Friday, February 29, 2008

Mourinho to Barca

There is an increasing amount of smoke indicating that Jose Mourinho will be the next coach of Barcelona. The latest piece of evidence is a statement from Lyon's President that Mourinho had turned down Lyon because he had already agreed to take the coming vacancy at the Nou Camp. This comes on the heels of various rumors that Barcelona have been in discussions with Mourinho, including an amusing tete a tete between Barca legend Johan Cruyff and Mourinho that led Mourinho to issue this rejoinder:

Mourinho upset Cruyff when he responded to criticism from the Dutchman of Chelsea's style of play, saying: "I don't want him to teach me how to lose 4-0 in a Champions League final because I don't want to learn that." The comeback was a reference to the 1994 European Cup final when Cruyff's Barcelona were beaten by Milan.

I would feel massively conflicted about Mourinho coaching the Blaugrana. So bear with me as I weigh through the pros and cons:


1. Mourinho wins. There is no denying Mourinho's talent as a manager. He won a Champions League and a UEFA Cup at Porto, hardly a European superpower, and then he won all manner of trophies at Chelsea. In all my criticism of Mourinho as a manager, I always tried to acknowledge that I would love him if I were a Chelsea fan because a fan always wants his team to win, first and foremost.

2. Mourinho can deal with egos. This, to me, is the strongest argument for Mourinho becoming the next head man at Barcelona. Jose had a ton of talent at his Chelsea, thus leading to the criticism that Chelsea bought their titles, but as Rafa Benitez shows on a weekly basis, spending a lot of money on players is no guarantee that success will follow. As Avram Grant is learning with every new complaint from Frank Lampard, managing the egos in a superclub's dressing room is a significant challenge. Mourinho was outstanding at getting stars to sublimate their egos for the good of the club. Given Barca's current problems with stars not pulling their full weight (read: Ronaldinho and Deco), Mourinho is exactly the sort of manager the team needs. In fact, he's the perfect coach to follow Frank Rijkaard, a more laid-back, player's coach. (For the record, I still think highly of Rijkaard. He's a quality manager and will have no problems finding a new position. I simply think that it might be time for him to go because his relationship with his players appears to have grown a little stale.)

3. Deco will play hard again. For many Barca supporters, Deco was the linchpin of the side that won the Champions League. Deco is still very popular at the Nou Camp, despite the fact that he has been injured a lot recently and his form has been fairly indifferent when he has been healthy. Deco played for Mourinho at Porto and thinks very highly of him. If Mourinho can get Deco back into top form again, then Barca will be a better side.

4. Mourinho is interesting. We won't suffer for having little to discuss. I look forward to him dubbing Bernd Schuster a voyeur.

5. Mourinho knows the club. Jose has worked at Barca before, so he (hopefully) understands the ethos of the club. This will be very important when we get to the...


1. His teams play shit on a stick football. Jorge Valdano was never on firmer ground when he ridiculed the Chelsea-Liverpool ties as "shit on a stick." Martin Samuel also described Mourinho's reign at Chelsea perfectly after Mourinho resigned/got the boot:

If José Mourinho’s football had been as dramatic and exciting as the manner of his departure, he would still be manager of Chelsea this morning.

That was Mourinho’s great irony. In person, he was challenging, entertaining, fiery, passionate, bold, outspoken, a man who would say the unsayable and not think twice about it, who could turn the cut and thrust of question and answer into a verbal battleground, explosions and casualties everywhere.

Had he taken that charisma on to the football pitch, he would have had a job for life spending the money of Roman Abramovich. Yet something happened to Mourinho when he took his personality into the sporting arena. He became another person: cautious, pragmatic, conservative. He talked like the last gunslinger in town and sent his team out with all the abandon of a junior accountant, Swindon branch.

Mourinho took talented teams and then played uninspiring, route one football that allowed Chelsea to take no chances defensively. I'll never forget Mourinho bringing an expensive squad to the Nou Camp in 2005 and then playing ten behind the ball for most of the game. I'll never forget Chelsea barely creating chances on their next trip to the Nou Camp in 2006 when they needed to win by two clear goals to advance. Mostly, I'll never forget the naps I took whenever Chelsea locked horns with Liverpool, another team loathe to take chances. Mourinho's style was fine at Chelsea, a club without tremendous history whose fans were simply overjoyed that Mourinho ended their long title drought and broke the Arsenal-United stranglehold on the Premiership, but it will not fly at Barcelona. Barca's slogan - More than a Club - really means something. The club represents something politically (Catalan pride, a liberal ethos, etc.) and it also represents something in terms of football. Barca cannot play unattractive, grind it out games. Even in the side's recent run of 1-0 games, they've at least been trying to score, even if they struggle to create and put away chances. (Forgive me for that last little flourish. I'll dismount from the soapbox now.) If Mourinho takes the Blaugrana on the road in Europe and plays for 0-0, he won't survive at the Nou Camp and deservedly so.

