Mourinho's Cult of Personality
How the Real Madrid manager's charismatic authority fosters loyalty
José Mourinho still has a tendency to refer to Chelsea as "My Chelsea'. Isn't that odd?
I mean, the club's in rude health, isn't it? In the last five years alone, they've won six domestic trophies (including a domestic double) and reached two European Cup finals, winning one. OK, so the owner is a bit eccentric, but the mere fact he deems that kind of return unacceptable says something in itself. The club has cash and talent in abundance — but despite all that, there's still that lingering and distinct whiff of Post-Mourinho Syndrome about the place, isn't there? In the latter part of the Villas-Boas era in 2011, Stamford Bridge still chanted Mourinho's name. Can't they just move on and get over it?
It's easier said than done. You see, on moving to Chelsea in 2004, José Mourinho had just about mastered the darkest of managerial arts — the construction of a textbook personality cult. Whether wholly conscious or not, I firmly believe it's the central pillar of Mourinho's methodology.
Let me explain myself.
A long established and ubiquitous term (Karl Marx made casual reference to it in a letter of 1877), "personality cult" broadly fits the sociologist Max Weber's model of "charismatic authority" and describes the situation that develops when a compelling individual, in an auspicious context, establishes a public persona seductive enough that followers subjugate their individual reason and free will in favour of the will of their leader. A clear pattern emerges from there and the results aren't always too healthy.
Mourinho artfully established himself as just that kind of charismatic leader, and his players, his staff, the national media, and to a great extent football at large found themselves hanging on his every word — a situation that persists to this day. When he arrived at Chelsea, he was the shepherd and we were simply his latest dutiful flock. By that stage, he'd already been refining his methods for some time.
The Basic Prototype
In modern times, you'd think it would be difficult to establish yourself as some kind of messiah. Scientific reason, a free press, human rights... there are all kinds of obstacles in place for the aspiring modern day despot. But we're not nearly as collectively clever as we like to think.
Take Vernon Wayne Howell, for example. We know him better as David Koresh, the man who in 1993, along with 75 of his devoted followers (including 21 children), died in the fiery conclusion of an FBI siege in Waco, Texas. Illiterate and dyslexic, Koresh had suffered a lonely and directionless childhood. At the age of 11, however, the foundations were being laid for the man he would later become, developing an early taste for rumpy pumpy, and somehow memorising the entire New Testament. It seems from that point on he spent his time pestering Christian girls to 'mate'.
After several years of mixed success in that regard, Koresh eventually found his way to Waco, where he stumbled upon an interesting, hospitable group known as the "Branch Davidians". Led by a 76-year-old 'prophetess', the group happily accepted his claims that he was also a prophet and that God wanted him to father the 76 year old's child, with said child destined to be some kind of messiah. Conception being a little tricky at 76 years of age, the prophetess told Koresh he could 'teach his own message' while they kept working on it. Her son, meanwhile, was a little pissed off with these developments, and eventually ran Koresh off the property at gunpoint with 25 of his new-found devotees following in his glittering slipstream.
Koresh had stumbled into control of his very own personality cult. The group found new premises, and he set about recruiting new followers using the standard personality cult toolset:
- Proclaim that you're 'special' and that you have a vision.
- Define simple behavioural rules based on that vision.
- Enforce the behavioural rules by ensuring your followers buy into them.
- Make sure everything the group does relies on you.
Koresh's idea of glorious martyrdom wasn't the most sustainable of visions, of course, but his story, while tragic, illustrates the basic template for establishing a personality cult — a template similar to the one Mourinho had refined since first attempting its use during his brief stint with Benfica at the turn of the millennium.
Charisma and context are key to this process, of course. "Catalysis" is generally defined as the increased rate of chemical reaction after the introduction of some 'new' substance into the contextual mix — the 'catalyst'. Assemble a room full of journalists and cameramen and walk Bill Shankly in? Certain people, when introduced to a certain context, can leave the people in that context electrified.
Contextual catalysis is key to points 2 and 3 in the four-step template. Sometimes a group's rules are already largely defined and sometimes the group already buy into those rules to such an extent that they're just waiting for a leader with the right qualities to set the whole thing off. When a leader walks into a new leadership role, he's wise to sit and wait for the right opportunity — the right context — to present itself.
In that respect, Chelsea, like any ambitious club on the rise, was a context tailor-made for a man with Mourinho's skill set: a group of phenomenally talented footballers (assembled at almost unprecedented expense and levels of expectation) who desperately craved a working template for success, and a footballing 'establishment' (media, fans, competitors, and authorities) collectively waiting for (and largely dreading) the arrival of someone who could 'light the blue touch paper' and deliver that success — hungry young men who needed a guiding father figure and a football industry crying out for a little genuine drama.
Mourinho is careful in his selection of role, of course. Luís Lourenço, in his biography, betrays to some extent the early contextual lessons he learned on this front. Mourinho says, "I am the son of a coach, and I watched my father coach many different clubs all over Portugal. I can never forget the most painful days for a football coach. It isn't a new idea, and it's been used time and time again through the decades: the psychological whipping. I saw my father being sacked several times, too many times. I never knew of anyone who would first phone him to give him some sort of justification."
