Jose Mourinho turned 60 last week and at the Roma training ground in Trigoria, to the south of the Italian capital, they held an impromptu birthday party for him. When Mourinho cut his cake in the changing room, the players all applauded and it looked a little like footage from the National Congress of the Communist Party of China. Nobody wanted to be the first to stop clapping.
Mourinho being Mourinho, there were barely concealed messages and slights even in the cutting of a cake. He is the archetype of a man who could start a fight in an empty room so props like a slice of cake are manna from heaven for him. He took the first piece and walked over to his captain, Lorenzo Pellegrini. He handed it to him with great ceremony, taking care to studiously ignore Nicolo Zaniolo, who wants to leave the club, in the process.
History repeats itself with Mourinho. When his relationship with then Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich broke down the first time round in September 2007 and he departed Stamford Bridge, he walked around the dressing room, shaking hands with the players. He came to one player, who he had come to distrust, and walked past him without offering his hand. It was the power of the gesture. It stung more than a slap in the face of him.
An impromptu party was held for Jose Mourinho in Rome to celebrate his 60th birthday
Mourinho wants to return to the Premier League for a third spell at Todd Boehly’s Chelsea
It is strange to think of the Special One at 60, especially for those of us who remember him in his pomp 20 years ago, unleashing himself on the Premier League like a whirlwind, raging against everyone and everything, getting banned by UEFA, smuggling himself into the changing room at the Bridge in a laundry skip, calling Arsene Wenger a ‘voyeur’, mocking Rafa Benitez, establishing himself as the best coach in the world.
He had already won the Champions League with Porto by then, of course, a feat that still ranks as one of the great managerial achievements of modern times. He won it again, against the odds again, with Inter Milan but never with Chelsea or Real Madrid, where he had lavish funds at his disposal. It fed the idea that he was at his best when he was rallying an underdog, feeding hunger in players who had something to prove.
There is some sense that he should have won the biggest prize in the club game more often. Two Champions League titles feels like a modest return in the career of a man who has won league titles in Portugal, England, Italy and Spain.
Mourinho handed a piece of his cake to Lorenzo Pellegrini during the celebration at Rome
He has had a magnificent career and he will be remembered as one of the greats but last week’s landmark birthday was also a reminder that for the last few years, he has become the manager that football forgot.
Mourinho hasn’t won a league title in eight years
It is eight years since he won a league title. He was not alone in being unable to turn around the tangled fortunes of Manchester United in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era but his spell at Old Trafford, when he took pride in counting the Community Shield as a major trophy, marked the beginning of his decline of him. United finished second one year under him but there was never a sense, as there is now under Erik ten Hag, that he was turning things around.
It is not that Rome are a small club. It’s not that Spurs are a small club, either. But after he failed to arrest the slide at United, his last two jobs have been with teams just below the elite level. He never got within sniffing distance of the Premier League title with Spurs and Roma currently lie 13 points adrift of league leaders Napoli, who they play this evening, in the Serie A standings.
Mourinho is doing a good job at Roma and has breathed new life and optimism into a great club but it is a sign of the way his horizons have changed that winning the Europa Conference League last season, a competition lightly regarded by the elite, was presented as one of the standout triumphs of his career. Ten years ago, he said winning the Europa League would be a ‘big disappointment’ for him and mocked Benitez for doing it. That may not be something he cares to recall now.
The Special One arrived at Chelsea for his first spell having won a sensational treble with Porto
Maybe he still years for one last shot at the big time. It was reported yesterday that Mourinho would be open to a return to the Premier League and that he would be particularly open to a return to Chelsea, where Graham Potter has made an uncertain start as manager and club owner Todd Boehly appears to be an employer easily impressed by the stardust scattered by aging narcissists.
Perhaps Boehly would take him, but it would be a mistake. Mourinho’s time at the elite level has passed. He would be too big a risk. His methods appear sour and outdated now beside the endless energy and intensity of managers like Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel and the august serenity of Carlo Ancelotti. They have all, in their different ways, left Mourinho behind. He is a man out of his time.
The template of his managerial cycle tells us things will soon start to go bad in Rome. His honeymoon year is over and the fall-outs are beginning. There are suggestions that he is unhappy about the lack of funds being made available to him in the transfer market. It tends to go downhill reasonably rapidly from here.
There are rumors that the Portuguese manager is becoming increasingly unhappy at Roma
Does the Premier League need him any more? No. We need Mourinho back about as much as we needed Cristiano Ronaldo back when United prostrated themselves at his feet by him in the summer of 2021. Which is to say, not at all. Which is to say, don’t even think about it because you’ll repent at leisure if you do.
There are enough big personalities in English football now and new talents are emerging all the time. Mourinho has failed often enough that a lot of the mystique has gone. The broadcasting companies would love him back, no doubt, because he is still box office. He still brings the melodrama. He brings conflict, endless conflict, and sells conflict.
But would he take a club forward? The evidence at United and Spurs suggests that, actually, he takes clubs backwards these days. He leaves scorched earth in his wake, feuds and fall-outs and clubs that need to be rebuilt. It would be nice to think that, at 60, his career might grow old gracefully but experience tells us the chances of that happening are close to zero.
Evidence from spells with Manchester United and Tottenham shows Mourinho takes clubs backwards
Duncan an unlikely diplomat
I never had Duncan Ferguson down as one of life’s diplomats but in this, as in other things, it appears I may have misjudged him.
In the aftermath of his appointment as manager of League One bottom club Forest Green, Big Dunc conducted a television interview in the presence of the club chairman, eco-industrialist Dale Vince, and a pair of vegan burgers proffered to him on a plate as if they were a pair of new center forwards.
Ferguson looked at the burgers with the same kind of disdainful mistrust he once reserved for opposing centre-halves but said, gamely, he was looking forward to eating them later and going vegan full time. The rest of his first job as a manager can only get easier.
Duncan Ferguson (R) was presented with a vegan burger on becoming Forest Green Rovers manager
Hughes still loves being contrary
There was not an awful lot to get excited about in Stockport County’s 0-0 draw with Bradford City at Edgeley Park on Tuesday night but Mark Hughes, the Bradford manager, did his best to brighten up the evening.
Hughes was never one to back down either as a player or as a high-profile manager in the Premier League and it seems old habits die hard. Hughes, who engaged in some lively repartee with home fans during the game, was booked in the second half for preventing Kyle Knoyle as the Stockport full-back tried to take a throw in front of the away dug-out, further enraging the crowd.
As the referee ran over, Hughes was busy talking at Knoyle, winding him up, a mischievous smile playing on his face. Hughes is 59. He’s had a brilliant career in football. He could be going through the motions in League Two but to see him as involved, and as contrary, as ever was the best thing about an otherwise ordinary evening.
Mark Hughes animated antics on the touchline were the best part of Bradford City’s clash with Stockport County