Mourinho, More Svengali than Special

By Paul Gardner

Real Madrid is marvelous team with marvelous players. What a pity that it has a coach who is deeply toxic. Jose Mourinho’s behavior during this week’s Barcelona-Real Madrid game, the second leg of the Spanish Supercopa, defies description, at least a description using a normal vocabulary. A psychologist, or a psychiatrist, using the abstruse words of those vocations, would do better, I imagine.

Here was a game between two teams that, between them, can put more skilled players on the field than any other matchup -- including both of the top candidate s for the best-player-in-the-world title, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

And that was the way most of the game was played -- at an almost supernatural level of brilliance, with constant reminders -- an impossible pass, a breath-taking dribble, a moment of unbelievable ball control -- that we were watching something special.

But we also got enough sideline shots of Mourinho to let us know that his influence would lie heavily on this game -- and would ultimately mar it into an ugly brawl.

The best description of Mourinho and his behavior comes from literature, from a once-famous book that, no doubt, no one reads any more -- George du Maurier’s Trilby. There is a coach in the book, a coach of a singer, Trilby, who cannot perform unless hypnotized by Svengali. The word Svengali now means a manipulative mastermind; he was described in the book as someone who "would either fawn or bully and could be grossly impertinent. He had a kind of cynical humor that was more offensive than amusing and always laughed at the wrong thing, at the wrong time, in the wrong place. And his laughter was always derisive and full of malice."

The big difference between Svengali and Mourinho is that where Svengali operated secretly, Mourinho courts publicity. We’ve seen examples of all the lamentable Svengali behavior from Mourinho, the cynical laughter, the sarcastic applauding of referee decisions and -- in this game -- “the gross impertinence” that ended with what was, in effect, a bullying physical assault on a Barca assistant coach.

So, in this game, there is no real need to start searching among the players, trying to find those who were guilty of dirty play, to establish who was responsible for the ensuing violence. We know enough about Mourinho now to have no doubts that it was his influence, his poisonous Svengali vibes, that were at the root of everything that caused this game to end in a shameful mass brawl.

Mourinho, unfortunately, is too often viewed as the laudable example of the first really modern coach. Young, suave, articulate, multilingual, well-dressed, successful. “Yes, I am the Special One,” he proudly announced when he took over at Chelsea in 2004.

That needs pondering. It is highly unusual in modern soccer for a coach to be that honest in describing his own role. What has tended to happen, as players’ salaries have skyrocketed, is that coaches, confronted by a locker room of stars earning quite a lot more than they do, have attempted to redefine the sport itself: individual talent is downgraded, superstars are snidely condemned as selfish and disruptive and we are constantly reminded, aren’t we ever, that this is a TEAM game, You know, one for all and all for one.

OK -- but how, then, does this guy Mourinho come off making sure he’s the focus of attention all the time, the head-line grabber supreme, precisely the team’s superstar, the Special One?

We saw Mourinho in action at Chelsea, and it wasn’t pretty. His unfounded accusations that forced referee Anders Fisk to endure threats to his family, and eventually led to him quitting the sport were quite simply disgusting.    

That episode followed a Barcelona-Chelsea game, and it’s clear that Barcelona brings out the worst in Mourinho. He cannot beat it and he reacts by leveling all manner of accusations and insults at the referees at the Barca players, even at UEFA. He is a very poor loser.

At the moment, all the criticism is of Mourinho himself, with the harshest words coming inevitably from the Barcelona camp, where animosity is at fever pitch after Mourinho poked a finger into the eye of Barca’s assistant coach, Tito Vilanova. “Mourinho is a curse on our soccer in Spain,” said Barca vice president Carles Vilarrubi. Defender Gerard Pique accused Mourinho of “destroying Spanish soccer.”

If Real Madrid didn’t know it when it appointed Mourinho as coach last year -- and there was already plenty of evidence to at least arouse their suspicions -- then it must surely know it by now: it has appointed a deeply flawed Svengali of a coach, a Special One who is doing ugly damage to Real’s prestige as the greatest club in the history of soccer.

One wonders how much longer Real will put up with his deplorable excesses. After all, quite aside from image problems, if he can’t beat Barcelona ...?

23 comments about "Mourinho, More Svengali than Special".
  1. gary at k, August 20, 2011 at 12:48 a.m.

    I'm not sure what to think of your article Paul. I understand the sentiment, and I can imagine all the prudes in this country saying: "Oh my god. How deplorable, and classless, and what a terrible role model, and blahbidy blah."

