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The Limits of Man Management: My Regretful Farewell To José Mourinho

His tenure here had a little of everything. There was plenty of drama, some success and a few tears. And really, it's entirely possible that life will never be so interesting ever again.

Manuel Queimadelos Alonso

In his final press conference for Chelsea, José Mourinho spoke of eggs and omelettes and how some eggs made better omelettes than others. It was, as he later told CNN's Pedro Pinto, a reference to an old Portuguese adage. He had wanted certain transfers and had failed to get them. And as he spoke in the press-room, a smile played around his lips. He was irritated, a little. He knew his time was coming to an end and as it happened a day later he was gone. But it was still charming.

He arrived at Madrid about 3 years later full of charisma, hope, style, wit and (initially) some considerable good will. He left this week and it couldn't be called graceful anymore. Call it exhaustion. Call it his first brush, in a dazzling almost inexplicably brilliant career, with the prospect of failure. He wanted out and by the end his statements were becoming deliberately provocative to make sure it happened. Let's not be naive - there was a pay-out at stake too and money can be a poisonous influence on a business relationship. In general though, it was hard to believe it was only one year after Real Madrid's record-breaking league.

How did it all happen, and what role did this first failure in José Mourinho's man-management have to do with it?

José The Galactico

We must always remember that in many ways, José Mourinho is the victim of his outstanding success prior to coming to Madrid and the high expectations brought on after a brilliant second season with us. He has been, over this decade, Europe's most successful coach; the jet-setter with the touch of gold. In all that time he has had only one entirely unsuccessful season by his own admission - and it happens, unfortunately, to be this one. A year ago he had fashioned what I still think was Europe's most terrifying attacking line-up in Champions League competition during the 2011-12 season.

Leave aside ridiculous fixture pile-ups in the later stages of European competition for 3 seasons in a row, simple rotten bad luck (because every knock-out tie needs a little), team dips-in-form, injuries, and always interesting tactical arguments and let's examine one aspect of his time here instead: his man management, something that failed him for the first time in his career.

This is my comment on what I believe to have been the limits of Mourinho's man management at Madrid. On the bright side I suspect he will have left Madrid having learned from us about as much as we learned from him. I can say this because whatever bitterness he may take with him, Mourinho shows every sign of approaching life the way a winner always does - as a learning experience.

The Mourinho School of Man Management

In an earlier life, Mourinho taught disabled children to help themselves. It was a special school and he remembered it with fondness. "It was pure love," he said of this hands-on experience. "You could really help them learn life-skills that could change their lives."

That special touch, that human element, his empathy and his psychological refinement was something he brought to football, along with his tactical acumen, and his experiences under Bobby Robson and Louis van Gaal. Mourinho helped his players at Porto, Chelsea and Inter, to help themselves. To push themselves further along. He gave them self-belief. He gave them that extra inch of a push they needed to get to the top.

Chelsea, for example, were by their own admission in the club's documentary of the period, the "lovable losers" of the English league. They needed to believe in themselves. The players were young. Some were forever impressed by simple encounters with him. Frank Lampard still remembers being told "you are the best midfielder in the world" by his coach- apropos of nothing. Lampard was showering and Mourinho approached him, said it, and then stalked off. Lampard didn't really believe it, but he felt his coach did and it meant a lot to him. So in his desire to please someone he admired, he wanted to turn himself into the player he believed his coach already thought he was or was capable of becoming.

Porto had been a similar experience before that. Mourinho had told his squad: "You've won nothing. We're now going to go and win everything." And the did.

Inter presented a similar challenge, but in a different way. This time he was able to use his talent for making his very experienced and in some cases somewhat older players (successful in the domestic league already) believe in their ability to push past teams In Europe he openly told them were more talented. For Mourinho, a balance between tactical intelligence and self-belief could (and did) get Inter their first European Cup (and an historic treble) in 50 years. Inter presented a refinement to his technique.

And if at Chelsea he motivated the young, at Inter he had players of great experience, like Eto'o or Patrick Vieira, and players known to need significant encouragement, like Wesley Sneijder. The range of his psychology helped them all. All benefited under him and became better players.

Madrid And The Clash Of Cultures

When Mourinho arrived, Madrid believed itself to be in a trophy drought. For Madrid, no league trophy in 2 years and no Champions League final in 8 years was, for this club with its peculiar winning personality, a drought as significant as Chelsea's failure to win the league for 50 years. Objectively speaking, of course, this was nonsense. But therein lay Mourinho's first problem.

I look to Fabio Capello for what I still consider the best summation of Madrid in the interview done for his documentary biography for Football's Greatest Managers. He arrived, as Mourinho did many years later, to a club that hadn't won much for a couple of years. It wasn't a drought, precisely (or wouldn't be at a more rational club) but the club is a club that expects to win every second league title and still had European dreams. Capello was relieved to discover upon his arrival (and he coached here twice) that he didn't have to worry about his players' sense of themselves or work on motivating the club. Everyone at the club from the cleaning staff to the president believed they were at the best club in the world. It was ingrained so powerfully in the culture he didn't have to convince anyone it was true.

For the record, that suited Capello, because has a very different motivational style from Mourinho - less personal touch, contented to have his players a little afraid of him. And not having to get his players or his board to dream no little dreams was, for Capello, a huge benefit. He could get down to tactics, discipline his troops, scare them a bit, and start winning.

