The Special One?


“Everything I know most surely about morality and the obligations of men, I owe to football*.”

– Albert Camus

Jose Mourinho, the self proclaimed “special one” of football management, has enjoyed vast success at the highest echelons of one of the most competitive industries for over a decade. By simply looking at the trophy haul that teams under his management have won, you might conclude that he would unanimously be regarded as an example of an inspirational leader from the world of sport. In leadership, surely the proof is in the pudding – if you get the results, you must be a good leader. Yet controversy, and often hatred, have surrounded his undoubtedly successful career.

Mourinho’s leadership style seeks to cultivate an “us versus them” outlook. His success is built on exuding discipline, drive and a sheer will to win. He emphasizes unity, placing the group’s needs above those of the individual. Player’s that are not being seen to tow the party line are quickly ostracized, and he uses confrontation, both inside and outside the group, to instill a collective sense of purpose in his teams. This siege mentality results in short term unwavering allegiance from fans and players alike, and trophies often follow.

But it is telling that Mourinho has not enjoyed long term success at any of the clubs he has managed, with there appearing to be burnout after 3 years from players and fans alike. Life is not a battle, and all the trophies in the world cannot alleviate the exhaustion that comes with constantly putting the team before the individual and the wider collective. Arsene Wenger, the more cerebral and less Machiavellian manager of Arsenal FC, has achieved the longevity and consistency that has evaded Mourinho by placing a greater emphasis on ethics and by having a greater willingness to delegate. Wenger may not have achieved the results of Mourinho (Mourinho provocatively called him a “specialist in failure”), yet his legacy at Arsenal will be longer and the esteem he is held in higher.

The late, great Johann Cruyff said, “Jose Mourinho is a negative coach. He only cares about the result and doesn’t care much for good football.” Similarly, Mourinho has little concern for morality, or philosophy in general, and individual liberty is often sacrificed at the alter of realist results. Mourinho is a results driven manager, not a leader**. Mourinho’s tunnel vision focus on results and his own team ignores that “in football, everything is complicated by the presence of the opposite team” (Jean-Paul Sartre)***. Good leadership is not just getting the job done; it is the ability to balance productivity, obligation and ethics.

*Football – a sport played with a ball, using your feet.

**This is the ranting of a disillusioned Chelsea FC fan, who is clearly still feeling betrayed by Mourinho’s inability to win us the league this year. Come on CHELSEA!

*** If in the unlikely event philosophical quotes about football floats your boat, check out (Links to an external site.)

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