Like players, there are few managers who can aspire to true greatness. People like Bill Shankly and Alex Ferguson come along once in a generation. For each Shankly, there are hundreds of other managers who fade into obscurity, and dozens who come close but can’t quite manage to get over the fine line that separates true greatness from the very successful.
Jose Mourinho is a very successful manager – in 4 years he has won more titles than most other managers do in a lifetime, and the man is just getting started.
Tonight, at Stamford Bridge, Jose Mourinho will make his first play towards being truly great.
Let’s be honest – Jose Mourinho isn’t a well-liked man, even if his management skills are deeply admired. Despite the claims of disgruntled opposition fans, money does not buy titles. Mourinho has done what very few people can do – instill an incredible fighting mentality in his players. Mourinho gets more out of his players than it’s humanly possible – you can’t expect Lampard to go on season upon season like this for just any other manager.
But the last two seasons at Chelsea were ‘relatively’ comfortable, and Jose’s achievements are slightly dented by people calling them bought titles. The lack of a Champions League medal hurts as well, never mind that cup games have an element of luck in them and that luck does not even out over the course of a season.
And this season is the first in three that Chelsea have been truly challenged. Not only challenged, they have been pushed to second place, and if anyone has made it possible for Chelsea to cope with that pressure, it is Mourinho.
How does he do it? By taking all the pressure off his players. He does it by being in the media 24/7 – even when he’s mad at them he can’t stay mad for long. He baits other managers, he complains about tactics, he invents new rules, he berates referees. The list goes on, and as much as you are tempted to think that Jose Mourinho is a spiteful, cheap soul who likes to talk trash and all the other wonderful titles people give him, he takes one for the team every time.
In the buildup to the Newcastle game, knowing that it would be difficult for Chelsea, Mourinho baited United incessantly. After the game, he ranted again about new rules. The controversy deflected much of the attention away from Newcastle’s hard-fought performance with Chelsea fans left thinking that they weren’t good enough (they were, but so were Newcastle).
And in the buildup to tonight’s game, Mourinho has raised the controversy to a fever pitch, causing Rafa Benitez to face countless questions from the media about Mourinho’s comments. Rafa’s in a losing battle – if he stays quiet the media keeps baying, and if he retaliates they will scream even more. Rafa has said that he doesn’t understand it, and that’s strange – after so many years of mind games, Rafa should know that Mourinho does it for his team.
Liverpool have the Anfield crowd as their 12th man. Chelsea need not worry – they have Jose Mourinho, and as long as he’s there, this Chelsea team will give 200% for every game.
This season, Chelsea are not the favourites for 2 of the 3 remaining trophies that they are contesting. It will be a true testament to Mourinho’s status in the game if Chelsea were to win them.
And greatness for Mourinho? Maybe not yet, but his willingness to take the flak so that his team is always protected is astonishing. He is a master baiter, and his efforts have taken all the pressure off his players for tonight, and the ‘underdog’ tag he’s put on them will spur them on to forget their fatigue and push on.
Mourinho, the master baiter, has once again sacrificed himself for Chelsea’s cause. In some ways, to do that for so long, that is greatness.
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