This youthful awareness of how precarious the managerial working context can be was compounded early in his career in his abortive stint at Benfica, where presidential elections and internal politics undermined his work with the squad. Looking back on the circumstances of his departure from the club, it's clear from Lourenço's biography that Mourinho at that stage was not sufficiently confident of his 'mythos', his reputation and marketability within the game, to do what his instincts told him he should do. "A touch of personal pride made me stay on at Benfica," he said. "I felt I couldn't leave without showing them I could do a good job. Today, I admit it was a mistake to stay. My insistence can be put down to age and inexperience. I was a 'kid' who needed to prove his worth to others, and that's why I stayed. I wouldn't do it again today."
That's not to say he didn't experiment politically, as the then-Benfica president would point out. The early signs were there of a clever man feeling his way into his role with an understanding of his circumstances that perhaps belied his level of experience and tender age. That sensitivity to the human forces at play (members, players, board), coupled with the self-awareness to recognise his own naivety, would inform his approach in later roles.
In contextual terms, as well as learning more carefully to manage his job selection and demands for his working environment, Mourinho learned the importance of selling his 'project' to the key stakeholders from that point on — a practice he uses to this day.
The Bible in PowerPoint
When Mourinho was approached by the owners of União de Leiria, he drafted a report which presented to the owners his plans for the club. Impressed, they immediately offered him the job. Jorge Nuno Pinto da Costa, the Porto President, had years before told Mourinho "your time at this club will come", and shortly thereafter Mourinho wheeled out the projector to deepen Pinto da Costa's commitment to his methodology. The Lourenço biography provided a glimpse of an approach he would later use with Abramovich. Mourinho said of the Porto presentation, "I think this document is extremely important, because it guides and directs an entire process. This document is a PowerPoint presentation that I gave to the president. The very first diagram sets out the idea that is the basis for the whole programme: 'The concept of club is more important than any player.' This concept is presented by itself on the first slide and is the basis for the entire structure of the document. It is a belief that must be taken on by everyone in the club, especially in the junior ranks."
Of course, while outlining basic suggestions on the structure of player contracts, on having no more than two senior players for each position, and so forth, what this document amounts to is a request for the project sponsor's buy-in. But the language and imagery used goes further than that. No 'player' is bigger than the club. But the manager? The document calls on the president to provide his tacit blessing to the establishment of the personality cult. There may in fact be some sleight of hand at play, where Mourinho allows the President to believe these are his ideas. Mourinho perhaps hints at this in saying, "respect for the club, for its norms, for its philosophy, etc, is much more important than any individual. The document I drew up, and which some now refer to as the 'Bible', is totally in line with this principle. Also, the stand taken by the president, Pinto da Costa, had been a great help in terms of having these ideas adhered to in the club."
In August 2004, Mark Honigsbaum reported in the Observer that Mourinho had "sent Abramovich a PowerPoint presentation with a detailed breakdown of Chelsea's squad, his assessment of which players should stay and who should go and what he expected from the club in terms of training, scouting and medical facilities. The result was that, when Mourinho finally met Abramovich on his yacht in Monaco the day after the Champions League final, Chelsea's owner already had all the information he needed."
The article went further, hinting at Mourinho's having learned the need to be punctilious with 'difficult' owners, particularly when applying a methodology such as his, which would increasingly capture the hearts and minds of those involved under his management.
This pattern would be repeated following his departure from Chelsea with Marca Ingla and Txiki Beguiristain of Barcelona, and presumably with Moratti, Florentino Pérez and whichever other clubs approached him with offers of work. In Barça's case, however, this ritual proved an unlikely contextual filter for the club, convincing them that Mourinho was a bad fit for them, and that they should instead appoint the then Barcelona B manager, Pep Guardiola. Graham Hunter, in Barça: the Making of the Greatest Team in the World [an extract of which appeared in Blizzard Issue Four], revealed that, "Mourinho had prepared what Ingla and Beguiristain remember to be a brilliant PowerPoint demonstration. His self-belief was clearly intact; he had deduced from a distance what was going wrong and had clear views on the best way out of the mess they were in. In normal circumstances the material, and the man, on show would have been so dazzling, so convincing that the argument would have become whether to give him the job there and then."
Ingla would later conclude, "I just don't like him."
Some may feel that Barça's sidestep would later fuel Mourinho's ambition to supplant them at the pinnacle of the European game, but for better or worse, the presentation had done its job. If there's likely to be a cultural problem with the club acquiescing in the Personality Cult approach, as was the case with Barça, the opportunity is there for the hiring club to pass.
Max Weber, in his theory of the tripartite classification of authority, theorised that there are three categories of authority:
- Traditional Authority — you have authority because it's habitual;
- Rational-Legal Authority — you're backed by a 'mandate' that everyone accepts;
- Charismatic Authority — you have authority because people want you to.
