executive of the Premier League, has a point when he says that United's fans rarely seem content with any practical ownership model - a buy-out by fans is not realistic - and those harking back to the PLC as some golden age are sorely mistaken, but the sincerity of a protest made from a position of strength cannot be undervalued. Crisis club: But the fans weren't complaining when Portsmouth lifted the FA Cup in 2008 By contrast, Mike Hancock, the Liberal-Democrat MP for Portsmouth South, was on the radio at the weekend talking about the parlous state of his club. Hancock seemed a sincere sort, too. He is clearly a Portsmouth supporter of long standing and is rightly appalled by a financial collapse that will place the club in administration, or worse. He spoke passionately about the mistakes of a succession of owners, largely blaming the Premier League for allowing them to happen. The innocent party, said Hancock, were the fans. Well, yes and no. Yes in that they do not run the club, so cannot be held responsible for its failings. No in that, unlike the green and gold protesters, they were swayed by success and were only too delighted for Portsmouth to live beyond their means, accepting overdue victory in the 2008 FA Cup final as the trade-off. In the circumstances, it is hard to imagine what Hancock thinks the Premier League should have done. Stepped in midway through Harry Redknapp's investment programme and enforced a transfer embargo on the suspicion it was unsustainable? Could you imagine the outcry if that had happened? There was the odd raised eyebrow in the media, the odd question, but in the main football rejoiced as Portsmouth broke the big four monopoly on the FA Cup and got to play AC Milan in Europe; indeed, no one was more taken than the excitable MP for Portsmouth South himself, who on June 6, 2008, tabled Early Day Motion 1716, 'Portsmouth Football Club, FA Cup winners 2008'. It read: 'That this house congratulates everyone associated with Portsmouth Football Club for their magnificent achievement in winning the FA Cup; offers its full support to the campaign being run by The News, in Portsmouth, for Harry Redknapp to be knighted in recognition not only of leading the team to FA Cup success, but for his services to football and charity generally; and calls on the Government to add its support for this honour to be bestowed.' So, far from bringing this castle built on sand to the attention of the Premier League, far from leading from the front in uncovering the truth, Hancock was only too happy to bask in the reflected glory. He congratulated everyone at the football club - including the owner who had put the place in hock - and he wanted the manager knighted. Like a lot of people on the south coast, Hancock got carried away. It is all too easy to suggest others should have intervened. Where were the questioners at the time? The green and gold campaign may have been slow to mobilise, but at least it is not distracted by shiny objects. Why cross is the bossWe have a new way of ranking any new or innovative sports in our house. In future, whenever we watch an event for the first time, we will ask: 'Yes, but is it as absolutely blinding as ski cross?' Watch it and you'll know why.