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17th October 2012

By MAT SHERLOCK

In June 2004, English football management experienced the sort of sharp jolt it hadn’t witnessed in almost a decade. Not since Arsene Wenger strolled through the doors at Arsenal bringing with him such alien concepts as ‘passing’ and ‘drinking in moderation’ had football felt a force as powerful as Jose Mourinho’s.

However, while Wenger’s input into the creation of modern Premier League football is easily identifiable, Mourinho’s impact is much less clear. His charisma is legendary, but the real key behind his success was his methods off the pitch.

With AVB at his side, Mourinho showed English teams the importance of thoroughly analysing every aspect of the game. Hours were spent creating dossiers and analysing opposition weaknesses, allowing Chelsea to adjust their side imperceptibly yet decisively. The end result was a team which dominated English football, leaving even Sir Alex Ferguson and Wenger floundering in its wake.

What is strange however, is that English football has taken only sporadic interest in such innovations. Top flight managers, and particularly ex-pros, still frequently decry an ‘obsession’ with stats (witness Owen Coyle’s thin-skinned lambasting of Michael Cox’s dissection of his claims to be playing passing football), while the national team is currently managed by a man who happily admitted: “I’ve never used ProZone or taken notice of it when it comes to possession or shot statistics”.

If Mourinho’s preparation and coaching innovations have thus been widely ignored, what is left? The answer seems to be… a coat.

The key thing British football noted about Mourinho was that he looked different. We had had foreign managers in the game before, but they had fitted into familiar stereotypes. Essentially there were two brands of foreign coaches: dour professorial technocrats like Wenger, or bumbling professorial technocrats such as Jo Venglos. Mourinho was different. He was compared to George Clooney, was spoken about in gossip columns and appeared in GQ. Christian Gross was never going to do that.

As a result of this, the image of ‘the manager’ shifted. As if overnight, the likes of Martin O’Neill or Steve Bruce, bouncing around in their tracksuit bottoms, came to look absurdly old fashioned, primitive and uneducated. From this point on, every young manager who wanted to be taken seriously, found that a Saville Row suit and a nice coat were every bit as essential as an actual understanding of football.

This legacy of Jose Mourinho has been absorbed so thoroughly, that among the latest generation of coaches, only Paul Lambert stands out as actually dressing like a football coach, rather than a city trader.

That such an incredible manager can leave such a legacy is an unfortunate indictment of the British game – obsessed with image, yet still suspicious of substance. It has also produced some bizarre results.

One of the managers who studied Mourinho’s actual innovations most thoroughly and successfully is David Moyes, yet he equally is someone who has suffered most from Mourinho’s legacy; continually over-looked for promotion in significant part because he looks so terrible in a suit. When smartened up, Moyes loses so much of his menacing, slightly maniacal, nervous energy. He looks uncomfortably restricted, as if society has guilted him into wearing it. “All the nice managers are wearing suits”, society scolds, “Why don’t you ever dress up nice, you’ll never be taken seriously in that tatty old tracksuit”. And he won’t, and so one of the few managers to actually listen to Mourinho in the ways that matter, is permanently shunned from the upper echelons of the game, destined to lose out to men with more glamorous names, better fitting coats, and less crazy eyes.

The flip side of this is managers like Lee Clark. I recently had the misfortune to see a sizeable chunk of Birmingham’s capitulation to Barnsley, where he played left backs in midfield, midfielders at left back, and goalscorers on the bench. A team that last season was on the verge of promotion is now floundering on the edge of the relegation zone. Moreover, the ‘achievement’ that enabled Clark to get the Birmingham post was that of failing to get Huddersfield promoted, despite spending millions in a division that is largely flat broke.

In his favour though, he does have a nice haircut, and looks entirely at ease in an expensive coat.

Mancini similarly has created an air of intelligent sophistication, entirely at odds with his managerial record. His organisational and tactical floundering this season have been explained away as an attempt to ‘freshen up’ Man City’s style, rather than being the actions of a man who has been consistently found out at the highest level. This despite his annual failings in Europe and coming within seconds of failing to win the league with the most expensively assembled team English football has ever seen. It is seriously doubtful whether a less dapper manager would have got off so lightly for such ineptitude.

How long this obsession with Jose’s image will last is intriguing. Football has always had its managers whose appearance was far more prominent than their achievements (see Malcolm Allison and Kevin Bond). But for such a great manager to leave only his clothing as his lasting legacy is still something to sadden the hearts of fans everywhere.

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