Mourinho's gift for management however, lies largely in providing that motivation. Sometimes (and it happened here at Madrid too) he fostered an "us vs them" attitude, for example. Some claim that lies in his own character but I think it is more than likely that circumstances at the various clubs that he has coached and gained his experience with dictated this attitude, rather than the other way around, because Mourinho is a constant learner. You have to be a learner to be a top coach. And look at the clubs he learned at and that he took to winning ways - clubs he pushed that extra inch to help them realize their winning dreams. One can understand why a certain approach would make perfect sense (varied only slightly) for Porto, Chelsea and Inter, and how his experiences at these clubs would have had a strong effect on the coaching style he took to Madrid.

There's a danger in over-simplifying Mourinho's outrageous gifts, so I won't. He had to tailor his approach to each club and his talent was always being able to find the balance that he needed across those three previous leagues and to tailor it to the players he had available, to the competition he faced, and to suit the club that employed him. Mourinho's outrageous linguistic gifts were a help too. He could speak to his players (as he always does) almost without exception in their mother tongues. The manager derisively referred to as "The Translator" could communicate like no other.

But one aspect of Mourinho's tragedy at Madrid (I use the term in the classical sense) was two-fold. Mourinho was always bound to eventually arrive at a club where he would not have the time or the circumstances to refine his approach. A second problem is that no coach, not even Mourinho, can sustain a winning streak, such as he has had over the past decade, forever.

That this combination should happen at Madrid, where a single trophyless year is an existential tragedy, was unfortunate, mainly because I believe strongly that he has the intelligence and flexibility to have succeeded had he not been in a club where even years of team-rebuilding can be labelled "trophy droughts" from sheer lack of patience.

And consider Madrid the way he would have experienced it. Real Madrid are the institutional club - different from every other club he has ever coached. The club, rightly or wrongly, do not feel like outsiders trying to break in. They are the establishment. And Mourinho arrived after two years of Madrid winning nothing, and 6 years of Champions League failure, and with the club yearning for an instant result after another of their perceived droughts. He also had the added difficulty of needing to win right away against what some commentators are fond of terming the best club in the world.

So at Madrid, for the first time, he was forced to try to get the culture of the club to adhere to his culture of management rather than the other way around. Institutionally, the club was badly set up for him, and initially the President, believing in the need for change, gave him what he wanted - control of transfers, and the control of a sporting director.

I still believe it could have worked, and that in the Champions League in particular, the margins of failure and success are very fine. But since we are examining man-management we also have to look at Mourinho's personal interactions.

Mourinho, for the first time, could not motivate as he once had. He couldn't, on arrival, approach an Iker Casillas and tell him "you are the best goalkeeper in the world" and work an effect on him similar to that worked on Frank Lampard a few years earlier. Casillas knew, in 2010, that he was the best. There was no arrogance to that belief. It was the truth. So when Mourinho said, upon his arrival, that he thought Casillas should win the ballon d'or and that he had in his squad (to use his own words) "The number one of the number ones" it was accepted for what it was - not motivation, but the truth.

The same could go for many players in their positions. Consider Cristiano Ronaldo - a man who by the time Mourinho arrived was already playing at his third huge club, and was already a Manchester United legend and had recently won the ballon d'or and the Champions League. That was another player who could say, without embarrassment, "I am the best." Consider players like Ramos or Xabi Alonso - recent winners of two huge international titles. The latter a Champions League winner already.

These players have drive and are talented and ambitious and desperate to win. But Mourinho couldn't push them emotionally past any barriers they or the squad might have had in the way he once had, and not as successfully.

What is failure at Madrid? What does it mean? What is success? And what does it mean? He came for the European Cup, there's no question of that. He didn't win it. But he also came to get the players to play better against their top-league rival. That was a success and culminated in the best league points-haul and goals-scored in Madrid's history only a year ago.

A Positive Conclusion & A Farewell

It's impossible to say whether or not Mourinho would ever have found that balance because winning teams don't have divided dressing rooms, and until this year with Madrid, his clubs were always winners. That's because divided dressing rooms don't mean a team begins to lose games. It's the other way around. A club that is losing games develops dressing room divisions.

It was a final challenge for Mourinho - a man with no experience of losing -and yet one more thing he would never have had the time to work out. But I still suspect, like in everything else in his life as a coach, he will still have drawn lessons from this.

So I want to end on a positive note for the man who would probably not be leaving us now had we won those first 4 league games in August and September. I want to remember that happy team celebrating Madrid's brilliant second season under Mourinho and the 32nd league win - a record breaker for points and goals scored. A period in which the team beat giants like Bayern Munich and Barcelona over the course of the season and did itself proud in Europe and in the league.

I am sure the players will never forget the coach who brought them that record-breaking league and was able to use his talents to convince them, after their initial loss under him in that first league meeting, that they really are quite as good as that other team they like to say is the best in the world.

The club will also have learned from Mourinho. I suspect a legacy of his tumultuous and noisy time with us will be more patience with new coaches and a more conciliatory relationship between sporting directors and managers.

Thank you for the memories, José. It still think it came down, almost entirely, to a little bit of misfortune early on in this season and very little else before it snowballed into something bigger in the way these things do at the biggest club in the world. And while we learned from you, you were hopefully able to learn from us.

So you leave us, and I can freely admit (and with great affection) that life may never be so interesting ever again.

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