By Ajibola Olayinka
Devoting scarce space in a widely read and respected tabloid showcasing Mourinho taking the Premier League by storm and heralding new level of competition amongst gaffers when he agreed to coach the North London Club, Chelsea Football Club in 2004 will fatally alter the purpose of this piece. Suffice to say that since his first advent the English premiership has not remained on the same level as the League remains the most vibrant and competitive in the word. His entrance brought other world class coaches such as Carlo Ancelloti (Chelsea, Everton), Pep Guardiola (Manchester City), Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool), Antonio Conte (Chelsea), Van Gaal (Manchester United) etc. in droves and the ever-widening global fans of the League are the better for it.
His antecedents – on and off the field – qualified him for cult followership; his perfect showmanship (‘I think I’m a special one’, ‘we have top players and, sorry if I’m arrogant, we have a top manager’) are stuffs legends are made of; Medals, garlands, prizes, cups won across his sojourn straddling Portugal, England, Italy and Spain certainly will twinkle on shelves as one of the most decorated football managers; He has coached high-profile players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Didier Drogba, Sergio Ramos, Diego Milito, Wesley Sneider, Frank Lampard and a slew of other fantastic footballers who sweated for their beloved manager. He is every interviewer’s delight with ribaldry above the cut; In summary, his charismatic personality and laurels make head-hunter’s profile once the price is right!. Jose Mourinho is a Portuguese but a global manager with flair for winning prizes and cups based on his managerial model. He has proved that football is a universal game adaptable to suit any club disposed towards his success model. As such, love him or hate him, you cannot do without him because when written off as down in the cold he displayed a cat with nine lives persona, bouncing back even spectacularly.
Unfortunately, in the last five football seasons Mourinho has drawn across-the-board sympathies especially from his numerous admirers because of mix fortunes from his clubs. The 2014/2015 season at Chelsea was a nightmare with Chelsea flirting with relegation which eventually earned him a sack from the Club owner. This appeared like an anti-climax because the same set of players won the League in previous season and unconfirmed stories made the headline about players’ gang-up to ensure his dismissal for reasons best known to them. Never short of admirers, Manchester United quickly snapped him up and from the look of things this move was a culmination of his secret desire apparently because he had previously nursed the ambition of succeeding Sir Alex Ferguson who retired in 2013 after a record 26 years coaching career with unparalleled record. While he preferred his success model of securing high profile players to execute his program, he met a brick wall from Ed Woodward, the vice chairman of the Club who preferred development of the academy team to graduate into the senior cadre. Soccer informed observers knew his exit would just be a matter of time though when it happened he did not leave without boosting his resume, winning notably the Europa League Cup, the League Cup and FA Community Shield. Many pundits thought his dismissal before Christmas in 2018 heralded the end of Mourinho managerial dynasty. Meanwhile Klopp and Guardiola in particular have set the League on fire with their brand of playing styles and uncommon football. During his wilderness period, Mourinho ensured he positioned himself across the best clubs in Europe seeking for another managerial job. He became a regular face featuring for pay-per-view televisions as a pundit. One of his comments that ‘champion league is a game of details’ has become the benchmark for new champions league coaches as witnessed in the 2019/2020 season. He should know having won it with Porto and Inter Milan and near misses with Chelsea and Real Madrid.
Again, the break wasn’t to last forever as our friend landed another London Club, Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. Many wondered at the White Hart Lane landlord, Daniel Levy whether he ate Mourinho bug because the Club is steeped in a tradition of youth development with preference for growing new stars rather than secure any laurel with Mourinho’s ‘cash and carry’ mercenary style. Gareth Bale, Luka Modric, Kyle Walker are stand-out ambassadors of this respected club and while its shelves are not busting with cups yet, it occupy respectable position in English elite League from season to season. The Club’s performance and rating peaked in 2018/2019 season, squaring up with Liverpool at the all-England teams in the year’s champion’s league final in Spain. Mourinho took the managerial mantle after the erstwhile coach Pochetino (“Poch”) got the axe for hovering just above relegation zone. The Club’s talisman and towering English striker, Harry Kane was enduring injury spell and key players were uncertain about their future with the Club. With antecedents during his second coming to Chelsea, players fear “Mourinho effect” that is, that their mistakes will be post-match conference jibes by ‘the special one’. The Club owner is reputed for shrewd player acquisition and given paucity of stars in January buying window, the new boss has to do with existing players. And so, hanging on to the 6th position at the end of 2019/2020 campaign was not totally bad as the Club qualified for Europa League competition.
But the new 2020/2021 season has turned out for Mourinho and Spurs different from book-makers’ prediction. After losing the first League match at home to Everton, not a few highbrows were raised about Spurs under the manager. But he picked the gauntlet and has put in a credible performance both in Europa circuit and the League games. In their last four matches, the Club hit their opponents 18 times (average of 4.5 goals per match) and even in the drawn result with Newcastle United where a weird rule prevailed to gift their opponents a penalty on the death, 23 direct shots at goal were recorded by its sharp marksmen. These feats are coming irrespective of whether it’s a home or an away match. Quite a few remarkable changes could be adduced for the Club’s high impact victories but the most visible is the aggressive recruitment of joiners in the transfer window to strengthen some departments. Reguilon from Real Madrid, Doherty from Wolves, Hojbjerg from Southampton, Vinicius from Benfica, Joe Hart and the return of Gareth Bale to his old Club are confident boosters and catalysts to its players. So far both Bale and Vinicius are yet to feature in any match but this free-scoring spell is set for another mouth-watering results on resumption after the international break. It is looking more and more certain that 2020/2021 season will see Spurs turning the White Hart Lane to a slaughter slab of a sort while away matches will not be a problem to set new scoring records in the League. Finally, Jose Mourinho may have solved the jigsaw puzzle of turning football matches into high scoring events rather than enduring a 90-minute boring sweat by 22 grown up men with a barren draw. This has been the argument of the United States for years before the commencement of the Major League Soccer (MLS) and its stunted growth after about 25 years could be attributed to fans’ apathy due to low goals nature of football compared with basketball (NBA), baseball (MLB), Rugby or American Football (NFL) and hockey (NHL).
While its competitors are far from folding hands the football public are waiting with bated breath for sizzling performance as the Premier League season progresses. The strength of the League is such that early prediction of winners may turn out to be a wild exercise laden with surprises. After all, the 2015 season started like others for Leicester Football Club, even losing its first match but ended with the Cup not predicted by the book-makers. Past victories have proved insufficient to deliver another medal in this League and Liverpool, the defending champions have received a rude warning after conceding seven goals to the League’s 2019/2020 survivalist Aston Villa in its last match. The England’s Premier League is worth a whopping $6.3 billion (USD) or about N3 trillion at today’s exchange rate, 23% of Nigeria’s 2021 Budget. It is amazing to discover that the odd millions of youth seeking for relevance can be fulfilled by securing various engagements in football business. Every segment of our country is seeking game-changers for national transformation. Unconfirmed statistics that Nigeria ranks amongst top five countries with players of various calibers plying their trade all over the world points to sports developments with a unique commercial opportunity and wealth creation.
On Jose Mourinho turning Spurs White Hart Lane into a slaughter slab for club visitors and possibly breaking new grounds in the North London Club this season and beyond, Peter Drury the inimitable TV commentator and football analyst says “time will tell”.
Olayinka, a football enthusiast, sends the piece from Lagos