It’s only going to get worse for Jose Mourinho as he tries to build a long-term bond with a club
Jose Mourinho can’t help himself.
The Special One, like every once-famous performer, has spent the month of December trying to squeeze some extra mileage out of his greatest hits: He’s picked a dumb fight with Pep Guardiola (over Catalan independence symbols, natch), railed against the holiday fixture calendar, been involved in a brawl with an opposing team, chalked up his team’s poor cup performance to nothing more than luck, and pined for more transfer acquisitions.
We’ve seen this movie before, which is why it’s strangely poignant. Jose Mourinho, especially since his craven, sexist destruction of Eva Carneiro’s career, is not a man worthy of sympathy. His plight as a man stuck in this cycle of his own making is therefore not sad, but there is a certain tragedy in the sight of a man who professes to want out of this pattern of recriminations living the exact same three-year cycle over and over again. Your heart goes out to those hurt by the perpetual motion machine that is Mourinho’s resentment even if you don’t quite feel bad for the man himself.
Jose Mourinho is experiencing what might be termed a crisis at domesticity. First at Chelsea (the second time) and now at Manchester United, he has acknowledged that it’s time for him to settle down at a club for the long run. This, in part, is a practical concession: There are only so many clubs that might hire Mourinho and most have already done so at least once. A generational stay at a club is also the main gap in his legacy. But on a human level, it’s also conceivable that a man in his fifties might want to settle down.
There is, of course, a big difference between wanting to do something and having the tools to pull it off. Case in point: Jose Mourinho. While his whingeing was once an entertaining heel routine, it now comes with the sadness of a man who gets no more joy out of his antics than the rest of us do. It’s pure defensive posturing; the scared tactics of man in a bind. In the absence of mischievous humor, all that’s left is mean-spiritedness. Whereas football managers of his generation have grown emotionally, but Mourinho remains an adolescent—capable of highs and lows that are not appealing to his fellow adults.
Jose Mourinho is not yet a pariah. He still has something to offer as a manager. He can still organize a team. His ability to instill an us-versus-them mentality can still pay short-run dividends. The shortness of that run, however, will only grow shorter with time. Whatever frisson of excitement can still be wrung from Mourinho’s “us against the world” mentality is now tempered by its rote nature. We’ve all seen this movie before. A club’s embrace of late-period Mourinho’s volatility is akin to betting that a marriage can survive on the basis of make-up sex alone.
You could see Mourinho making the volatility work, but would you really bet on it? With each passing stint and snit, the odds get worse. In spite of his professed desires to the contrary, Mourinho’s antagonism appears to be curdling into something truly vicious and hurtful: More l’Affaire Carneiro than sneaky Wenger digs. This is a sad situation for the people Jose Mourinho hurts, for the football fans who might have enjoyed a Jose Mourinho with staying power, for a man who said he wanted off this roller coaster ride. Jose Mourinho is not the victim here; he knew what he had to do and said it on multiple occasions. Football simply lost him on the road to maturity.
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