    The man is a footballing genius! Judge his person all you want. But the man is a footballing genius! He knows his team is ridiculously far behind Barca. No not individually, but collectively. And he knows enough to realize there is little he can do about it from a pure footballing perspective. His best chance of overcoming them is venturing into the "extra-footballistic" arena. Where some see an ego maniac, I see a stroke of genius. I see a supremely passionate man intentionally drawing attention and criticism away from his players. I see a man who with these actions, is unifying his players more than they ever have been with any team. He is creating a sense of it's "us versus the world". It is these things, these above and beyond - even outrageous - measures, that can give Madrid a chance at dethroning arguably one of the best sides in the history of the game. Anything less makes it mission impossible! Without these things, might as well just give Barca the trophies now. Things really are that dire. What's he coaching for? Second place? Second place with "class"? Please!

  2. Mike Maurer, August 20, 2011 at 4:18 a.m.

    watching a mourhino coached team is aweful. He takes the most expensive, best players in the world and makes them play nothing but defense. I fell asleep twice during the 1st leg of last years CL matchup with Barca. He got them to halftime 0-0 but rarely made it out of their own half. Its like watching the yankees play baseball and their coach making them bunt everytime up to bat.

  3. Chris Ogle, August 20, 2011 at 4:52 a.m.

    If Mourinho truly is a "footballing genius" or even a "special one" let's see him take a less powerful club than Real Madrid,Inter or Chelsea and achieve something substantial,something similar to what Manuel Pellegrini did with Villareal a few years ago. Pellegrini led Villareal,a city of 51,000 people that in it's history had been in Spain's first division for only four years,into the CL his first year as coach and came within a penalty kick of a CL final with Barca in 2006. He also led Villareal to a second place finish in La Liga 2007-2008. It could be argued that Mourinho's CL trophy with Porto in 2004 came as a result of his superior leadership,but Porto had won Euro Championships before and has always been one of the top two clubs in Portugal.What Mourinho,like Muhammad Ali,has proved is that if a person with a considerable amount of skill in his or her profession proclaims themselves to be the best or greatest in that field there will always be an army of sycophants who will adore them.

  4. gary at k, August 20, 2011 at 5:03 a.m.

    Ric. Entiendo todo perfectamente! Y desafortunadamente estas muy pero muy equivocado de la calidad del entrenador. @Mike Maurer ... what did you want the guy to do? Play Barca straight up and get obliterated? He appeased the club and stuck with the madrid tradition of clean "non-disruptive" quality attacking play the first time. What happened? They got slapped 5-0!!! I don't think people understand the gap between Barca and everybody else.

  5. gary at k, August 20, 2011 at 5:39 a.m.

    @Chris we can argue all day long and not get anywhere. I could ask: What did Pellegrini do with Madrid? I could say the real question to ask of Mou's Porto is: "How strong was it in relation to the rest of the field"? Same thing with Inter (1st treble in Italian history by the way). What did those teams accomplish immediately before and following Mou's tenure? Come on man, there's loads of coaches that have had powerful clubs and accomplished nothing. And only a small number that have reach glory in Europe. And only a handful that can claim the success Mou's had. And he's only 48! Why is there so much hatred?

  6. Joe Hosack, August 20, 2011 at 9:20 a.m.

    If he's a footballing genius he'd know that Rome wasn't built in one day so to speak, so why act like a child who cannot realize that fact?
    I'm sorry, our sport has lost big here as we've up help "the Special one" in a special way. As John Wooden has said, "control yourself so others won't have to". A coach is also a leader among many other great things and his actions lower us all. If a Father taught a Son to act that way, we'd say it was deplorable. Case closed.

  7. Albert Harris, August 20, 2011 at 9:40 a.m.

    @ Chris: Why so much hatred? Hard to have a lot of love for a guy who sneaks up behind someone and pokes them in the eye, then smirks and says "Who's he?" Jose is a fine coach, almost as fine as he thinks he is, but based on his actions going back to his arrival in the English league, he appears to be a rotten human being, at least in public. In private, I'm sure he loves his family and small dogs; I have no information on that.

  8. Thomas Hosier, August 20, 2011 at 9:52 a.m.

    The special one is simply not looking too special. His team of quality footballers are looking more like thugs and muggers. It is understandable the frustration resulting from not seemingly being able to compete with the Catalans straight up ... but even thuggary and muggary doesn't seem to work for Mou and his Real side.

  9. Rudy Espindola, August 20, 2011 at 10:51 a.m.

    Hi all, geniuses get very far with teams that lack the super stars, there are many examples of that. Mourinho knows how to sell himself and collect the big bucks. all the teams he has coached played the antifootball.

