The modern football world may have moved past Jose Mourinho, but we simply wouldn’t be where we are today without him. Mourinho continued his unbeaten streak in European finals on Wednesday, claiming the inaugural Europa Conference League with Roma. It may not be the most prestigious trophy that Mourinho has competed for in his managerial career but it is one that clearly meant a lot to him, if the images of him in tears at the full-time whistle are anything to go by. It was a victory that meant so much not only to Mourinho but the team he coaches. AS Roma hadn’t won a trophy for 14 years, not since the Coppa Italia of 2007-08. The images of the bus parade Roma held as they brought the trophy home were incredible. Not just of the scenery, as they passed the Coliseum, but the joy felt by the thousands of fans. Smoke in the colours of the Giallorossi poured out and swirled around as the fans of Italy’s fifth most supported club celebrated their firs piece of silverware in more than a decade. It’s worth pointing out as well that this was Roma’s first piece of European silverware.
As I said before, I think the game of football has now moved beyond Jose Mourinho. His style of constructive tension just does not work anymore. Not at the big clubs. Everyone wants a Pep Guardiola or Jurgen Klopp in charge. Someone who can befriend and lead the players on. Mourinho was able to do this earlier in his career, but ever since he came back to Chelsea in 2013, he really hasn’t managed to bond a squad a together behind him. While he was still successful at Chelsea and Manchester United, he seemed to be in a constant war of attrition with everyone around him; players, backroom staff, executives, fanbases. It never felt comfortable at a club where he was in charge. And that was partly by design. Mourinho always looks to instil a winner-takes-all, ultra-competitive mindset. As it was put in BBC article after Wednesday’s game, ‘Football is about winning- and Mourinho wins.’
It is often forgotten that Mourinho was one of the great football innovators in the early 2000s. From his all-conquering Porto side, his great Chelsea teams and the superlative Inter side of 2008-2010. I would argue the noughties were Mourinho’s decade. He managed the seemingly impossible with a Porto side where the whole was far, far greater than the sum of its parts. Not only did he completely dominate the Portuguese league in consecutive seasons, he also claimed back-to-back European trophies, winning first the Uefa Cup and then the Champions League. He then came to Chelsea and revolutionised the English game, breaking the 4-4-2’s grip on the English game with his utilisation of Claude Makelele as a screening, defensive midfielder. Someone who could break up opposition attacks and launch Chelsea’s counters or begin their possession of the ball. By moving a player into midfield, Mourinho’s Chelsea were always going to have a spare man against two central midfielders. The 4-3-3 is de riguer in English football now, and it was first introduced to such devastating effect by Jose Mourinho. His Inter Milan team were the kings of Italian football, playing a style that utilised their very best qualities. Wesley Sneijder’s best period of his career, the deadly Diego Milito and an unparalleled defence working with a midfield that was one of the hardest working and most intelligent defensive structures in the game. No Italian team has won the Champions League or had won European trophy since until Wednesday, when Mourinho did it again.
Even his Real Madrid side, especially the title winning side of 2011/12, was something special to watch. Not only did they score 100 points that season, not only did they beat Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona by nine points but they scored 121 goals in the league alone. This was one of the finest counter-attacking sides ever seen. It may have only been for that one season, but they were absolutely unstoppable. His return to Chelsea may have ended in acrimony but still saw two trophies won, including a league title where they were top for almost the entire league season, and a winning margin of twelve points to second place. He’s also the last manager win a trophy at all at Manchester United, claiming both the League Cup and the Europa League in 2016/17. Add on the fact that he also managed to get Tottenham through to the League Cup final in 2021, although he was sacked a week before the game itself. His personal record of trophies is ridiculous. He’s won more than 20 major trophies in his managerial career; that’s not far off what Sir Alex Ferguson won in nearly 30 years at Manchester United.
The reason I think fans tend to look down on Mourinho these days is because he is a far more pragmatic coach than many around these days. If he feels the way to win the game is to shut down the opposition’s ability to attack, then he will do it. An example of this pragmatism is a game between Chelsea and Manchester United in April 2015, as Chelsea were on their way to winning the Premier League title. Chelsea only had 28% possession in that match and really only one clear cut chance in that game. Kurt Zouma, a central defender, was deployed as the defensive midfielder to really help Chelsea keep out the onslaught from what was a very young United team. Because that is ultimately the thing with Mourinho. If you’re going to win, sometimes you need to win ugly. That is something he has drilled into all his teams. You must be prepared to do the hard work in defence to let the attackers do their job. And if you win, who cares how you did it?
It may take some time, maybe after Mourinho retires from management, but he will be recognised as one of the greatest managers the game has ever seen. Tactically flexible, capable of creating fabulous attacking passages of play and always bringing a winning mentality. Jose Mourinho is one of the best football has ever seen, and it is long since time that people recognised it.