With Traditional Authority and Rational-Legal Authority, the context itself bestows the authority. However, with Charismatic Authority (akin to our 'personality cult'), you have some chance of managing and engineering your authoritarian context in ways that support your methodology.
Weber defined Charismatic Authority as: "The authority of the extraordinary and personal gift of grace (charisma)… Men do not obey him by virtue of tradition or statute, but because they believe in him."
Mourinho's messianic arrival at Chelsea in 2004 provides maybe the best example of him establishing just that brand of authority, indelibly stamping our minds with his vision in the process. "I intend to give my best, to improve things and to create the football team in relation to my image and my football philosophy..." he said. "We have top players and, sorry if I'm arrogant, we have a top manager... I'm not a defender of old or new football managers. I believe in good ones and bad ones, those that achieve success and those that don't. Please don't call me arrogant, but I'm European champion and I think I'm a special one."
Visionary, prophetic language you might say: creation in his own image... a special one. As he said himself: "God, and after God, me."
By that stage of course, just as he'd previously done with his squad on joining Porto, Mourinho had written to his players and reinforced points 2 and 3 in the standard issue personality cult template: establish behavioural rules in support of your vision and obtain the group's buy-in to such an extent that they themselves enforce those behavioural rules. "From here each practice, each game, each minute of your social life must centre on the aim of being champions," Mourinho wrote to his squad in early July 2004. "First-teamer will not be a correct word. I need all of you. You need each other. We are a TEAM." He concluded the letter with the equation, "Motivation + Ambition + Team + Spirit = SUCCESS."
Having achieved buy-in from his owner, the letter systematically moved the establishment of his vision on to his playing squad, a process that was, of course, on-going and which has betrayed repeating patterns — recipes — in his exhaustively reported career since. That he was constantly refining his own 'manual' was beyond doubt. Use what works, refine or jettison what doesn't. On the subject of the letter, Honigsbaum noted, "It was almost word for word the same letter that he had sent to Porto players when he was appointed manager in January 2002."
It's maybe in this that the 'My Chelsea' tag, a tag that the club's players and fans still seemed to enjoy, at least until the Champions League victory in Munich, is so enduring. The notion, in the context of securely established charismatic authority, is a powerful and emotionally evocative one. As a metaphor, its nature is essentially paternal and when combined with the obvious martial imagery, the bond it builds can be dangerously persistent, beyond notions of reason or what's best for the group itself in the longer term. It certainly appeals to football fans, who will often have undergone the rite of passage and transmission of 'lore' from their father or substitute parental figures related to playing or supporting the game.
Meanwhile, as a manager, Mourinho's portrayal as 'club as child' traces back to his time at Benfica. In Lourenço's biography, he explained that he started to identify the Benfica team as 'his' when players assumed his mentality: of irreverence, of ambition and of internal solidarity. Talking in typically dramatic terms after a draw with Braga in which his side had dominated his visitors, he said, "That day was also set to mark the reconciliation between the fans and the team, despite the final draw... At the end of the match, the team went onto the pitch to receive its members' ovation, as players and fans made up. All the factors involved in this game, and the way in which everything took place, resulted in a turning point in the mindset of the Benfica players. From then on, nothing was the same. 'My Benfica' began there and then."
'My Porto', 'My Chelsea', 'My Inter'...
'My Real Madrid'?
Reinforcing the House of Cards
When describing Charismatic Authority, Weber acknowledged that of the three categories, it's the least stable. If those who follow experience doubt as to the leader's 'powers', his authority loses its legitimacy. Ideally it's best to engineer the situation in such a way that your group does the reinforcement for you — and it's here that Mourinho really extends the basic four-step template and demonstrates his team-building prowess.
The dynamic at work is illustrated by a 1967 experiment by an American high school history teacher with his sophomore students, known as "The Third Wave". The idea was to illustrate that even the most enlightened and educated groups can find themselves swept up in the power of charismatic authority and, in the process subjugate the kind of reason they may have formerly taken for granted, given the right combination of context and catalyst.
The teacher began the experiment by encouraging his students to respond immediately to his questions without thought, ideally with yes or no answers. He insisted on discipline and obedience, introducing group symbols, slogans, and gestures that allowed the group to identify with each other, their 'movement' and their leader.
Ambiguity and disorder were kept to a minimum, with certainty and security their perceived replacement. The teacher introduced the idea that this movement was bigger than any of them realised — that it was sweeping the nation and would lead the nation to a simpler, better way of life. But to his horror, the movement spread beyond the class to the rest of the school, gaining momentum as more and more students became involved and eventually giving rise to bullying and ridicule for those who chose not to become involved (to the extent that the teacher brought the experiment to a sensibly premature close).
Such is the power of symbolism when a group craves a sense of oneness. The leader establishes a clear vision, and supports that vision by:
- Introducing a simple symbology and 'code' to communicate;
- Introducing vigorous discipline;
- Insisting on immediate obedience;
- Removing ambiguity and disorder;
- Promoting a sense of security and certainty;
- Associating the project with something greater than the group itself — the fans, God... whatever works.
