Jose Mourinho and the art of persona

Jose Mourinho

Chelsea’s Jose Mourinho is regarded as one of the best master psychologists of the beautiful game, but I don’t think we quite appreciate what such a prestigious title actually means.

To suggest the Portuguese’s skills are limited to his ability to make controversial statements, or create media complications for other managers, as we’ve seen by David Moyes’ flustered attempts to clear up questions over the future of Wayne Rooney, we would be doing the Special One a great disservice. Rising from a relatively obscure background to claim titles in three of Europe’s most prestigious top flights, in addition to two Champions League titles, cannot be achieved by simply rubbing your peers up the wrong way at every given opportunity.

So how does Mourinho do it? How does he keep the success going, and barring a lukewarm tenure at Real Madrid, maintain his Midas touch no matter what the situation or occasion?

Regular Revista de La Liga analyst Guilleme Balague recently gave an interview on Sky Sports News, explaining  the returning Chelsea boss adopts personas, and the Jose Mourinho we know and love in England, with his uber-confidence and appealing quick wit, is not the same Mourinho loved and adored by Porto fans, or the same one who lead Inter Milan to a Champions League title, or the same one who ended up making too many enemies in Spain.

The persona fits the time, the place and the occasion down to a tee, and Balague claims it is one of the foundations of the Portuguese’s success. ¬†Money and charisma have undoubtedly played their role, but even from Mourinho’s former Chelsea tenure to his current one, we can already see a drastic change in the Blues boss, at least in the public eye.

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To take you back to 2004, Roman Abramovich had put a new man in charge of his Chelski revolution; a manager from the continent whose reputation preceded him. That man was Jose Mourinho, fresh from winning the Champions League with Porto, who arrived in England to inform us that he was ‘The Special One’.

By now, we can all accept his opening press conference was more a PR stunt than anything else, but perhaps we do not give enough recognition to the motivation behind it, or the sheer accuracy of Mourinho’s maverick and cult of personality persona.

The Chelsea boss may have already claimed a Champions League title before his first arrival in West London, but his knowledge of the English game was non-existent barring his employment with the late Bobby Robson, whilst he had just taken over at a club that was yet to get the better of the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United, who sat dominant at the Premier League’s summit, with the only other club to win the domestic league at this point being Blackburn Rovers.

Both the Blues and their new manager needed to conquer the established Premier League order, with Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United side maintaining consistent success since the early 90s, and Arsene Wenger’s Gunners just coming to the end of an undefeated domestic campaign that earned them the title ‘the invincibles’.

Chelsea had to destroy the status quo, and Jose Mourinho had to lead the charge. He came to England brash and loud, and in every way possible, from his stubble and designer suits to his self-entitlement as ‘the special one’, challenged the norm of the English top flight, and the typical behaviour we’ve come to expect from our managers. His self-confidence became self-perpetuating, and his image, tactical philosophy and attitude, provided a simple yet effective message; “I am the new way, and I will destroy the old one”.

It portrayed his success as inevitable rather than possible, whilst his cult of personality not only rallied together those at Stamford Bridge, but furthermore earned him admirers throughout England, especially in the press, who warmed to the freshness of his controversial style.

But now we see a Mourinho before us with drastic contrast to the one who abruptly departed from West London seven years ago. The ‘Special One’ is now the ‘Happy One’; he has grey hair, doesn’t dress to impress and although the tounge-in-cheek comments remain, the enigmatic personality is being cautiously downplayed, with more focus on the club itself, rather than the manager.

He’s already played up his experience and reputation in comparison to the other, more novice managers in the Premier League’s top four, and although you may argue that any gaffer would be wise to play up their strengths and point out the weaknesses of his foes, Mourinho had little choice in taking up a new, more balanced and wise persona.

Once a revolutionary, the Chelsea boss now represents the footballing elite he once seeked out to destroy. His tactics are still in use today, with his 4-3-3 formation, modified somewhat, slowly killing off 4-4-2 by the season, whilst he is now by leaps and bounds the most qualified Premier League manager currently in office.

The renegade, good looking, risk-taking, young professional, as we saw from Mourinho’s previous tenure, is a fictional stereotype we can all relate to, just as the aged and experienced wise master is an equally as simple concept to grasp.

But do not be fooled – whether by necessity or design, Mourinho’s new personality, was created with as much intent and accuracy as ever.

The prospect of a revolutionary would not stand up due to the Chelsea gaffer’s prestigious reputation and repetitive success, whilst the claim of invincibility, implied by his ‘special one’ alias, now has too many holes following his poor tenure in Madrid. But most importantly, the Blues no longer need the old Mourinho either.

The West Londoners no longer require being pushed to the next level. They may have dwindled domestically over the past few seasons, but unlike in 2004, their squad contains Premier League title winners and Champions League winners, and the club have succeeded all round in his absence. The Portuguese does not have to tell the likes of Frank Lampard, Petr Cech and Ashley Cole they are amongst the best in the world – they already know it, whilst the vast sums spent on revamping the team has left the Blues with arguably the strongest squad in the top flight, albeit a few pieces short of a title-winning jigsaw.

The situation has drastically changed, and as a result, so has Mourinho. He cannot rebel, revolt or alternate, as he is now about as established as it gets in the English top flight. He’s become the elite, a monolithic force at the Premier League summit, with no new way to enforce and assert, whilst less experienced managers plot his demise.

Sir Alex Ferguson softened around the edges over the years, but always maintained his reputation as the master of the hairdryer treatment, Arsene Wenger can only be ‘Le Professeur’ but Mourinho’s personality ebbs and flows, it morphs to the situation at hand and fits the occasion perfectly. It may seem a simple notion, but the art of persona can easily go dreadfully wrong, unless, like the Portuguese, the roles are performed accurately and perfectly every time.

Perhaps this is why he’s conquered the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga and the Champions League, whilst others have shied away from the challenge, or simply failed.

Is the art of persona the secret to Jose Mourinho’s constant success?

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