If you read The Special One, the book by Diego Torres, the Spanish journalist, serialised in The Times this month, you are liable to form the impression that José Mourinho is a delusional narcissist with paranoid tendencies. It is an impression that, to my mind, seems increasingly apposite as this most topsy-turvy of seasons continues.
Chelsea supporters, many of them, still make excuses for him. They say that he is a tour de force; a character; they say that he adds to the rich tapestry of football. Such opinions may once have had merit; today, they seem like little more than special pleading for a man who consistently traduces referees, defames opponents and has yet to learn that most valuable of life lessons: how to lose with dignity.
The charmless diatribe after the defeat by Sunderland on Saturday was conspicuous, not because it was unexpected, but because it was utterly par for the course. This is a man who caused the premature retirement of Anders Frisk, the Swedish referee, by making baseless allegations that he had invited an opposition coach into his private room at half-time; who jabbed his finger into the eye of Tito Vilanova, the Barcelona coach; who protested a decision so wildly during a Copa del Rey final that he was sent from the dugout, then stormed out of the stadium without collecting his runners-up medal from the King of Spain.
Please don’t suppose that the sarcastic “congratulations” and veiled suggestion of some kind of conspiracy orchestrated against Chelsea by Mike Riley, general manager of the Professional Game Match Officials Limited, was a clever attempt to deflect criticism from his players, or a genius-like ruse to influence the men in black during the run-in. It was nothing of the sort. This was Mourinho in the raw; a glimpse into the curious workings of a mind that has, over time, become detached from reality. Paranoia is, of course, a predictable consequence of vanity. Roman emperors saw plots everywhere, even as they erected monuments to their own invincibility. Mourinho, whose self-importance has long been finessed by an army of sycophants, could see a conspiracy in a bowl of cornflakes.
Riley and Mike Dean, the referee on Saturday, are just the latest to be slandered by the Portuguese. When at Real Madrid, Mourinho publicly named four referees over whom Barcelona, the team to whom he had just lost, supposedly exercised “special power”. He also managed to hint at a wider plot by the entire football establishment. “If we score in Barcelona they will kill us again,” he said. “There is no chance for us. It is proven. They have to reach the final and they will.” It is almost beyond parody.
Mourinho may have great qualities as a manager, as he likes to remind us whenever a microphone is put near his mouth, but this is a very different thing to having class. He may have led clubs to trophies, and strutted his stuff as a manager in four countries, but that does not mean that he is an admirable human being. To my mind, the late Sir Bobby Robson, who possessed far more grace and tact, is worth a dozen Mourinhos. The irony is that his increasingly erratic behaviour risks undermining his capacity to inspire his players. At Madrid, he lost the dressing room. In one bizarre incident, related by Torres, he was so concerned about leaks to the media that he managed to tarnish his entire squad, although by that stage half the players had concluded that he was out of control and not worth listening to.
“He waited for the team in the dressing room before issuing a torrent of accusations,” Torres writes. “ ‘You’re traitors. I asked you not to speak with anyone about the team selection but you’ve betrayed me. It shows that you’re not on my side. You’re sons of bitches . . . You’re the most treacherous squad I’ve had in my life.’”
Chelsea still have the opportunity to end this season on a high. They play Atlético Madrid away in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final tomorrow night. The most prestigious title in club football is not beyond them, despite an inconsistent season. Two years ago, they overcame Barcelona at the same stage in one of the most astonishing performances by an English team in recent memory. They went on to win the final with another dogged, odds-defying display against Bayern Munich.
The problem for Mourinho is that, whatever happens in the last few games, his mystique is slowly evaporating. Most neutrals have become bored by the psychodrama. They do not see charm, just a man who can’t accept that losing is a part of life; who cannot see how cheap it looks when he consistently impugns the motives of the men in the middle. Even many Chelsea fans are starting to wonder if he is worth the candle.
He started all those years ago as the Special One, with a glint in his eye and goodwill from most neutrals. He is ending this season as the Tiresome One. He is an illustrious manager, to be sure, but his reputation is being consumed by his own paranoia. He needs to grow up and, instead of blaming everyone else, front up too.
His comments about other managers earlier on in the season. pot kettle black springs to mind