Chelsea again provide the clearest illustration of Mourinho's approach in this regard. After telling the world's media at a press conference that he's special, Mourinho quickly went on to establish a comprehensive symbology for those involved at the club. For example:
- The Chelsea club badge changes, with his approval, featuring a lion that "looks arrogant";
- Using a subtle rebranding of established coaching practices, he introduces a 'colour box system' to instil coded tactical call-and-response in his players at all levels within the club (see "guided discovery", "resting with the ball" and so forth);
- Each member of staff receives two books, Mourinho's Drills and the Chelsea Bible;
- Members of the playing squad increasingly talk of "the Chelsea Family";
- A few games into their first season under his management, the squad receives crystal clear messages in terms of what's to be expected if behavioural rules are contravened (Joe Cole is dressed down, Hernán Crespo is unceremoniously dispatched to Milan, Adrian Mutu fails a drugs test and is cast out);
- After a particularly physical away encounter against Mark Hughes's Blackburn, the players defiantly throw their shirts into the away end at Ewood Park.
Alongside all of this, of course, Mourinho maintained a consistently convincing demeanour both with his staff and with the media (tone, posture, attitude, projection of invulnerability). It was difficult not to be seduced by it all.
Of course, buy-in to Mourinho's methodology is possibly harder for those on the footballing side than any of the other parties under his influence. In the coaches' and players' case, active work was required and not only on the physical and technical aspects of the game. Lourenço's book betrays the peculiar notion of 'fitness' used by Mourinho and his staff — relating a concept central to every athlete's sense of self-worth to the broader goals of the group and, in particular, the manager. The comments dated from his second season at Porto — a time when the players were being asked to depart from their standard 4-4-2 setup and accommodate greater squad rotation in pursuit of trophies on all fronts. "For us, to say that this or that player is in great physical shape is a mistake," Mourinho said. "The player is either fit or not. And what do we mean by being fit? It is to be physically well and to be part of a game plan which a player knows inside out. With regard to the psychological side, which is essential to play at the highest level, a fit player feels confident, cooperates with and believes in his teammates, and shows solidarity towards them. All of this put together means a player is fit and it is reflected in playing well."
That this all takes time is of course also central to Mourinho's 'message', despite later claims that 'long-term is a big excuse for coaches'. Shortly after starting mid-season at an underachieving Porto, he said, "When a coach begins his work halfway through the season, he can always make one of two choices. He can opt for a psychological beating — which I don't believe in — or he can choose a methodological beating... the methodological beating... produces long-lasting effects because it brings about structural changes. In this case, changes in the work philosophy and the model of play can be seen."
That this methodological beating paid off in footballing terms at every club since Porto is beyond doubt, of course. But the language he uses is illustrative, some might think.
The Empathetic Father Figure
At the end of his short stint at Benfica, Mourinho said, "I felt incredibly angry that I was raising a child I would have to abandon." It's an interesting turn of phrase and a theme that again has followed him throughout his career. Mourinho, for all his peculiarities, is demonstrably warm — demonstrably 'human.' A family man whose friends appear to have remained close and loyal throughout his adult life, he has at certain times in his managerial career demonstrated his empathy to his players, and behaved in a manner befitting his charismatic 'father figure' aspirations.
When César Peixoto's anterior cruciate ligament ruptured in 2004, Mourinho attended the operation. When Petr Cech's head was controversially injured against Reading, his sense of concern was palpable (although his comments related to the medical professionals involved may have been ill-advised).
Didier Drogba was famously reported as being in tears upon hearing of Mourinho's dismissal from Chelsea. Wesley Sneijder, on winning the Ballon D'Or in 2010, dedicated his award to Mourinho, with Mourinho visibly moved by the gesture. Marco Materazzi's embrace outside the Bernabéu following that season's European Cup final victory encapsulated the bond that Mourinho is capable of forming with his players and staff. That he boasts pure uncut charisma is beyond any doubt, of course, but these are often intelligent, independently motivated men. Michael Essien, on joining Real Madrid on loan, repeatedly referred to Mourinho as "my Daddy". Wesley Sneijder said, "I am a bit like him. He could have been my father."
The broad emphasis in his coaching and man management style is inclusive. His explanation of the 'guided discovery' approach in tactical work betrays his sensitivity. "It is not easy to put this theory (guided discovery) into practice, especially with top players who are not prepared to accept everything they are told just because it comes from you, the authority…" he said. "I will arrange the training sessions to lead along a certain path, they will begin feeling it… all together, we reach a conclusion." So while he talks of "methodological beating", it's done in ways that allow the players to feel they 'own' the conclusions reached as a group — much like his PowerPoint-based approach with the men in suits.
This sensitivity is also illustrated in the way he picks his fights with certain players. Helder Postiga, Joe Cole, Mario Balotelli and Karim Benzema have all been singled out for criticism over the years, and in each case, clear messages were sent to his squads in terms of the behaviour and standards of 'fitness' expected of them. The cases of Sergio Ramos, Iker Casillas, and Cristiano Ronaldo, all of whose comments on Mourinho have caused controversy during his time with Real Madrid, provide an interesting counterpoint. Mourinho, like all the canniest man-managers before him, knows which fights to pick — a strength that's proven particularly crucial to him in his current role, not least in obtaining at least begrudging buy-in from his players to his methods.
