When Jose Mourinho left Chelsea by “mutual consent” on the 17th December 2015, it became the fourth time in just 11 years that he had left a club after a short, but highly successful tenure.
In fact, with the exception of his first stint at Chelsea where he (just about) made it to a fourth term, he has never gone beyond three seasons at any club he has managed. Whether or not you subscribe to this ‘third-season’ theory, it’s clear to see there is a trend.
But why exactly does this happen? How can a manager, particularly one held in such high regard, prove to be so successful over a short period of time and yet fail to last in a job past a third season? What possible reasons can there be for a manager and group of players to be seemingly invincible and united one minute, and yet broken, fractious and uneasy soon after?
Firstly, we can probably put the end to his time at Porto and Internazionale down to attractive job-offers from elsewhere. Winning the Champions League with both clubs brought him to the attention of first Chelsea, then Real Madrid.
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Whilst the time he spent at these clubs fits with the short term nature of his managerial career, they undoubtedly have less to do with his failings and confrontational nature, and more to do with what he does best – bringing unparalleled success and winning trophies. Of greater interest are the stints at those clubs following his Champions League success, as well as his second spell in SW4.
When he first joined the West London outfit in the summer of 2004, he was jovial and cheeky, charming the press with his wit and affable nature. That season, and the subsequent one, were full of praise for both Mourinho and his side, and domestic honours followed. In amongst that, there were occasions when Mourinho would adopt a “siege mentality”, usually an attempt to protect his players from criticism and deflect the focus onto himself.
Rightly or wrongly that often worked, poor performances overshadowed by his comments, the squad of players seemingly united and committed, dedicated to doing whatever they could for the manager. And yet in his third season, cracks started to appear – players were brought in against his wishes and performances on the pitch faltered. He still won both domestic Cups that season, but the breakdown in relationship between himself, the staff/owner and some of the players had started to chime and it was little more than a month into his fourth season that his time was up.
Similarly at Real Madrid, he had great, record-breaking success domestically over his first two seasons and, despite falling just short of Champions League final appearance (as with Chelsea), seemed primed to bring further success to the Spanish giants. But then, again, the third season brought drama, confrontation and, on the pitch, inconsistent performances. Poor relationship’s with players (most notably Ramos and Casillas in this instance), staff and members of the press took some of the shine off of his past achievements.
And so to his most recent stint at Chelsea. A first season of moderate success and groundwork, followed by a second of domestic league success and apparent team growth and harmony. But come the start of the 2015/16 season it was clear all was not well. In fact in the very first game of the season, a 2-2 draw with Swansea City, came his spat with club doctor Eva Carneiro.
This was just the first in a long list of incidents that punctuated the final five months at Chelsea – a period of time that saw an increasingly bewildered and broken looking Mourinho, the worst title defence in the Premier League era. Despite the backing of Chelsea fans and even Abramovich and the Board, it was clear his position had become untenable, a 2-0 loss to high-flying Leicester City the final straw.
As a Chelsea fan myself, it remains a mystery to me as to what happened. The most spectacular swing in mood and results of all his jobs, it will perhaps remain a mystery to Chelsea fan’s around the globe for years to come.
Clearly his massive ego is a factor – what initially marks him out as a leader and absorber of criticism eventually turns into an arrogance and bone of contention for his players. And subsequently it is those players who become disillusioned with his methods and antics – as displayed with Ramos and Casillas at Madrid and, if the fans’ boo’s are to be believed, with Costa and Fabregas at Chelsea – a Portuguese/Spanish rift surely too petty, even for Mourinho?
My own theory is that he is so demanding and so specific for that short term success in his training, preparation and player recruiting that he fails to see the ‘bigger picture’, that he and consequently the players are so focused on that 1-2 year period that burnout and dissenting voices soon appear.
Couple this with his confrontational and egotistical nature and you have a recipe for a supremely focused, short period of explosiveness that covers up the disharmony that appears further down the line – a bit like an intense relationship that’s amazing for a few months but then begins to niggle and soon falls apart.
Whatever the reason, it will be extremely interesting to see where he goes next. There are a number of big clubs who may well be looking for a new manager in the coming months, and Mourinho will be near the top of the list at many of those. But will the desire for short term success over-rule longer-term thinking from clubs and owners?
I have no doubt his methods will be welcomed somewhere, but how much will this latest breakdown in his third season affect his reputation and job chances?