Jose Mourinho's Striking Dilemma: Where Egos Dare
Jose Mourinho is hardly a man who will come off second in a war of words.
After all, here is a man who refers to himself as the "Special One." You can picture him in an argument, forever having the last word—and hey, probably the last laugh while he's at it.
People should just ask his long list of victims; Martin O'Neill, Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger, Rafael Benitez, Claudio Ranieri, and Pietro Lo Monaco—he seems to enjoy the odd bout of verbal jousting that man.
Yet this season, Mourinho has had plenty of bouts of verbal jousting, except it has been with some of the players at his own club.
The path to success doesn't always run smooth, and for Mourinho thus far things haven't always been rosy during his time in Italy. For a man who has anointed himself the "Special One", there will always be a certain amount of pressure—it comes with the nickname.
But having to takeover from one of Italy's most successful managers, Roberto Mancini (who had just won the title three years in a row), on the proviso that he could take the club to a trophy it last won some 44 years ago—the European Cup—brings its own pressure.
Furthermore, unlike his predecessor Mourinho is facing increasing competition, in the form of a rejuvinated AC Milan and Juventus—teams who have endured a fallow couple of years domestically, yet now appear to be presenting Inter Milan with a challenge for the title.
Just to make matters worse for Mourinho, he probably inherited a squad as packed with egotistical names and faces as he ever had to deal with at Chelsea or Porto—Patrick Vieira, Marco Materazzi etc., but it is particularly problematic strikers that have caused Mourinho all manner of issues this season.
Interestingly, one of these has not been Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a player whom Mourinho has taken under his wing, and described as “the best in the world.”
Whether you believe those sentiments or not, Mourinho has arguably coaxed the best out of Ibrahimovic, and he leads Inter's goal-scoring charts with 13 goals this season.
For his part, "Ibra" has been more than effusive in his praise of Mourinho.
However, this is where Mourinho suffers a problem. As he continues to invest such faith in Ibrahimovic, he runs the risk of alienating two of the other strikers, who like Ibrahimovic need to be nurtured and loved—Adriano and Mario Balotelli.
Adriano, though he has recently been playing for Inter, endures an up and down relationship with Mourinho and the club. Adriano as a player is a phenomenal talent, a mix of speed, power, and strength that is rarely matched in world football.
However, mentally he has struggled to retain his hunger with football, and depression and alcoholism have plagued his career. He was welcomed back into the Inter Milan fold this season, but following injury, poor form, and rumours of him turning up for training drunk, he was linked with a move away from the club again, with Tottenham and Chelsea mooted.
Mario Balotelli, on the other hand, is a very different proposition. A shining star who emerged last season as a 17-year-old phenomenon, the striker quickly earned the nickname “Super Mario.”
Balotelli is very much in the Didier Drogba mould, a strong, tall (6ft plus) and quick striker, who boasts calm composure in front of goal and indeed is very good at set pieces. Yet this season, as he has failed to push into the Inter Milan first team, Balotelli has proved to be anything but “Super Mario.”
He has frequently demanded a move away, has been poor in training—Mourinho even claimed he trained at 25 percent, and had a negative attitude in training. Finally, this week “Super Mario” refused to be in the Inter squad for the match against Catania, as he hopes to force a move away from Inter.
Now, egos amongst footballers are not bad things, in fact often they come in handy. You only have to see Cristiano Ronaldo's histrionics last night (chest-pumping and glaring at the crowd) to see footballing ego at work. However it is when player's ego's escalate out of control that it can pose problems for managers—even ones as talented as Mourinho.
Yet the problem for Mourinho is that, for all the problems these two pose him he would simply not want to be parted from them. In the case of Adriano, here is a player who at his peak is practically untouchable, while Balotelli potentially could be one of the finest strikers in Europe.
So the danger for Mourinho is that, if he were to sell them, and were any manager able to coax the best out of them (like Mourinho has done with Ibrahimovic), then they would be an asset to any side in the world, and ultimately would make Mourinho's decisions to sell either of them appear foolish.
Therefore for Mourinho defeat, as always, is not an option. He must battle through the words, the arguments, the tantrums, the depression, in the hope that he can manage to coax the best out of these two, potentially fantastic strikers.
That might sound like a battle for anyone, but if anyone can manage it, then surely it is the "Special One."
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