Lourenço's biography tells the story of Mourinho's 2002 Porto training camp, which illustrates how central the buy-in of his group is to his approach. A few nights into their retreat, Mourinho gave the players the afternoon and evening off. He said, "The only thing I asked of them was to be back at the hotel by 11.00pm... It was around twenty to eleven when a taxi arrived with the first group of players. Immediately after this, all the other players began to arrive as well. I was completely taken aback, not only because they'd arrived before the stipulated time, but also because they all arrived at the same time. Jorge Costa walked past me, and I asked him, 'Jorge, what happened?' 'We all went out together. We have a great group here, Mister.'"
That unity of purpose has characterised his teams ever since. Arguably, that is, until now.
The Routinisation of Charisma
Given his recipe for team building, Mourinho's current tenure at Real Madrid provides an interesting contrast to his time with Chelsea. Charismatic authority is the least stable of Weber's three categories, since it wholly depends on the group's perception of the figurehead — their belief that he is 'special'. The model applies just as much at any football club and if you find yourself with a realistic chance of consolidating (let alone establishing) your authority, you've already done a sterling job.
Weber believed that instances of Charismatic Authority "cannot remain stable; they will become either traditionalised or rationalised, or a combination of both." He called this "the routinisation of charisma".
It's here that managers with genuine dynastic-level ambition set themselves aside — for case studies, see the careers of Stein, Busby, Shankly, Herrera, Michels, Clough, Ferguson... the peculiar combinations of charisma and context in each case dictated their fortunes to a great extent.
In some situations, routinisation is relatively easy. Managerial life would have been far easier for Bob Paisley at Liverpool, for example, than for Brian Clough or Jock Stein at Leeds United. As a rule, however, it's extremely difficult for a manager to control the conditions he needs to control if he's to stand a chance of routinising his authority. Even with the most accommodating owners, it helps to be a master of the dark arts to get your way. (Stein in particular proved himself supreme in handling his stakeholders, whether in the boardroom, referee's room, tunnel or press room. Alex Ferguson, of course, received a comprehensive education from the great man in the more Machiavellian nuances of his craft while working as his assistant with Scotland.)
In Mourinho's case, the situation at Chelsea ultimately proved too difficult even for him to handle. Despite the appearance of an ideal 'catalytic context', the club at the time (and arguably to this day) featured a host of characters seemingly vying for influence over Roman Abramovich, from the level of Bruce Buck and Ron Gourlay/Paul Smith, through Frank Arnesen and Avram Grant, to several of his senior players. When Mourinho was ousted, the media reported it as a "shock"; however, in light of Weber's model, it was perhaps predictable. Having been unable to routinise his charismatic authority (something all but impossible with Abramovich at the helm, other than with his blessing), Mourinho found himself vulnerable to challenge throughout his time at the club, despite appearances to the contrary. The authority, though clearly established, was never routinised.
Mourinho would of course go on to quit his job with Internazionale, where his authority had clearly been as routinised as far as was possible with Moratti's consent. His time in Italy had been tough on a personal level, as he appeared to find it difficult to adjust to the peculiarities of its footballing life. Mourinho, on winning the European Cup, said, "There are many things [in Italy] that I haven't liked and for three to four months I've been thinking of going... I am not leaving Inter, I am leaving Italian football. This group of players have given me great satisfaction and I will always have Inter inside of me."
Mourinho had, of course, ruffled feathers among his managerial peers, while possibly betraying one of the central conditions of his employment. He famously said, "While I choose the team that goes out on the pitch, other coaches don't do that... If anyone told me what to do with my line-up, the next day my office would be empty and I would have my suitcases packed."
Mourinho had perhaps grown accustomed to the kind of reception he'd enjoyed in England. Ian Hawkey, writing in the Sunday Times in February 2010, neatly encapsulated the contrast, while underlining the persistence of (and Italian football's comparative disdain for) his self-appointed 'Our Father' persona: "The last time he sat in an executive box to watch Chelsea come back from a goal down to win against Fulham, he told reporters he recognised the gutsiness of the performance as that of 'my Chelsea'. Barely a month later, he beamed after Inter's win over Milan in the Serie A derby: 'Now I can say this is an Inter team built in my image.' There are folk in Italian football who wonder whether something built in Mourinho's image is a good thing... Much of this is the familiar knockabout that was part of his routine in the Premier League and in Portugal's Superliga. But Mourinho's eagerness to turn spats with rival coaches into something personal ... is viewed here as vulgar and vain."
The Real Madrid Routinisation
In terms of Weber's model, the cards seemed stacked against him from the off at Real Madrid. After all, at a club like Real Madrid your chance only ever exists within clearly defined limits — ultimately, Real Madrid are at the whim of their fickle socios. Whoever rides in on the next presidential ticket will propose whatever they most care about. The trick is to get them to care about you — to believe that you're special.
