Dealing with the media is a major facet of being a modern day football manager. Arguably, in England more-so, the Premier League’s almighty worldwide status and the intensity of the British media (particularly the tabloid press) means it can be a make or break aspect of a manager’s role.
The media is a medium to convey a message, to present mind-games, to manipulate public opinion in certain ways and draw attention to points of interest. Get it right and it’s a powerful weapon. Likewise, get it wrong and you’ll be in trouble.
Jose Mourinho’s first spell in England was perhaps marked by his tremendous charisma which succinctly aided his well organised Chelsea team. His arrogant, yet accepted, announcement that he ‘was not one of the bottle’ (whatever that’s suppose to mean), but a ‘special one’ became remarkably iconic.
England fell in love with that, and he was welcomed back with a sentimental fondness last year. But while his spells in Italy and Spain in the intermittent period were undeniably successful, his relations with the media there were remarkably fractious – a far cry different from the affectionate relationship that he nursed in England.
In Italy, he made direct enemies with Carlo Ancelotti, then AC Milan manager, Luciano Spalletti of Roma and Claudio Ranieri at Juventus, accusing Italian journalists who represented them as ‘intellectual prostitutes’ on their behalf.
His relationship with the Spanish media was even worse. Sid Lowe, the Guardian’s correspondent in Spain, frequently reported on their football weekly podcast that Mourinho had no intent on talking to any form of the media, and by the end of his tenure Aitor Karanka – his assistant then and now Middlesbrough manager – attended every conference. As he summarised aptly after their crushing defeat Dortmund in a press conference, ‘some people hate me.. many of you in this press room’.
Back to England then, and it’s difficult to understand what Mourinho’s doing. It’s not charismatically acceptable, there’s no boyish charm, there’s little sentiment or humour to anything he says. It’s just tedious, immature, boyish and incomprehensible behaviour, and it’s slowly marginalising him.
First there were his patronising claims that Chelsea were ‘merely’ a small rocking horse in last year’s title race. Then there was the embarrassingly hypocritical criticism of Sam Allardyce’s defensive tactics when West Ham held Chelsea to a draw. We then got to enjoy a little boxing-jab-affair between him and Sky pundit Jamie Redknapp, who – according to Mourinho, sardonically – ‘is a brilliant football brain that can explain anything to you’.
We’re now experiencing the era of ‘the campaign’. This is a refereeing conspiracy fuelled by the media with one purpose: to de-rail this Chelsea side from winning trophies. That tied in two weeks ago with the Diego-Costa stamping affair, that riled Mourinho further. And since, he’s gagged himself by refusing to speak to the media before and after certain games, attacked journalists for the way in which they conduct themselves, and walked out of interviews when asked fairly reasonable line of questions.
It’s a petulant tale of events and it’s getting boring. Taking on the British media is a big risk, and while Chelsea continue to win Mourinho can maintain this combative technique with some aplomb. But he should be wary of the storm that awaits if they slip.
While some see it all as a wonderfully implicit attempt to rally Chelsea to the title, you still have to wonder whether there are not better ways of doing that than making these public outcries? Does it have to be like this? Do you have to present yourself as a victim in a flamboyant way to win trophies?
Perhaps it’s all just part of the package, but if Mourinho is like this when Chelsea are winning, will he really become a more approachable public figure when his team are losing? Is he really laying the foundational blocks to last at a club for more than three seasons?
His record speaks for itself, but he’s not helping himself. You’d be surprised to see him return to Spain. There’s already an existing sense of loathing towards him in Italy. England will follow suit if it continues. Beware Jose, you’re playing a dangerous game.