I have two reasons for optimism on this front. First, as I mentioned before, Mourinho has worked at Barca before and has to know that he will need to take a different approach. Second, Barca have better attacking players than Chelsea does, so hopefully, Mourinho's approach was dictated by necessity. I really don't know how he'll manage to create something boring and defensive out of Messi, Iniesta, and Eto'o.

2. He might bring in Frank Lampard. Right, a ballhog midfielder whose one skill is shooting off of the center-forward's knock-downs will fit in perfectly with a club built around passing and movement.

3. He says stupid stuff. Barca beating Chelsea in 2006 was almost as sweet as winning the Champions League itself a couple months later because it was sweet vengeance for Mourinho alleging that Rijkaard had intimidated Anders Frisk during the previous season. I'd prefer it if my team's manager didn't say incendiary things about every opponent. An occasional jab is fine, but accusing every opponent of conspiring against you gets old very quickly. Then again, given Catalans' feelings about Real Madrid and Castillian Spain, the odd allegation of conspiracy might go over quite well.

4. He doesn't maximize his talent. Mourinho remains the only manager who stifled Michael Ballack as a player. Ballack has been a success everywhere else: Leverkusen, Bayern, the German National Team, and now with Chelsea after Mourinho. The fact that Mourinho couldn't find a place for Ballack, or managed to destroy Andriy Shevchenko's career after Sheva was unstoppable in Serie A, ought to give Barca real pause before hiring Mourinho to coach a collection of very talented players.


Kanu said...

Well said.

Very tricky in all respects. On the one hand, he is such a soap opera/drama queen that it helps deflect attention from his club, as he is always the main story. This could be good at a club like Barca, where the press always turns every little thing into a soap opera. On the other hand, it could be bad by creating such a mondo soap opera that it becomes a distraction that does more harm than good.

And with their version of the Galatico {their name for it escapes me a the moment} experiment getting criticized by some {although the jury is certainly still out}, and the club seeming to have a clash of egos already, is bringing in not only another ego, but the biggest ego perhaps in world football a grand idea?

Personally I'd go in the other direction and bring in a more understated guy, like a Ten Cate, but who knows, maybe it will work.

It will be interesting to see. Or not see, as the soccer press is about as unreliable as it gets, and this may never happen, or could be a planted fake real story to generate buzz and up the ante to the Juves/AC Milans of the world to splash more cash and sign him.

Love him or hate him {I kind of respect him but also think that he is an egomaniac and a dick}, he can never be accused of not being interesting.

Anonymous said...

What I love about this is that it pushes Rijkaard out the Barca door and over to Chelsea. The Blues will kick Grant upstairs to an office position to save face and turn the team over the Rijkaard.

You've got a great blog. The Braves-Falcons-Hawks-Dawgs-Barca crowd need a voice.

I generally speak for the Braves-Falcons-Hawks-Dawgs-Chelsea crowd. An equally large contingent.

Michael said...

I'm not sure that someone with as big a profile as Mourinho can fit in at a club as big and flashy as Barca. Chelsea made more sense for him.

Rijkaard and Ten Cate were a winning team. CFC would do well to reunite them. The problem you'd have is that you need a manager who will put Lamps on the bench and build the midfield around Ballack and Essien. Rijkaard isn't that sort of guy.

Anonymous said...

Does Rijkaard have an allegence to Lamps that I'm not aware of? Why would he be hesitant to bench him if he thinks Essien and Ballack are better options.

Admittedly, I don't know much about Rijkaard other than the style of play I see out of Barca. And I'm not entirely sure if that style is due more to the wealth of creative offensive talent Barca has than to anything to do with Rijkaard's philosophy.

Of course, if you're right about Mourinho brining Lamps with him, I guess it's a non-issue.

Michael said...

Rijkaard is a player's coach and I can't see him benching a player of Lampard's reputation. The criticism of Rijkaard over the past two years has been that he has been too chummy with Ronaldinho and Deco and has allowed them to give less than their best at training.

Rijkaard is constitutionally committed to the Dutch 4-3-3. The style that Barca plays is not simply the result of having a great forward line; it's the style that Rinus Michaels used, Johan Cruyff uses, Rijkaard uses, and Van Basten uses. One of Cruyff's oppositions to Mourinho becoming the coach of Barca (other than the fact that his teams play shit on a stick football) is that he won't use the Dutch style. Barca has always had a heavy Dutch influence. Although there are no Dutch players in the side now that Gio and Van Bommel are gone, the team is managed by Rijkaard and Johan Neeskens and they play the 4-3-3 because of that influence.

An interesting question now is whether Henry is a fit in the 4-3-3.