That Mourinho was due to move to Real Madrid in the summer of 2010 was perhaps the worst kept secret in world football at the time. Mourinho commented early on the defining theme of his early tenure in Madrid — his working relationship with Director General, Jorge Valdano. Gabriele Marcotti, in the Times, quoted Mourinho as saying, "I have no doubt that the relationship will work because Valdano knows to respect the autonomy of his job and my job… We can talk to each other about transfers and the like, but his role is clearly delineated."
Mourinho, on formally assuming the role (the situation leading up to his appointment saw him somehow leading the club while still being at the helm of Inter), applied the standard template as usual, but taking on a squad of newly ordained World Cup winners, his miracle-working mythos perhaps impressed the senior players a little less than had been the case at his previous clubs. And not only that, this was Real Madrid — a place where no man is bigger than the club.
In spite of that, however, and despite Barcelona's ongoing and unprecedented success, Mourinho successfully set about establishing his vision, bedding in his methodology, and establishing the standard set of behavioural rules. Xabi Alonso, whose footballing role for the club remains pivotal, not least in tactical terms, gave the impression in the early stages that, as usual, Mourinho's approach had been consultative and inclusive — a sensible gambit with such an accomplished squad.
After a goalless draw in his opening game, his team steamed through domestic round after domestic round into the winter, and enjoyed early success in the group stages of the Champions League. Mourinho perhaps suffered from this early success upon their first encounter with Barcelona, however, setting his side out at the Nou Camp in open, offensive mode, only to run into an epoch-defining 5-0 defeat hailed by many as the greatest team performance of all time. This was a setback to establishing his authority at the club, since to bed himself in, and to keep those who had already 'bought in' on side, he would need to persuade them they'd achieved some degree of footballing success, while simultaneously attacking the forces with the potential to undermine his position.
A few months later, the football world was debating whether he'd achieved that to an acceptable extent. Vicente Del Bosque would no doubt confirm that a single Copa Del Rey does not generally equate 'success' at Real Madrid. So in a season that saw him push Barcelona in the league, but ultimately falter, coupled with their head-to-head humiliation and the ignominy of being knocked out by their great rivals in the semi-final of the Champions League on their own pitch... ordinarily you'd have expected the manager to lose his job.
However, in line with his comments before joining the club, Mourinho had dedicated attention to the other big obstacle to his assertion of authority — Jorge Valdano. A post-match press conference early in the season saw Mourinho in familiar combative mode, reciting a litany of errors made by the referee. However, it appeared to some that his target was not solely the Spanish refereeing establishment. In the April 2011 edition of FourFourTwo, Simon Talbot explained his insight into the event: "There was something familiar about Mourinho complaining about the referee: it forms part of his armoury, another tactic for a master tactician... And yet, as he waved the piece of paper in the air, revealing that he had been handed it by someone from the club on his way in, it became clear that this was different. It was not really the referee he was complaining about. It was Real Madrid. This was another us versus them; only 'us' was the team, 'them' was the club hierarchy. And one man in particular: director general Jorge Valdano... This was less press conference, more a declaration of war."
Mourinho proceeded to air all that was grimy in the Spanish media, stating, "I don't like hidden wars... If I have wars, I have them in the open." Mourinho's brinkmanship having accompanied him throughout his career (shortly after his departure from Benfica, he apologised to their president for his 'blackmail' of threatening to leave for another club) he would surely have fancied his chances, despite Valdano's status as consigliere to Florentino Pérez's Don. Valdano's role had of course been central to the club's footballing direction for several years and, as well as being a trusted colleague and confidante, he was also Pérez's personal friend.
As time passed, and with the Madrid ultras defiantly chanting Mourinho's name, Mourinho set about systematically undermining the foundations of Valdano's authority. This would occasionally surface in pointed comments, such as "If I can talk to the number one, why would I talk to anyone else?"
Suddenly people were asking the question — what value is the middle man adding. Pérez, of course, had made the ultimate statement of defiance in hiring Mourinho: that Barça's rise would not go unchecked and that he would bring in the very best world football had to offer in pursuit of Real Madrid's return to the top. Mourinho was aware of the key bargaining chip at his disposal — if political subterfuge was seen to have undermined Mourinho's work with the club and he was to depart as a result, it wouldn't reflect too well on Pérez (footballing consequences aside).
As such, it was maybe no surprise when Mourinho brought the matter to a head, insisting, "I want to leave." Peréz had no choice but to act, taking unprecedented steps in meeting Mourinho's structural demands while making the inevitable changes in personnel. Valdano protested, "I have always respected Real Madrid. I've never turned the club into a battlefield… I always put my position as director general before who I am, and I have always avoided fighting that battle… I believe José Mourinho staying on is good for a club that's been unstable in the past. It needs to settle for a reasonable period of time. He's done a good job, I believe he is a good coach and I find it normal that he stays on. Real Madrid is great, which doesn't mean this new structure belittles it. The president came up with this solution to resolve a difficult situation that wasn't easy to manage."
