Jose Mourinho and Premier League: Is the ‘Special One’ on the road to ‘The Ordinary’?

Watford FC v Manchester United - Premier League
Jose has always been in the spotlight

The world of football has been a witness to its fair share of characters over the years. Words went around about a certain Special One, Jose Mourinho. The Portuguese, who has divided opinion ever since his bow in European football, once again has the eyeballs of the whole world fixed on him.

With him enduring a sticky spell at the Theatre of Dreams, there are a number of questions fans and pundits want answers to. The most pressing one: Did Mourinho always have the shortcomings which have latently surfaced at Manchester United or is it something he has developed over time?

Mourinho shot to prominence with his spell at FC Porto, whom he led to several domestic titles and a Champions League crown in 2004. At the Estadio Do Dragao, Mourinho worked with relatively unheralded players and put those players on the footballing map.

He inherited a team of young starlets and made them household names. Hence, it seemed logical for Roman Abramovic to bank on him to usher in a new era at Chelsea.

Champions League Final - AS Monaco v FC Porto
Jose led FC Porto to the UEFA Champions League crown

At Chelsea during 2004-2007, he enjoyed three stellar seasons, where he won every trophy on offer in England. However, the most impressive aspect of his tenure was the way he built a strong core that would serve Chelsea for years to come.

The likes of Cech, Terry, Lampard and Drogba compete in a shortlist to be crowned Chelsea’s greatest players in the modern era. The Mourinho at Chelsea didn’t have any ego clashes with the players. The players backed him till his last day in-charge and were disheartened when he left due to frosty relations with the owner.

Champions League - Chelsea v Barcelona
The Portuguese
sensational in his first spell at Chelsea

The next stop for Jose was the Italian club, Inter Milan, in 2008. There, he captured the Serie A in his first season, before leading the San Siro outfit to an unprecedented treble in 2009-10.

While Jose had ‘created’ a strong team at Chelsea using young players, in Italy, he brought out the best in the experienced heads like Sneijder, Eto’o, Lucio and Milito, who fired on all cylinders. Thus, after his success in three different European environments, many believed that he had cast himself as the man for all seasons.

Bayern Muenchen v Inter Milan - UEFA Champions League Final
Mourinho led Inter Milan to an unprecedented treble

After catapulting himself as a top-notch manager, a move to the biggest club in the world, Real Madrid, beckoned. The riches of Madrid and the galaxy of stars lay in wait for the latest Galactico. Though it would be a little far-fetched to call his stint a failure, he fell short of the enormous expectations set by Florentino Perez. 

Jose ended up winning the LaLiga, the Copa Del Rey and the Spanish Super Cup in his time at Madrid. However, it was his failure to land La Decima, the trophy craved above all others, which led to eyebrows being raised.

His time at Real Madrid was thoroughly marred with controversies, some with the media and some with the club’s ace players. Mourinho famously (or infamously) caused a stir when he kept dropping Casillas in favour of Diego Lopez. He also had numerous run-ins with Sergio Ramos and the club’s talisman, Cristiano Ronaldo. While his point of contention with Ramos was the treatment being afforded to Casillas, his conflict with Ronaldo was over the latter’s reluctance to adopt Jose’s methods.

While clubs like Chelsea and Inter Milan didn’t really mind the style of play as long as the trophies kept piling up, a club like Real Madrid had an identity to maintain. At the Bernabeu, Mourinho was expected to produce a certain brand of football, an attacking and expansive brand that Real Madrid had become synonymous with.

Jose, however, had never practised creativity over calculation. He was always one to prioritise efficiency over extravagance. Though he landed the domestic trophies on offer, the moment it started going downhill, the questions about the style of play resurfaced. 

Real Madrid v Barcelona - Copa del Rey Final
Jose did not enjoy the best of times at Real Madrid

With the big-profile players and the big-profile manager clashing regularly, the only viable casualty was the manager. Hence, when he fell short in the Champions League semi-final for the third successive year in 2013, the writing was on the wall for Jose him. After the defeat to Dortmund in 2013, he famously quipped that he was loved by one club in particular. All roads then led to West London and Jose was back to rekindle his love affair with Stamford Bridge.

