Meet the Most Influential Man in Sports

José Mourinho might be the best coach in the world—in any sport. Uh, who exactly is he again?

If José Mourinho were an American basketball or football coach, there would be TV shows devoted to his antics. He would dominate sports talk radio and would have his own segment on PTI every day. It would be as if Charles Barkley decided to get into coaching and then became the greatest of all time. Or, imagine if Rex Ryan looked and dressed like Robert Downey Jr. and achieved success to rival Phil Jackson’s in roughly half the time, with four different teams, in four different countries.

Mourinho’s been called the most influential man in sports, and while I don’t think that’s true, he’s definitely the most entertaining. He has been since the 2004 Champions League semifinals when he sprinted down the sideline to celebrate with the rest of FC Porto of Portugal (his home country) after they scored the winning goal against Manchester United.

Only 48, Mourinho might already be one of the best coaches in sports history. Since 2002, he’s won his domestic league six times, the UEFA Cup once, the Champions League twice, and countless other trophies. He hasn’t gone a calendar year without winning some sort of trophy or cup (European teams play in multiple tournaments and leagues each year), and he’s won 18 trophies in his nine-year run.

He’s only lost at home twice since taking over FC Porto—once in 2002 and on April 2 this year. Between those losses is an undefeated streak of 150 games over a span of more than nine years with four different teams. His all-time winning percentage is 68.4; Phil Jackson’s is 72.5. He speaks six languages (Portuguese, English, French, Spanish, Italian, and Catalan) fluently. Somehow he learned Italian in about four months prior to his taking over at Inter Milan in 2008. In an excellent profile, Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl speculates that Mourinho’s linguistic ability is key to his coaching, because it allows him to relate to his players on a level many coaches don’t reach.

If, in a nine-year stretch, a coach won two Super Bowls with a team, then left them in the dust to go to a new team, then won another two Super Bowls with that team, then took a year off, then signed on with a new team and won another two Super Bowls there and never once lost on his home field during that time, we’d already be building statues. If a loudmouth like Rex Ryan did it, ESPN would have an entire section dedicated to his every move.

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Like Ryan, Mourinho is unassailably confident—communicating that confidence as arrogance. He proclaimed himself “a special one” when he arrived at Chelsea and quickly became famous for his unconventional interviews. He talks about his inability to feel pressure in football because true pressure is not being able to feed your family. He talks about his fears of catching bird flu in Scotland, about buying the best eggs for omelets at the Supermarket, and how he’s looking forward to drinking wine with Sir Alex Ferguson on his birthday.

He’s also a mercenary who enjoys rebuilding fallen empires, then moving onto the next challenge. He has his own goals, and he jumps around capriciously to reach them.

He surrounds himself with controversy and thrives on it, taking shots at other managers, referees, opposing players, the media, and his own bosses for not doing their jobs. He even took a shot at Chelsea, his former team*, for sputtering without him. He uses this vortex of controversy to shield his players from distractions and allow them to focus on the tasks immediately in front of them. By making sure the story is always about him, he makes sure it’s never about them.

*Continue watching that video to see how the media fawns on him. The female anchor calls him adorable before they dissect his eating of a cookie. After his new team, Inter, beat Chelsea, his old team, another reporter tries to interview him, but his mouth is full of more cookies.

He’s also a mercenary who enjoys rebuilding fallen empires, then moving onto the next challenge. He has his own goals, and he jumps around capriciously to reach them. His past three teams are three of the nine richest soccer clubs in the world, and all were in disarray when he arrived. So far, he’s left Chelsea and Inter Milan as a champion. His current project is Real Madrid.

When Mourinho went to Inter Milan, he introduced himself as “a normal one,” but, really, he’s a tactical genius. After winning the league in his first year with Inter, he won the treble (the league, the league cup, and the Champions League) in his second. In doing so, he created the blueprint for beating Barcelona’s dominant tiki-taka style of soccer. Despite becoming the first manager to win the treble in Italy, Mourinho left, saying he didn’t like Italian football and that he was ready for a new challenge.

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He landed at Madrid, who paid a reported eight million Euros to acquire him—on top of his $12 million salary. And that’s after spending nearly a half-billion dollars the previous year revamping its team, headlined by the record-setting acquisition of Cristiano Ronaldo. Less than a year after Mourinho’s Inter beat Barcelona on the way to the Champions League final, Barcelona undressed Mourinho’s Madrid side 5-0 in the first Clasico*—Real Madrid and Barcelona’s seasonal home-and-home.

