What Makes Real Madrid's Jose Mourinho Such a Brilliant Manager? There are many words to describe the 50-year-old Portuguese: pragmatic, enigmatic, inspirational and thorough are but a few.
However, he is perhaps best described by himself. His unveiling at Chelsea in 2004 has become legendary. Few know that his "I am a special one" declaration was merely an attempt to show the skeptical English media that he was someone to take seriously after they had questioned his credentials to manage in the Premier League.
From there his legend grew and now after 13 years there can be no doubt about it that Jose Mourinho is indeed a very, very special manager.
From inauspicious beginnings with Benfica in September 2000, Mourinho has won everything the domestic game can offer. Since 2002, he has not gone a full calendar year without winning at least one trophy.
He has won seven domestic league titles across four different countries, the Champions League twice, the UEFA Cup once and 10 further domestic trophies. He has also won numerous personal awards including the FIFA coach of the year.
He is rightly hailed as one of the best managers of all time. But what makes him so special? Why does he win so much? Why does he foster such following and belief from his players?
For a start his preparation for matches almost goes unchallenged. Mourinho can often work 16-hour days between coaching, player management, scouting and preparing dossiers on his team's next opponents. With this kind of work ethic he shows his players that he too is willing to put in the long hours it takes to be successful.
In this regard he demonstrates to his players that he will work as hard as he can and beyond, so that when he asks them to do the same it becomes an easy choice. Once you have a player's respect he will run through walls or kick his own mother for you.
He recognizes that to be successful he must be a leader of men and brook no challenge. Stories of the Chelsea boot room's influence over managers and the club are well known. Legend has it that in Mourinho's early weeks at the club, certain players complained to management about his style.
In true Mourinho form he called a team meeting and challenged the naysayers to speak up or to forever hold their peace. Nobody said anything as Mourinho's steely glare moved from player to player. He had won his first significant game as Chelsea manager and with it he had also won the respect of the players.
He learned under Bobby Robson and Louis van Gaal, as an assistant coach, that the key to being a successful manager is having a successful relationship with your players. If that bedrock does not exist, no amount of coaching or tactical know how will do you any good.
As Robson's interpreter at Sporting Lisbon, Porto and Barcelona, Mourinho was given an insight into the first team manager's mind that few assistants ever get. Because he had to directly interpret Robson's words, and then convey them in the manner the Englishman wanted, Mourinho basically became the voice and right arm of the manager.
By this stage he was already a top-class coach who worked with not only the team, but the goalkeepers as well. He was also preparing tactical work books on their next opponents for Robson and van Gaal to analyse. His road to the top was already well under way and the legendary Englishman and Dutchman recognized Mourinho's intelligence, potential and single mindedness that all professional sportspeople possess.
Both also saw that Mourinho was a very clever tactician.
For the uninitiated, Mourinho burst onto the scene in 2004 when he helped guide Porto past Manchester United on the way to his first Champions League triumph. Using an, back then, unconventional 4-2-3-1 formation, Porto frustrated the Red Devils' 4-4-2 across both legs. They countered Sir Alex Ferguson's team with great speed and tactical intelligence and were easily the better side.
That was almost the ground zero day that 4-2-3-1 became the formation of choice in European and, as a result, world football.
There are numerous clever elements to the 4-2-3-1 that make it so successful on the pitch and off it. Before it became en-vogue, most teams utilized 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 variants that required each and every club to possess almost four to five forwards on their books.
As strikers of top quality are the hardest players to buy, owning four can be incredibly expensive. A 4-2-3-1 formation can be pragmatically cut to two or three depending upon tactical need.
The formation also utilizes specialist midfielders in defensive and attacking roles over all-round midfielders in other formations. Specialist midfielders are also cheaper than all-round players.
Coaching these players can also be made slightly easier by the fact that they are given specific roles which connect across the pitch, rather than all-round roles which require them to support play across the pitch.
With all that taken into account, the 4-2-3-1 formation can become as adventurous or as pragmatic as a manager chooses it to be.
Many of Mourinho's teams are often called pragmatic. But this is perhaps unfair, because Mourinho fosters an honesty and work rate from his players that is rarely seen in other teams. He believes that "players don't win you trophies, teams win trophies, squads win trophies."
Because Mourinho tells his team this over and over again, and because of the way he uses his squad so intelligently, his players believe it too.
He takes his tactical ideas and gives them to everyone at the club. He explains how to press, as if an elastic band linked the entire team, when to press, how to reorganize during transitions in opposition play and how to develop ball possession and intelligent positional play.
When his players have mastered these ideas he strengthens the psychological aspects of their play so they make fewer mistakes than their opponents.
He does not entertain or pander to prima donnas and all of his teams live by the credo: self sacrifice over self indulgence. This can easily be seen over the years when his teams ran their legs into the ground for the cause. He is the ultimate believer in working as hard off the ball as you do on it.
Think 10-man Inter Milan beating Barcelona in 2010 as perhaps the greatest in a long list of brilliant examples.
He can ask his players to sacrifice their game for the greater good because they see that he puts the work in. He kicks every ball with them, he fights for their cause in press conferences, he fosters a them and us atmosphere and makes his team believe that its cause on the pitch is just and unstoppable.
This quote from The Observer in 2004 perhaps describes his view on teamwork best: “From here each practice, each game, each minute of your social life must centre on the aim of being champions … First-teamer will not be a correct word. I need all of you. You need each other. We are a team.”
Above all else, he makes his players believe they are family, and families stick together throughout thick and thin. If you are part of Mourinho's family you usually celebrate through a lot of "thick."
He plans on and off the pitch, leads as an example and as a leader, organises his teams to the Nth degree, and he knows his own player’s strengths and weaknesses. He makes sure they know them too, and he also makes sure they know the opponent's strengths and relative weaknesses.
Throughout this entire process he is controlling his team toward a target he has already given them. When match day comes around they are like primed boxers ready to be unleashed upon an unsuspecting and less prepared opponent.
Because his players have been coached so well, because they have ultimate faith in their manager and because they know he will give them information on their opponent no one else has, they have ultimate belief.
Of course, there are elements to Mourinho's game and personality that grate with players and managers of an older generation. They dislike his fondness for controlling press conferences and for the way he builds up or breaks down opponents with a careful flick of a word. The press obviously lose this element of the 50-year-old as sound bites come flying as frequently as goals, but there is a method to the madness.
Mourinho uses the press conferences to take the pressure of match build up off his players and looks for a psychological edge he can manipulate or make bigger for his opponents. He can be like a junkyard dog with a bone in chasing an advantage no matter how slight.
It adds one more layer to the most interesting manager in the game today.
This clever approach to organising, leading and controlling every aspect of the game marks Jose Mourinho out as not just the best soccer coach in the world, but probably the best coach of any sport.
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