Amidst all the tumultuous tension in Madrid, Jose arrived in London and claimed to be the ‘happy one’. In his first season back, on-pitch performances weren’t up to standard and he ended the season uncharacteristically trophy-less. The only constant theme throughout the season was Jose claiming that his side wasn’t the finished product yet and his team would only be able to show its true colours in the following season.

Jose stuck to his promise and delivered a Premier League and a League Cup in the 2014-15 season. Chelsea were a notch above their peers in the league and strolled to the title, thus reinforcing the belief that Jose’s tenure in Madrid was only a slight blemish in an otherwise spotless career. However, everything was to turn pear-shaped in his third season.

Chelsea v Sunderland - Premier League
Jose’s second coming at Chelsea started off well before eventually falling apart

He endured a dismal season, including a loss in his 100th Premier League home game. With the table portraying a sorry tally of 9 losses in 16 in December 2015, Jose was to part company with Chelsea for the second time. The ‘happy one’ certainly endured his fair share of disappointment before being shown the door.

Three years on from losing the dressing room at Madrid, Jose had lost the trust of his players at Chelsea. He had similar ego clashes with the likes of Fabregas, which meant the team wasn’t united in their effort to move forward. In addition to the clashes, he also openly criticised numerous players. An act which didn’t go down well in the dressing room.

Another tenure had gone south for Jose in his third season. There was an eerie resemblance in the way his tenure at Madrid and Chelsea had panned out.

In the first season, he took time to ingrain his philosophy and integrate his new additions into the squad. The likes of Ozil, Carvalho, Di Maria and Khedira took a year to bed in at Real Madrid before playing crucial roles in their La Liga triumph. Similarly, he needed three transfer windows to establish his spine at Chelsea. While his midfield enforcer, Matic arrived earlier in January 2014, Diego Costa, Fabregas and Courtois arrived in the summer of 2014. With his preferred personnel in his bag and the team dancing to his tunes, Jose marched towards the title.

At Real Madrid and his second coming at Chelsea, the second season was his most decorated, before everything fell apart in the third. A pattern, which was masked earlier, got unveiled and hence the ‘Third Season Syndrome’ was coined. Though the trend is evident, what has caused Jose to falter in his third seasons?

AS Saint-Etienne v Manchester United - UEFA Europa League Round of 32: Second Leg
Jose has had to answer questions about The Third Season Syndrome

Jose is a demanding taskmaster. He pushes his players to give more than a hundred per cent each time they take the field while adopting a pragmatic approach. The approach would ask the players to curtail a few their attacking instincts in order to lend shape and solidity to the team. Despite the success of the second season, Jose would still demand the players to be reactive rather than being proactive, consequently, sowing the seeds of discontent. A season of capitulation would follow and he would face the sack.

His approach isn’t only limited to hard-work on the training pitch. On numerous occasions, one would find him ‘constructively’ criticising his players, in order to extract the last ounce of energy. While this tactic reaps massive rewards at the beginning, the more he uses it, the staler it becomes.

By the start of the 2016 season, Jose’s shortcomings had been highlighted all over the back pages. However, Manchester United were still prepared to take the gamble on him despite the short-term nature of his spells and the wreckage he leaves behind. While the whole world saw a manager with a huge ego, the United hierarchy found in him a tactical adeptness, which could enable him to write his own chapter in the Old Trafford history books. The result: Jose was back in the Premier League, not in West London, but in the red half of Manchester.

Manchester United v AS Saint-Etienne - UEFA Europa League Round of 32: First Leg
Jose has endured a tumultuous time at Old Trafford

Despite all the positivity surrounding his appointment, Jose hasn’t been able to deliver. Apart from a Europa League and a League Cup, he only has a 2nd place EPL finish to shout about. Jose was brought in to take United back to the perch of the table. However, through the course of his spell, United have slipped further away from it.

A Manchester United home game, a scrappy performance, a disgruntled home crowd and an ‘on-edge’ Jose Mourinho perfectly translate Manchester United’s endeavours at Old Trafford since the turn of the year. The negativity reached a crescendo after their abject 3-0 surrender against their top-four rivals, Tottenham Hotspur.

With Jose and Manchester United on a seemingly slippery slope, many have started to wonder if the beleaguered Portuguese, who once proclaimed to be the ‘Special One’, has finally moved towards being just another manager in the Premier League’s revolving door. Has the Third Season Syndrome resurfaced?