  10. James Froehlich, August 20, 2011 at 10:55 a.m.

    Great article, Paul. I was hoping that someone would address this travesty. While I totally agree that Mourinho is a tactical genius, I deny that this absolves him of a responsibility above and beyond that of winning games. When I see what Mourinho is doing at Real Madrid, one of the greatest clubs in world soccer history, I am reminded of the phrase, "bringing the game into disrepute". I have no problem with playing a more physical game against Barca since it appears that that is one of the few tactics that has had any success against them. However, there is a fine line between aggressive and just plain "dirty" play and I believe Mourinho's team has crossed it. I totally reject the argument of Gary K that when faced with an obviously superior team, that ANY tactic that succeeds is necessarily "brilliant". There is still honor to be had in losing with "class". I would refer everyone to Man U. It was generally recognized going into the Champions League final that Barcelona was the superior team but that didn't mean that Man U had to come out playing like rabid dogs. Instead, they played THEIR game to the best of their abilities; h they may have lost, but they will never have to look back at this game with shame. I wonder if Marcelo et al. Will be able to say the same? BTW Gary, I don't equate valuing good sportsmanship with being a prude.

  11. Joe Hosack, August 20, 2011 at 11:03 a.m.

    Arsenal did not mug Barca to beat them.

  12. Carl Walther, August 20, 2011 at 11:46 a.m.

    He should be charged with assault and brought to trial.

  13. Tyler Dennis, August 20, 2011 at 12:49 p.m.

    Barca and Real played a couple of really entertaining games, so it was disappointing to see it end the way it did. But really? A BRAWL... if that is a brawl, then I've been involved in World War 3 a few dozen times.

    I think what we can see is that the Barcelona approach to creating a team from a superior development model, the 7th sense provided from this is 10x more powerful than a "super-genius" coach and $500 million dollars.

    Real Madrid are getting closer to winning... it takes time for players to gel... is Mourinho the guy... I don't think so because he is too negative. The game showed that the RM players still are not willing to work together enough... maybe its because of the role model of a coach is such that each of the XI are proclaiming themselves the "special one" too... eleven supremely talented individuals takes a special coach to bring them together and become stronger collectively... you'd think Mourinho would be the guy, but the Barca 7th sense just may be too strong.

  14. Raffy Afarian, August 20, 2011 at 1:53 p.m.

    Gary, on most things soccer, I see eye to eye with you. In addition, for the benefit to everyone that doesn't know you, I'll tell them that you are a Barca fan through and through. I agree Mou is some kind of "special" person but I think he's getting more and more full of himself as time goes by. He is becoming more "mad" than "special" to me. I used to love the guy until recently. As for he intentionally deflecting attention from his players, I don't think he's that smart. I think he is a very passionate (or emotional) person and just got caught up in the moment when he did what he did. He must feel like RM is the big brother to Barca and the little brother is kicking his a** over and over and making him look bad. He just got pissed off and fueled by his big head (he literally has a big head!!) and passion, he just lost control of his actions. In a way the same thing happened to a lot of his thug players. It was exactly what happened to the Dutch against Spain in the World Cup. When you can't get to the ball and you get there late, you gotta do something and since the ball is gone and the player is there then you just hack the player because the ball is not there and you don't want to waste your effort that you expended to try to get to the ball. Maybe you just posted your response to Paul's article so you can get some passionate dialogue going. If that's so, you succeeded and YOU are the genius!!!

  15. Carlos Thys, August 20, 2011 at 3:35 p.m.

    It is a shame that a grown man given so much opportunity and privilege wastes it away. Yes, this is what Jose Mourinho does. His demeanor and antics are childish. And I disagree that the gap between Barca and Real Madrid is so large. You cannot tell me that the Real players don't have the knowledge, skills, and drive to rise up for these El Clasico encounters.

    The poster above, Joe H., who cited John Wooden of UCLA coaching fame, is correct. Would that more men in leadership roles in this game we love oriented their lives in the direction Coach Wooden showed us. Last: Agreed. It is not prudish to wish for gentlemanly character and sportsmanship from any one involved in the game who is over the age of 25. Hatred? Yes, for the acts of a petulant man. There are lots of big egos in the game; Mourinho's is just one. But as all of life tells us, pride cometh before the fall. His arrogance will be his own undoing (and he's a bit too old to ignore his obvious character problems).

