Jose Mourinho wins things everywhere he goes, so why isn’t he universally hailed as a master? The answer, apparently, is legacy, or Mourinho’s lack of it. His critics allege he is a short-term manager, brought in to achieve instant success but with no thought for tomorrow. He is not a Ferguson or Guardiola, planning for a future several seasons from now. He is destructive, and when he leaves clubs his teams rapidly disintegrate, and so on – you’ve probably heard or seen this argument elsewhere. And, Mourinho himself felt the need to talk about leaving a legacy at Chelsea in his ‘welcome home’ press conference. Why should one of the most successful managers of the past decade feel the need to talk in this way?
Mourinho’s record is ridiculous – a quick reminder of what he has won (deep breath): two Champions Leagues; a UEFA Cup; two Premier League titles; two Serie A titles; two Portuguese Primeira Liga titles; one La Liga title; AND he’s won the main domestic cup competition in each of the four countries he’s worked in, along with a handful of lesser cups. Ok?
But, the beef with Mourinho is that all that silver treasure comes at a cost. I’m not convinced.
In two and a half years at Porto Mourinho built a side that conquered Europe, winning the UEFA Cup and Champions League in consecutive seasons. An astonishing achievement for a Portuguese club in the modern, money-driven era. Porto are significantly more wealthy than most of their domestic peers, but their revenue is nothing compared to the behemoths in the Premier League and La Liga. As for the legacy, when he departed for Chelsea his Porto team was inevitably pilfered by bigger clubs (he did a fair bit of pilfering himself), but Porto made vast sums in transfer fees over the next few seasons, which they reinvested to excellent effect. Porto haven’t really stopped winning since Mourinho left, so I don’t think you’ll find too many dissenting voices there. Next.
Claudio Ranieri had assembled a strong team at Chelsea, but not a trophy winning one. Mourinho changed the mentality of Chelsea immediately, and delivered the Premier League title in his first season. Much of Chelsea’s success during this period is credited to their English ‘spine’ of John Terry and Frank Lampard, both of whom were already at the club, but the quality and consistency of their performances increased significantly under Mourinho. It’s hard to know how much credit to give Mourinho for some of the other signings in his first summer. The club had surely done its scouting before he arrived, but it was still Mourinho in charge when they signed Ricardo Carvalho, Peter Cech, Arjen Robben and, most importantly, Didier Drogba. In following seasons he added Ashley Cole and Michael Essien. Although some of these endured longer than others, they are all players who played a significant part in establishing Chelsea as a trophy winning club.
There was also some wasteful spending at Chelsea during this period: Thiago, Sean Wright Phillips, and Assier Del Horno spring to mind, and that’s about £45 million in fees alone. Oh, and Paulo Ferreira, another £12 million. Alright, and Mateja Kezman. There’s no denying that Mourinho bought some stinkers, but he got away with it because the core of his side was so strong. And, what of Chelsea afterwards? They had a side built around Lampard, Terry, Drogba, Cole, Essien, Carvalho, and Cech. Not a bad core to build from, five of them signed under Mourinho, and all part of Carlo Ancelotti’s double winning side three seasons later in 2009/10.
Since when have Inter ever been sensible? We shouldn’t waste too much time here, but for the sake of consistency, let’s remember where Inter were. Inter had become used to winning again under Roberto Mancini. But, without much domestic competition (following Calciopoli), what they really wanted was success in Europe, something Mancini had comprehensively failed to deliver. Mourinho made some sweeping changes to address that. Selling Zlatan – their best player – was a pretty bold move, but he got Samuel Etoo in return plus a truckload of cash. With the extra cash available he bought Lucio, Wesley Sneijder and Diego Milito, adding quality in defence, midfield and attack. All three excelled, and Inter delivered of a Champions League, Serie A and Coppa Italia treble, defeating the seemingly unbeatable Barcelona on the way.
And, then what happened? It’s true that Inter were left with a squad of older players and had neglected to invest in younger talent. But, that doesn’t entirely explain the way they completely imploded under Benitez, who was sacked in December. But, the competition in Serie A wasn’t that strong at the time, which enabled Inter to finish runners up to Milan under Leonardo (yep, that actually happened) despite their initial problems. The bigger question is whether the decision to sack Benitez when he had started to build a new side was short sighted, given the problems Inter have encountered since with injuries and the declining form of ageing players. A reminder that Inter are on their sixth manager since Mourinho left in 2010.
And, finally, we have Mourinho’s time at Madrid. Mourinho was hired to break the dominance of what appeared to be an invincible Barcelona team, and deliver a tenth European Cup. By Mourinho’s standards, his spell in Madrid was the most disappointing. He managed to break Barcelona’s dominance in La Liga, but couldn’t deliver the Champions League. In the aftermath of his time in Spain, Barcelona are still set up to sustain a winning side, but what of Madrid?
Firstly, it must be recognised that nobody manages Madrid for the long-term. They’re very much like Inter in that respect. Real Madrid are constantly buying and selling players of ridiculous quality. Anyone who doesn’t make their mark pretty quickly gets cut, hence how Mourinho was able to pick up Sneijder for a bargain price for Inter.
They hire and fire managers, too. No one is there for long. Even trophy winning managers get fired. That is not going to change until the people running Madrid change their approach. And, that doesn’t look likely. There are strong rumours linking Jupp Heynckes with the Madrid job; a man in his late 60s. Will he try to put a long-term vision in place to develop young players? In Mourinho’s defence, during his first season at the Bernabeu he signed 22 year old Angel Di Maria , 23 year old Sami Khedira, and 21 year old Mesut Ozil. The following season he signed 23 year old Fábio Coentrão. It’s not a squad in bad shape, and certainly not the pile of old bones he left in the Inter dressing room.
Live fast, die young?
Look, Mourinho is ace, isn’t he? Not only is he a charmer, but he can back it up too. He can be a bit of a dick, sure, but so can any football manager, especially the winning ones. The fact that Mourinho manages clubs for around three seasons at a time means he is a short-term manager, but it doesn’t mean he’s a destroyer of clubs. He builds strong sides with a tremendous team ethic. If subsequent managers aren’t able to build from that, is that Mourinho’s fault? He brings success, he brings swagger, and he makes rivals look stupid. His teams may not always be remembered for playing the most beautiful football we’ve ever seen, but do you think their fans will care when they reminisce about their successes?
As for the long-term legacy, he is not trying to build a club from the bottom up, like Klopp at Dortmund, or as Ferguson did at United. But, comparing Mourinho’s record to what United achieved under Ferguson is pointless because most of Europe’s major clubs are not run in that way. He is not hired to restructure youth academies – he is hired to win. At clubs like Inter and Madrid, changing managers is more the norm than the exception. It’s easy to understand why people dislike Mourinho, but hating on him for being ‘short-term’ is a little desperate. It’s like watching Usain Bolt win and then criticising him for not running further. And, the focus on legacy presumes that legacies are by default a positive thing. Tony Pulis claimed he was proud of his legacy at Stoke City; that’s probably not what Mourinho’s critics think he should be striving for.