The major difference between his current stint and his earlier tenures at Chelsea and Real Madrid is the lack of a league title. Instead of a bell curve, his graph has been flatlined at most, if not sloping down. Though he finished second last term, the team looked a world away from eventual champions, Manchester City. Even after a couple of seasons, Jose hasn’t settled in on his best starting eleven, which has led to constant chopping and changing, destabilizing the team.

The most intriguing aspect, though, is the lack of impact his signings have had. Despite five transfer windows and a spending bill close to half a billion, Mourinho is still in need of acquisitions to arrive at a title-winning formula. The likes of Pogba, Lukaku and Sanchez have shown glimpses of their immense talent but none have been as consistent as Jose would have liked.

Additionally, Jose has found it hard to maintain a proper balance between youth and experience. The likes of Shaw, Martial and Rashford haven’t progressed as anticipated while defenders such as Lindelof always look like a catastrophe waiting to unravel. Above everything else, it is his failure in the transfer market which has led people to question if the Special One is still special anymore.

As expected, he has had ego clashes, with his open criticism of Paul Pogba being the most notable one. Jose has been a bag of nerves in the press conference room. The number of times he asked for ‘respect’ after the Spurs game was more than the number of shots on target.

He has made similar ludicrous statements in the past as well to divert the attention from his team’s woeful performance. This was repeated in March 2018, after crashing out against Sevilla in the UCL and repeated it after the loss to Spurs. The baggage Jose brings with his press conferences and his ‘constructive’ criticism might just outweigh the positives of winning.

The monumental difference between the Jose of now and the Jose of the past was his ability to back up his ludicrous statements with performances on the pitch. The problems plaguing him currently are a mixture of his reluctance to blend style and substance in equal measure. Like at Real Madrid, the Old Trafford faithful have voiced concerns over his safety-first approach. The fast, high-octane United of yesteryear has been replaced by a slow and shoddy one.

At clubs like Real and Manchester United, winning with panache is the norm. If Jose is unable to find his magic of previous years, he could well end up without a job by the time the 2019-20 season rolls in. Though the hierarchy still backs him, how long can they resist Manchester United not playing the ‘Manchester United way’?

Watford FC v Manchester United - Premier League
Jose has been criticized for his playing style

Thus, Jose’s managerial career can be divided into two halves: the all-conquering, calm Jose before his move to Real Madrid and the successful yet edgy Mourinho after. Jose has developed a sense of being the best manager in the world, a sense which has led to him having several fallouts at the biggest clubs with the biggest players. The Third Season Syndrome started having a profound impact in the second half of his career.

At Old Trafford, the situation isn’t any different. He has an uphill task to redeem himself. The earlier he arrests the slide, the quicker United could target the pinnacle of the table. Though Jose doesn’t boast of a good track record when it comes to pulling teams out of a rut, he would hope, for his own sake, that he can set the record straight and come up with the goods when it matters.

There is, however, a silver lining among all the dark clouds for Jose as, not many managers can replicate his application and organisation. He can still make his teams a hard nut to crack, whilst keeping up with the old adage of ‘winning at all costs’. The ‘siege’ mentality and the feeling of the ‘whole world against you’ could yet bear fruits.

Mourinho needs to dig deep into his mental reserves and adopt a more positive approach. Though he might be disappointed by the lack of signings, he can take a leaf out of Pochettino’s book and work with what he has. Though he might end up making a statement by highlighting himself as the victim, he will cause irreparable damage to the atmosphere around the club. The need of the hour for him is to make people remember his team’s performance on the pitch rather than his performance in the conference room.

Sadly, the reign which was to be the crowning glory for Jose is on the verge of undoing his good work and defining his whole career. With the games coming thick and fast, Jose has an opportunity to climb out of the hole he has dug for himself. Wins at Vicarage Road and in the Champions League have brought him some respite yet he will ultimately be judged on his performances against the ‘big boys’.

Manchester United v Southampton - Premier League
The Special One needs to come up with something special

At this juncture, the best the Old Trafford faithful can do is accord Jose the ‘respect’ he is asking for. As for the club’s performances on the pitch, the fans wait with bated breath, hoping the ‘Special One’ can come up with something special, yet another time.

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