José Mourinho may appear like he has a masterplan, but in the next two weeks he will have to fight for his life, identity, and status in the world.
José Mourinho is a man under pressure. This cannot be denied. His team are effectively out of the title race, with only Barcelona's shoddy form giving the faintest glimmer of hope that prevents that fact from being an utter humiliation. He is also staring down the barrel of a first-round Champions League exit, having failed to achieve a good result against Manchester United and being forced to engage them at Old Trafford days after taking on Barcelona, while his opponents enjoy a leisurely stroll against Norwich. Having tamely surrendered the league, a potless year appears to be on the cards. And for any manager of Real Madrid, that's simply not good enough.
Then again, José Mourinho is not under pressure. Or so it would appear. He seems to still be sitting there as if this disaster-in-process is all part of a grand strategy which won't become apparent to the rest of humanity for another hundred years, the same smirk still gracing his appearance, carrying on through behind-the-scenes unrest and boardroom politics, confident in the knowledge that he remains at the centre of the football universe, still in control at all times. Perhaps he has his next job lined up already - replacing Sir Alex Ferguson, or joining the Paris Saint-Germain project. Perhaps he has the treble already wrapped up and we just don't know it yet. Either way, he looks like he knows what he's doing.
There's a problem with that view, however. The thing is: of course he looks calm, in control, and like he has a master plan. It's José Mourinho, for christ's sake. He'd look like that if he was in his twenty-fifth year in a Turkish prison, because looking like you've got things under control is often more important than actually having a clue what to do.
This is even more the case in football management, where motivation and psychology are key - even Brian Clough wasn't like that all of the time - he knew when to give someone a big hug and mug of Ovaltine as well, even if they'd just had a shocker. Another disciplinarian, Jock Wallace, may have threatened to kill Gary Lineker at half-time in a reserve game in which his team were winning 2-0 and Lineker had scored both goals. Of course he did. But the next game he probably told a keeper who'd thrown five goals into his own net that he was Yashin reincarnate.
Football management when you're trying to actually put a winning team together becomes about creating a vast, overarching myth that the side in question cannot be defeated, about upholding contraditions both tactical (keep the shape and play fluid football) and psychological (there is no possibility on earth that you will ever lose a match, but don't ever assume any game is won until the final whistle is blown.) Any manager doing that also creates an image of himself as a man in complete control at all times.
Whisper it, but even that facade is showing some cracks these days. The sunken eyes and the greying hair do not give it away so much as the choices of attire. Just as depression manifests itself far more commonly in sitting on your sofa in tracksuit bottoms eating crisps rather than any great Nietzschean crisis, Mourinho turning out in a polo shirt, latterly replaced in the chillier months by a practical, synthetic coat, is a sign of great worry. You only have to look at how Arsene Wenger, a man who now turns up to be watched by hundreds of millions of people around the world, dressed like a man who's shuffled out to the all-night garage at 1am to buy Rizla, to see the connection.
OK, so a Polo shirt isn't quite on that level, but it's certainly a step down from Armani - and who knows, perhaps a gateway garment to seeing José turn out as United boss in three years a beaten man, sporting something else. Other managers undergoing crises of confidence have explored this avenue - it's not just Wenger's arthropoidal carapace. The P.E.-teacher-sweatshirt is a timeless classic, sported by legends past and present. The simple lower-league tracksuit is another in the same vein. Owen Coyle broke new ground in managerial cries for help by refusing to put any trousers on. Perhaps José, were he to take the role at Old Trafford, could endear himself to his new audience with something more typically Mancunian - the drug-addicts parka, perhaps? The possibilities are endless.
The thing is, José is a much sought-after manager, and when fans imagine him marshalling their players to victory, they picture that same mythical image that Mourinho has been so careful to craft himself. Suave, debonair, Armani-clad on the sidelines, a strategem for any potential setback in his head and his mere presence inspiring fury in their rivals. That image is now in peril - any manager is only as good as his last job, and if Mourinho does leave Real Madrid without a legacy, the gloss will have disappeared from more than just his hair.
Like Patrick Bateman, there is an idea of Jose Mourinho - but that idea does not fail to defeat Manchester United at home. It doesn't go out of the Champions League at the first hurdle. It doesn't drop out of the title race in December, or start dressing-room revolts, or concede its position as manager of the biggest club in the world without anything to prove its own greatness. And if it does those things, then that Mourinho, the one fans have become accustomed to and crave to manage their own clubs, will simply not be there.
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