  16. Carlos Thys, August 20, 2011 at 4:23 p.m.

    For a club to succeed like Chelsea and Inter did is the work of many people. Not just the head coach. I'll give some credit to Mourinho for what occurred at Inter Milan but remember that Inter had held a lock on the Serie A prior to Jose arriving. Here's the tests for Morinho at Real Madrid: 1) Revive Kaka. Kaka is just a shadow of what he was at AC Milan. Mourinho should be able to coach him to two more years of exemplary play; 2) Turn Karim Benzema into a goal scoring machine. Benzema has all the physical traits one needs but completely underperforms; 3) Make Pepe the premier defender in La Liga, second only to Gerard Pique. Pepe loses matches due to mental lapses and complete loss of composure. Fix it. 4) Get Gonzalo Higuain's goal-scoring confidence back; make him Argentina's #1 forward (ahead of Aguero, etc.); 5) Resusitate Fernando Gago's career; 6) Establish the best midfield in football with Mesut Özil, Xavi Alonso, Sami Khedira, C. Ronaldo, Nuri Sahin, Kaka, Gago, and Granero. JM certainly cannot complain of lack of raw footballing talent. If Jose Morinho does these things he'll a) secure his post at Real, b) give Barca all they can handle in a La Liga title race, c) get them knocking on the door of CL glory. Somehow I see Mourinho not succeeding with these players who are underperforming, prefering to have the Real bosses purchase other players for more Euro millions. Thrust of what I write: It would be much better to see Mourinho invest the sweat equity to turn these already fine players into superlatives on the national, international and world stages, rather than continue to read and hear him run his mouth.

  17. Chris Ogle, August 20, 2011 at 10:13 p.m.

    Gary:I understand that you're knowledgeable about the sport and that Mourinho is a good coach,but to be called a special genius implies something really extraordinary. If this were the case,he would of led Real to La Liga and CL trophies last year considering that,on paper,Real Madrid are right there with Barca as far as raw talent.With a stronger group of players he accomplished nothing more than Pellegrini had the year before,and Pellegrini did what he did without resorting to "parking the bus" a la Mourinho.Yes,there are loads of coaches who won nothing with high quality teams,but there are loads of coaches,like Guardiola,who won everything there is to win with high quality teams.

  18. Gak Foodsource, August 20, 2011 at 10:59 p.m.

    Injuries are the only thing that can stop this Barca team. Which is why Mourinho's antics at the end are so reprehensible. The Marcelo tackle should have been met with swift condemnation from Mourinho. Instead he grabs Tito and legitimizes the tackle and the ensuing fracas. There is no place in the game for that kind of tackle. Madrid will regret selling their soul to Mourinho.

  19. Andres Yturralde, August 21, 2011 at 11:55 a.m.

    Mourinho crossed the line, pure and simple. Men and women at all stages and all ages cross the line. And the good philosopher would add, "One does not credit clever people with their follies: what a loss of human rights!"

  20. Karl Ortmertl, August 21, 2011 at 3:05 p.m.

    Mourinho's accomplishments at Porto, Chelsea and Inter came because he is "The Special One", who does see the game differently than others. The person who comes to mind when watching Jose Mourinho is Bobby Fischer. Brilliant, but with a flawed personality. Mourinho is hardly a Svengali, he doesn't mesmerize people. He merely devises winning strategies and imparts them to his players. That's not to say that he hasn't met his match in Barcelona. Their strategy and execution of it may be unbeatable. But I woudn't bet against Mourinho. As far as Mourinho's act, I find it entertaining, and irrelevent, to the task at hand. As far as the bad behavior between the two clubs, unclear to me if that would be part of his strategy, he's shown in the past that he's capable of coming up with something a lot better than resorting to goon-ism

  21. Siroos Kooroshi, August 21, 2011 at 4:04 p.m.

    Moan-Rhino sucks a*s and it becomes more apparent as he continues to f**ed up.What coach in the world would pinch another man in the face.. a sissy fag, like Moan-Rhino is...
    I don't get why people used to call him the special-one? Special what? Special Retard, maybe..
    He used RM for his own financial gain and fu**d the club and fans over, but the fans are so stupid, that they can't see through this...I feel sad for the fans and the club...

  22. beautiful game, August 21, 2011 at 4:20 p.m.

    Gary, you're a bit cynical. If Mourinhounites his players by his actions, than his players are delusional; and from the looks of it, they are under his spell.

    And Mr. Karl O...perhaps someone should jab u in your eye and you'll still praise the agressor, n'est ce pas.

  23. Brian Something, August 22, 2011 at 9:45 a.m.

    When Mourinho can stay with a club for more than 3 years without burning bridges and build a legacy, THEN he will become a great manager. His personality is too toxic (a perfect word) to do what Ferguson has done at Man Utd or Wenger at Arsenal. He doesn't have the discipline.

Next story loading loading..

Discover Our Publications