*The Barcelona–Real Madrid rivalry has tons of cultural significance, which has been written about brilliantly by Brian Philips at the Run of Play.

Over the course of the season, the team came together. While Barcelona clinched La Liga with a tie in the second Clasico, Madrid protected their home turf, then beat Barcelona a week later on a neutral field to win the Copa Del Rey for the first time in 18 years. Due to the luck of the Champions League draw, starting today, Barcelona and Real Madrid will play a second home-and-home Clasico in the next two weeks for the right to progress to the Champions League final, where either team will be the favorite to take the trophy home.

Real Madrid wanted Jose Mourinho because, to Real’s chagrin, Barcelona has been at the top of the European football world for most of the last decade, and Madrid believes Jose Mourinho holds the keys to beating Barca. Both teams covet the Champions League trophy (and the bragging rights it conveys), and a win for Real Madrid in the Champions League semifinal—on top of the win in the Copa Del Reywould signal a shift in the balance of power in their rivalry. It might also just mean that Mourinho has Barca’s number. But if Real Madrid fails then the Copa Del Rey will lose even more of its luster.

A win in the semis means very little if Real Madrid doesn’t take care of business in the final. If they do, and Jose Mourinho’s Madrid does the double, securing his third Champions League title (each with a different team in a different country) in less than a decade, it would unprecedented, and we’d all be wise to pay attention.

—Photo AP

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About Max Ornstein

Max O is a writer from New York. He posts things he thinks are funny, great, and terrible at www.maxoblog.com. You can follow him on Twitter @somaxo.

Comments

  1. Nothing illustrates the insular nature of sport in the US better than an article having to explain to people who Jose Mourinho is.

  2. Tom Matlack says:

    Continuing the great tradition of sports writing at GMP. Well done brother!

    • Peter-Andrew: Nolan(c) says:

      Tom,
      we are still waiting for the articles on how so many men suicide in divorce. We are still waiting the articles on the crimes committed in the family courts.

      Oh. And by the way? They have outed you on Ms. Magazine as a subversive for the feminists. Did no one ever tell you women can not keep a secret?

  3. soccer fan says:

    I lived in Portugal from 1999 through 2008 and saw Mourinho’s rise through several teams in Portugal until he ultimately took on Porto and the rest of Europe. Through all of his antics and false modesty, he always showed the urmost respect for the team, the fans and the game. He is definitely a tribute to his country and a prime example of their spirit, fierce, proud and hard-working! Congrats on all of his past accomplishments and on all of those he has yet to achieve! Great article!

  4. Great article. I agree with the first comment. The US is clueless about sport outside of the US. I’m a Tottenham fan, so never liked Chelsea, but I always enjoyed listening to Jose talk about soccer. I like his style, and the way he goes about things. I hope a lot of people are reading this article, and learn that their are other great coaches outside of the US.

  5. Black Spot says:

    I don’t even like football, but I love watching him – he’s hilarious.

  6. People are complaining the game was dull. I found it very intriguing. An attack(barcelona) against defence(real madrid) drill. Barca’s attack is so lethal, so basketballlike that teams just wait on their 1/2 of the pitch. Try to make their half so congested that barca cant dribble or pass through them, and then try to counterpunch them.

    The dribbling skills of messi unpicked their defence locks. Messi is well on the way to joining the legendary closecontrol ball dribblers- pele, maradonna, best, zidane

  7. Max Ornstein says:

    It was a great, tense game for me, with both sides playing their styles, until Pepe’s joke of a red card, and then, once again, after Afellay’s cross. It’s no secret who I was rooting for, but to deny the greatness of those two goals is just asinine—even if, as I said, they were against a 10 man team that shouldn’t have been. Thanks for all the kind words on the article!

  8. Barca’s attack is so lethal in being able to thread the ball through any defence gaps, that im surprised teams havent tried to be ultra defensive. By pulling all ten outfield players into the last half of their own half. That would make that area so congested that i dont see how barcelona could get through, and the n try and counterattack.

  9. This has been a fascinating series of games between barcelona & real madrid. Two culturally & politically symbolic teams playing 4games in 14days, with 1 game left to play.

    From barca beating madrid 5-0 6months ago. To a nilnil draw game, then 1-0 to madrid, & then 2-0 to barca. As with the rangers & celtic series. Watching the swings in psychological momentums, the increasing tension, the increasing importance of each game has been enjoyable.

    I think there should be more series in football

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