Meanwhile, Pérez, while denying Mourinho had made any demands, confirmed them. "The experience of the season just ended has shown the need for new organisation at the club, giving autonomy to our coach…" he said. "This is the first step in our reorganisation process which we will develop in the coming weeks… Mourinho did not make any demands. He asked for more autonomy in line with how English clubs are organised."
Oddly, Barça's month-long assertion of dominance over Real Madrid in the spring of 2011 played into Mourinho's hands. If people had started the year asking themselves what value the middle man brought to the party, surely they ended this period demanding an answer. If Madrid could spend hundreds of millions of Euros assembling the most expensive squad in football history, and if they boasted the most celebrated manager in the modern game, then why weren't they the ones dominating?
The charges had been laid over the months, and all that was missing was the detonator. "We lack a striker," Mourinho had complained, despite having a squad replete with striking talent. "I don't have full control," Mourinho had complained, in response to subtle challenges from the Valdano camp relating to Mourinho's (and several of his players') relationship with the Portuguese agent Jorge Mendes. Suddenly, despite having won the Copa del Rey, they were out of the league and the Champions League, with Barça being hailed as possibly the greatest team of all time.
Mourinho had got his excuses in early and results forced action from Pérez: Valdano was removed from his post. Pérez had already gambled the fate of his presidency on hiring Mourinho and his expensive coaching entourage and, having given him hitherto unimagined control over the club's footballing operations, Pérez found himself with a dilemma. Do what the club had done throughout the last decade and get rid of the manager, with massive expense and loss of face, or do the unthinkable and consolidate his power base at the club, with all the personnel and structural consequences that this entailed. And while the broader reasons may be many and varied, Pérez by the end of last season was able to point at results and make the reasonable claim that his team were in the ascendancy, a dramatic loss in the Champions League semi-final notwithstanding. Their league victory was impressive and was achieved against a stronger Barça side than any Real Madrid manager had ever faced.
2012 would prove a rollercoaster ride in terms of Mourinho's hopes of routinising his authority. The new year brought reports of training ground hostilities between Mourinho and the two club captains, Sergio Ramos and Iker Casillas. Meanwhile, support from the crowd was divided, with fans chanting Mourinho's name as he was whistled by other sections. Right on cue, rumours began to emerge that Mourinho planned to leave in the summer.
One terse press conference stood out. When asked if there were issues with his man-management, and whether there were cliques in the group, Mourinho replied, "I don't provoke cliques," the inference being that others in the group did. He was then spotted in London, supposedly house hunting. Since the team were on course to wrest the league back from Barça, his position was strong enough to fire shot after shot across the club's bows. March saw him flirting once more with Chelsea. But ahead of their Champions League semi-final, his stance noticeably softened — artfully so, you might argue. Seeing his chance to cement his authority as a successful season drew to a close, he systematically buttered up his stakeholders, while appealing once more to their common goal — the mission that was bigger than any one person.
Sid Lowe reported him as saying, "I have a contract and I do not have any reason not to be here, but before the last game there will be sufficient time to talk to the players and the directors and decide what is best for me and for the players." He then turned to the players and compared them with his illustrious group at Inter, saying, "I look at this group today and I see the same hope and hunger." Lastly he said that working at Madrid "is an enriching experience and that has made me a better coach... I hope I do not fail to live up to people's expectations... It is about the way we work together, the way we create empathy... It is better to be [in charge] for three, four or five years than one or two because you can do more things... it is the players who are out there and I have faith in them." Continuing in this conciliatory vein, he said, "My feeling is that we still have the ability to grow as a team and the club can grow too. Clubs have to adapt to the evolution of time and to changing mentalities. A fantastic car in the 1980s is not fantastic in the 1990s or the 2000s. If the club thinks that I can still give something — and I know that they do — and if the players think so as well — and I think they do; I feel like the empathy is increasing — I will continue."
Meanwhile, Tito Vilanova took the helm at Barça, and as many of Mourinho's key players set off for Poland and Ukraine to secure their third successive trophy with the Spanish national team, he waved them goodbye as the ink dried on his contract extension, securing his and his staff's services until 2016. Plans were made to revise further the club's overall structure, following his assertion that, "Real Madrid do not have a structure in accordance with their size." By this stage, his authority seemed about as well founded as it's possible for a manager to enjoy at Real Madrid.
Fast forward to October, however, and tensions surfaced once more. Against Deportivo La Coruña, Mourinho replaced Mesut Özil at half-time, exchanging harsh words in the dressing-room. Sergio Ramos indulged in some mischief, donning Özil's shirt beneath his own for the second half. When an observant photographer caught him in the act, Ramos pleaded benign ignorance. Meanwhile, Christiano Ronaldo sulked at the progress of his contract negotiations. Mourinho's authority was once again the focus of debate, and he hit back, saying, "Right now I don't have a team." As Christmas drew closer, he ramped up hostilities, accusing the media of a campaign against him, and complaining about his lack of influence over coaching and scouting elsewhere in the club's hierarchy, and saying the B-team coach Alberto Toril "has to decide if it's more important to form players for the first team or finish fourth or fifth." Once again, some fans chanted his name while others whistled, to the extent that on December 3, he took to the field before the home game against Atlético Madrid having invited fans to direct their ire at him personally. Meanwhile the press reported a breakdown in his relationship with Florentino Pérez.
