Column: In defeat, is Jose Mourinho still worth our time?
PARIS (AP) Already a proven winner, Jose Mourinho now must become a specialist in failure, too.
When the Chelsea manager used that phrase last year to take a cheap swipe at Arsenal counterpart Arsene Wenger, he meant it in a mean, small-minded way. It was one of many occasions where Mourinho has allowed toxic emotions, not lucid reason, to be his master. All told, the verbal and occasional physical outbursts that are as much part of Mourinho’s career as his triumphs paint a portrait not of a manager in easy control, but of an almost pathological need to burn bridges and make enemies.
Which isn’t a terminal problem, at least not in his industry, for managers who win. Because football is so fixated on success in the next match, it always finds room for bad behavior that gets results. Victory absolves most sins. Even when he did wrong, Mourinho’s trophies in Portugal, England, Italy and Spain seemed to make him right. In the short-termism of football, the ends ultimately appeared to justify Mourinho’s means and loud mouth.
But take away victory, and the shield it provides disappears. Mourinho cannot, as he claims, be the best in his business when Chelsea’s non-starting Premier League season is turning that brag into a lie. Continuing to boast in defeat of ”a big self-esteem and a big ego” merely makes him a tiresome bore.
When his teams were winning, the ”us against the world” siege mentality Mourinho cultivates looked motivational. But complaining about referees and supposed anti-Chelsea treatment simply becomes a feeble excuse when his methods stop working.
And even winning couldn’t have justified the public humiliation Mourinho heaped on his medical staff when Chelsea started its Premier League title defense, such as it is, with a 2-2 draw against Swansea. That was simply nasty, hot-headed behavior that hints of someone who stops being a team player when the going gets rough.
In short, when the ends no longer justify the means, then the means must change. Instead of blaming others, Mourinho must turn his critical eye on himself. He must understand that managers and clubs aren’t judged solely by how well they win but also by how well they lose.
Mourinho famously claimed that winning the Champions League in 2004 made him ”a special one.” But that will only be true if he now learns to become special in defeat, too. That doesn’t mean being resigned to failure. But it does mean not acting like a brat when it happens.
Just eight games into a 38-game season, Mourinho has already made a spectacle of himself with a rambling seven-minute televised rant, after losing 3-1 to Southampton, that this week brought a Football Association fine of 50,000 pounds ($77,000) for bad-mouthing referees and the threat of a one-match stadium ban if he steps out of line again.
At this rate, if he doesn’t wise up and cool down, it could be a very long and damaging season for Mourinho and his club that took him back in 2013 for a second spell as manager, despite his history of histrionics.
On Saturday, against Aston Villa, Mourinho will be exhorting his players to shake off their stupor. He says he remains ”more than convinced” that Chelsea will finish the season in the league’s top four, which would give it a crack at the Champions League again next season. But Premier League history suggests he is clutching at straws.
Since 1995, when the league slimmed down to 20 clubs, no team that started this poorly – in 16th place after eight games – subsequently recovered that well. The closest any team came was Everton in 2008-2009, which finished fifth having been 17th after eight games.
So Mourinho is going to have to eat humble pie with a smile. Chelsea has other cup competitions it could win. But the Premier League is effectively a write-off. No one expects him to simply give up trying. But nor should football, his players, his club and its fans have to suffer through a season of him being miserable. When he is winning, he is impossible to ignore. But when losing gracelessly, he’s not.
Because of his history of winning, there’ll always be another club willing to woo Mourinho if this second marriage with Chelsea ends sourly. But it would be better for both their reputations if they could build something more long-lasting, where both accept that winning and losing are inseparable sides of the same coin.
The trick is to be good at both.
John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org or follow him at http://twitter.com/johnleicester