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The Curious Case of José Mourinho

José Mourinho’s career is a madcap version of ‘Benjamin Button’.

A close-up photo of Jose Mourinho’s face, reacting with pursed lips and eyebrows raised during a Tottenham game.

“Good morning, ma’am.”

“Good morning.”

“Thank you for coming. I hope you don’t mind us meeting a little earlier. The subject won’t be here for another half hour or so, but I wanted to talk to you about some of the results.”

“That’s fine. Go on.”

“Well, let me say, first of all, that we’ve come up with a theory that we think ties everything together.”


“However, I should say right at the beginning that it’s a bit … well, it’s a bit odd. Even by our standards.”

“Look. This is the Calamity Flan Institute for Weird Shit, as the board refused to let me put on the notepaper. Odd is what we do. As such, and I mean this in the best possible sense, we have absolutely no standards whatsoever.”

“Yes, ma’am. Of course.”

“And besides, you are recently arrived, newly qualified, and full of youthful curiosity. This means it’s your job to have new, exciting, challenging ideas. Then it’s my job, as the old decaying misrerabilist, to listen to them carefully before explaining that they’re nonsense. So. On you go.”

“Right. OK. Well. I believe the subject, Mourinho, J., is suffering from something we’ve never seen before. In the absence of any precedent we’re calling it hyper-accelerative temporal recursion.”

“The first step to understanding: a complicated name.”

“Quite, ma’am. To explain, did you ever see that Youtube video somebody made of the Bee Movie.”

“The … what? No. No, I did not.”

Bee Movie. Jerry Seinfeld. Not his finest work. It’s an animated film, he plays a bee that sues the human race for stealing honey. He also has a weirdly flirtatious relationship with Renée Zellweger’s character. She’s not a bee. She’s a human. Anyway, somebody made a Youtube video which is just the film, uncut, in order, except every time somebody says the word ‘bee’ it gets faster. So at first it’s normal, and then a little faster, and then a little more, and you have no idea what I’m talking about, do you?”

“No. But it sounds positively enchanting.”

“That’s fine. Just … bear it in mind. Faster and faster each time. Now, another film. You know how Benjamin Button aged backwards?”

“That wasn’t a documentary.”

“No. No. But consider the principle. An individual that experiences time in a different way to the rest of us. Button’s body goes through time backwards even as time moves forwards around him.”

“Yes. I recall.”

“So, bear that in mind as well. Bee Movie. Benjamin Button. Now, look at this first chart. This is an amalgamated generalisation. We’ve hacked together a number of different quality of life metrics, medical and social, and mapped the arc through time. This is from August 2002 through to May 2008. Six years.”

“OK. So … sharp upwards spike, longish plateau, and then down. Does this correlate to anything going on in the patient’s life?”

“Yes. It seems to be employment related. This first couple of years he’s impressing in one job. He gets a bigger one, and excels for a couple of years. And then it all falls apart. Now, look at this next chart. This runs from June 2008 through May 2013. Five years.”

“The same shape, more or less.”

“Exactly. Again, this correlates to two jobs. Impresses in the first, gets the second, does well … and then, the collapse. Sharper, this time. Quicker.”


“Now, here’s two more. Each just one job this time. This first runs from June 2013 to December 2015. The second from May 2016 through December 2018.”

“The same shape, each time. Up, across, down. Interesting.”

“One final chart, ma’am. The same pattern again — except, this chart only covers five months. November 2019 up until, well, now.”

“Fascinating. But isn’t this fairly normal for football managers? The new manager bounce, the eventual dissatisfaction, and so on?”

“Yes, ma’am. But there are two reasons this ended up with us. The first is that the similarities aren’t just in the broad shape, but in the granular details. The same things happen each time. We’ve spliced together press conferences from exactly the same place, relatively speaking, in each of these managerial spells. and the only things that have changed are the names, and the subject’s haircut. Further, it’s the acceleration that really caught our attention. Remember Benjamin Button. Well, we think Mourinho, J., is similarly unstuck in time. But where Button moves backwards, Mourinho is repeating the same loop over and over again, faster and faster each time.”

“My word.”

“We think this, too, is the reason for this subject’s unusual levels of distress, mistrust, and paranoia. As you say, all football managers fail in the end. But he’s going back over the same failure again and again, layering new over old.”

“Do you have a prognosis? Any idea how it might develop?”

“Not at this point. But given the rate of acceleration we expect that he’ll be able to get through his whole career arc in a month by early 2021, and then have it down to a week by the end of the same year. Assuming nothing changes, and he’s able to cope with it all, it should be down to one day by March or April 2022.”

“The poor man.”


“We must imagine Sisyphus giddy, apparently. Oh, hang on. Let me get that. Hello? Yes. Yes, that’s right. Do send him in. Thank you. Right, he’s here. I’ll make some opening remarks and then hand to you for the more detailed explanation. This really is excellent work. Oh, quickly, before he gets here. That Bee Movie video you mentioned. What happens in the end?”

“Well, initially it’s quite funny. Probably funnier than the film at normal speed — Jerry Seinfeld talking in a high voice, everybody rushing around. But soon the sound just vanishes because it’s too high for your computer to produce. And then the narrative of the images degrades into a chaotic jumble. Nothing makes sense; everything’s flashing past too quickly. Honestly, three or four minutes in I was feeling quite nauseated. And then, suddenly, bang.”


“It just ends. Without warning, since all the warning was there and gone before you had a chance to see it. Suddenly there’s nothing left but the sickness in your stomach.”

“I see. Thank you. Ah, Mr Mourinho. Come on in. Sit down. How are you feeling today?”

A mock poster of “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” with Jose Mourinho’s pursed-lip, arched-eyebrow face in place of Brad Pitt’s.