In the last weeks of 2012, with Vilanova's Barça streaking ahead in the league, Mourinho effectively conceded the title, saying, "The league's practically impossible." Casillas perhaps hinted at the root of the problem in saying, "If you gave me the choice of being 25 points behind in the league and winning the 10th [European Cup], I'd take it." Meanwhile Mourinho had supposedly talked off record about there being "three black sheep in the squad".
Thus the new year echoed its predecessor, with Mourinho confronting a senior player and tension surfacing. Mourinho did the unthinkable — he dropped Casillas in favour of his deputy, Antonio Adán. The football world was shocked, with his erstwhile rival Jorge Valdano commenting that it was "an exhibition of power, imposing himself on a legend of the club".
Adán's second game descended into farce when, six minutes into the game, he conceded a penalty and was sent off, Casillas taking the field while quietly ignoring the verbal instructions of his manager. Cue more media derision. Mourinho must have been almost relieved when Casillas was then ruled out for two months with a fractured finger. He was beginning to look anything but special, and clearly a few smelled blood. Florentino Pérez was forced to dismiss allegations in Marca that Ramos and Casillas had issued him with an ultimatum: "It's him or us." Pérez said the paper had "crossed an ethical line". Marca's front page responded the following day with the words "Marca no miente" — "Marca does not lie" emblazoned on its front page.
From a stage in the summer when it seemed he stood a chance of establishing — against all the odds — long-lasting routinised authority at Real Madrid, things looked far less promising.
Sustained success at any football club requires the establishment and sustenance of clear authority at the head of the footballing operation, be it via a European or English model. But establishing it via charismatic authority can be fraught with difficulty.
Mourinho is a one-off. His presence is such that his recipe tends to work not only on his players, but also on a chunk of the worldwide media. He lives large enough that his words in a post-match press conference can cause ripples at Uefa and at Fifa — even at Unicef. That's quite something and it's all down to his hypnotic allure, allied to his trophy haul.
People are fascinated by him in the same way they're fascinated by Hannibal Lecter or Count Dracula. We are afraid, but secretly a little aroused — maybe even infused with abstracted primordial blood lust. This is the danger with a powerful case of charismatic authority. It intoxicates as powerfully as any narcotic but, when it's over, it leaves your football club with a hell of a hangover.
The fact is, it's impossible for Chelsea to move on and get over it. In a very real sense, Mourinho is still in charge there. The winning mentality he instilled at the club has arguably contributed to a great deal of their ongoing 'success' since his departure, but some will doubtless claim it feels hollow without him and the sense of 'oneness' he represented. As Andre Villas-Boas puts it, "His is a presence ever felt in the club."
Villas Boas had, of course, experienced this spectre before during his time with Porto, but luckily his President, Pinto da Costa, understood the need for an exorcism, saying, "[Andre] needs time to mould his team. He can't do that as long as there are players, as I've heard, who exchange text messages with Mourinho." The same can't be said for Roman Abramovich. Both he and many of Mourinho's former players at Chelsea still exchange playful texts and phone calls with him. Mourinho, it seems, likes to leave his territory marked. Last year, facing the possibility of drawing Chelsea in the Champions League knock-out stages, he said, "People can't understand how much I love Inter and Chelsea and how much I love the boys." This came shortly after the annual round of rumours linking him with a return to the soon-to-be-vacant Chelsea hot seat — a link he and his representatives never seem to discourage (since as well as keeping his territory marked, it tends to help bolster his authority in his current role).
More than five years on from his departure, Mourinho still talks about Chelsea and its players in a direct and personal way. Contrast that with Rafa Bénitez, Chelsea's current interim manager, who in talking about the club, seems once removed from it. No sign of "my Chelsea", but rather, "I want to be at a top side and Chelsea is a top side with great potential." Of course, Marco Materazzi sought to highlight this contrast in recent weeks. It's unlikely to have disappointed Mourinho.
The challenge for Real Madrid was to attempt a complete and responsible routinisation of the process that absorbed Mourinho's best practice, while removing as far as possible the traces of Mourinho's charismatic residue. But is that possible? Some clubs can lay claim to just that kind of dynastic succession but Liverpool still has an air of Shankly about it, Ajax an air of Michels, Barça the distinct feeling of Cruyff...
As long as it's wielded responsibly and seen through to its logical conclusion, a fully routinised cycle of enlightened charismatic authority can only be a good thing for an aspirant club in a state of transition. But if the club falls short in its routinisation, it may find its progress hindered in the medium term while the people involved either squabble for scraps at the authoritative table, or pine for their departed, yet still glorious, leader.