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03 June 2016

José Mourinho: football’s ‘special one’?

José Mourinho: football’s ‘special one’?

Frances Hawley works with Mission Aviation Fellowship and loves helping mainstream media grasp faith in all walks of life

"I believe totally, clearly… every day I pray, every day I speak with Him." So said José Mourinho, one of the greatest football managers in our generation, and Manchester United's latest signing as of last Friday.

Mourinho possesses a magnetic star quality, but despite his allure, he is a Marmite character - cocky, grumpy and relentless according to his critics, a visionary and dedicated winner to his fans.  One could argue that the greatest leaders - Jesus included - divide opinion. Mourinho, like everyone, is flawed, and he's certainly no people-pleaser. But his achievements and vast trophy cabinet speak for him.

On joining Chelsea in 2004 he famously stated: "Please don't call me arrogant because what I am saying is true - I'm European champion so… I think I'm a special one".

Brazen as this might seem, he does have a point. Someone's track record does give a crucial indicator of whether their future success is likely. Jesus could make big claims because he could ultimately back them up.

Scratch the surface and the seeds of Mourinho's success become clearer. As an eagle-eyed young man watching his footballing father play at the weekend, his passion for the beautiful game was forged. Getting into scouting and youth coaching early, he worked his way up the local Portuguese squads, his talent catching the eye of other managers. Eventually he became the right-hand man to the legendary Sir Bobby Robson at Porto and Barcelona, two of the best clubs in Europe. 

The right foundations were laid: he was passionate, he learned from the best, he studied, observed and tried his hand until he excelled. Did he start off that way? No chance. 

Here is a flicker of the wisdom found in biblical 'seasons'. You generally ripen to your best through seasons of learning and life experience.

"To know wisdom and instruction,
     to understand words of insight,
to receive instruction in wise dealing,
     in righteousness, justice, and equity;
to give prudence to the simple,
     knowledge and discretion to the youth—

Let the wise hear and increase in learning,
     and the one who understands obtain guidance,
to understand a proverb and a saying,
     the words of the wise and their riddles.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
     fools despise wisdom and instruction." (Proverbs 1:2 – 7)

Yet more intriguingly, right at the heart of Mourinho's coaching philosophy is a high regard for personal relationship. Speaking to The Telegraph last year he said: "Now I coach the best players in the world, and the most important thing is not that you are prepared from the technical point of view; the most important thing is the relationship you establish with the person. Of course you need the knowledge, the capacity to analyse things. But the centre of everything is the relationship, and empathy, not only with the individual, but in the team. And to have that empathy in the team we all must give up something."

Mourinho is no saint. Run-ins with players, bosses and peers are not unheard of. He's certainly not immune to the cost of deviating from this relational approach. Indeed, his treatment of Chelsea physio and the subsequent impact on relationships most likely contributed to his downfall at Chelsea. Nevertheless, he does acknowledge that success is based on strong relationships - and how personal sacrifice is involved in maintaining them.

Is José Mourinho really such a 'special one'? Well he's not the Special One by any stretch. But just maybe some of that Special One's glory shines in this Portuguese prodigy who inspires devotion from his followers, relies on prayer, rates empathy and apprenticed himself diligently in pursuit of excellence in his purpose.

Perhaps we'll let the mercurial striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic have the final say on Mourinho during their shared time at Inter Milan: "He's the leader of his army, but he cares, too. He would text me all the time, wondering how I was doing. Mourinho would eventually become a guy I was basically willing to die for."

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Image: CC Ronnie Macdonald