Few attributes are more important to success than arrogance.
Arrogance can translate into confidence in one’s self, can breed confidence in one’s followers, and can give one the psychological edge over one’s foes. Most successful men and women have some level of arrogance.
But José Mourinho is the god of arrogance.
He has so much arrogance that he could share it out to all the geeks in every high school in the Americas and still have enough to make him one of the greatest football managers in the world. And he is, most certainly, that.
Mourinho rose to world prominence after FC Porto’s victories in the 2003 UEFA Cup and 2004 Champions League, and he’s been an irresistible footballing force ever since.
He went on to lead England’s Chelsea FC to back to back League titles, back to back Carling Cups, an FA Cup and even a Community Shield. And now he manages Inter Milan, one of the most talent laden teams in Serie A.
It is probable that he will be one of the greats for many years to come, but the nature of his greatness suggests he will not stay in one place for long. Don’t expect him to sink in roots like Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger.
To date, the longest he has ever managed a team were his two complete seasons (plus an extra month and a bit) at Chelsea. Mourinho’s arrogance does not lend itself to stability.
He is a master at playing football to win. He doesn’t have any ideals he feels compelled to uphold about the “beautiful game,” and his tactics generally reflect this. They are simple but effective.
He plugs up the midfield, builds an impressive defense, and finds a target man who can score like a machine.
Whether he’s got Roman Abramovich’s money at Chelsea or the lesser cash he had at Porto, Mourinho is undeniably talented at motivating his assembled parts into winners.
But none of these average to above-average managerial talents can match the x-factor that makes Mourinho great.
That x-factor is his aforementioned arrogance.
His arrogance is unparalleled in World Football, and for a while, no matter where he hangs his coaching cleats, it makes him unbeatable.
How does it work to make him great? There are two answers.
First, it relieves his team of all pressure. Just look at what he did for Chelsea.
Abramovich’s billions, the buying power that assembled the Chelski squad, raised performance expectations to a massive level for the London Club and could easily have overwhelmed the players. Any team of players, no matter how talented, can become rattled by such expectations.
It has happened countless times in every sport.
Expectations run high and performance can’t match. Brazilian sides have been “destined” to win at the World Cup, and they’ve slipped; dozens of baseball teams should have won the World Series but imploded; even favored Olympians have ended up with a Bronze when they should have won the Gold—all because the expectations destroyed them psychologically.
But that didn’t happen to Chelsea.
José Mourinho walked in with his arrogance and declared that he was the “Special One.” Thus all pressure was magically lifted from Chelsea. No one cared to bother the players, to dog their every move, to examine them until they caved.
All anyone cared about was the arrogant jerk who set himself above Wenger and Fergie and every other manager in the world.
Second, Mourinho’s arrogance causes fear and trepidation in managers and squads alike.
Sure, there are one or two managers who cannot be fazed by his arrogant mind games, and a couple teams that cannot be daunted by how “special” Mourinho and his teams are, but most managers and squads can be fazed and daunted, and it shows in the way they play.
Managers tend to be more conservative against Mourinho; squads tend to be too respectful of Mourinho’s men, giving them space to control the game; hence, Mourihno’s arrogance makes his foes more likely to lose.
Of course, arrogance eventually loses its ability to confound the competition. And that is the risk Mourinho takes in his career.
His greatness can only work for a team for a short period, and then he must move on.
But so long as there are leagues he hasn’t conquered and trophies he hasn’t won, the “Special One” will be ready to dazzle his competition with the x-factor that makes him great—his arrogance.
And what a gift it is.
Next up: Fabio Capello
On Deck: Arsene Wenger