A Look Back At The Genius Of Jose Mourinho – A True Visionary, But One Who May Be Stuck In The Past

There used to be a time when Jose Mourinho could do no wrong, appearing as the face of Samsung for Chelsea to sky rocketing sales of Just for Men. Aspiring coaches swapped tracksuits for trench coats and Jose was at the pinnacle of management.

There seems no better time to write this than now, as a coach in the late 2000s/early 2010s Jose was my idol. I started collecting snippets of articles and interviews in the quest to find out the secrets behind his methodology and way of thinking. I’d often watch sessions ran by Neil Bath at Chelsea to catch a glimpse of what the players of tomorrow were being taught, sometimes there would be pictures of Jose carrying clipboards at training; naturally I zoomed in and tried to piece the puzzle together in the hope of finding out what was contained in the ‘Bible’. In this article I’m going to go back and discover what made Jose the best manager in the world.

It is well known how Jose got his start in management or coaching for that matter. The late-great Bobby Robson was in need of a translator when arriving at Sporting CP in 1992, Bobby took a great liking to Jose as he could get a message across to Robson’s players as if he was saying it himself. Robson had the quality of being loved by everyone whom he spoke too, players would be willing to die for their manager… a trait Jose would develop later on in his career. After a stint at FC Porto it was on to FC Barcelona, a team that included future managers Pep Guardiola, Luis Enrique and Julen Lopetegui. The team also included superstar players such as; Luis Figo, Laurent Blanc and Ronaldo as well as players who were the legacy of Cruyff’s Dream Team namely Guillermo Amor and Captain José Mari Bakero.

It was here Jose developed his skills, working day in day out with the best players in the world and some of the greatest minds in football, this was enhanced even more when Bobby Robson was sacked and replaced by Dutchman Louis Van Gaal. Working with Van Gaal was a true learning curve for Mourinho; Van Gaal was a lot more meticulous and thorough than his predecessor Robson and often trusted Mourinho with handling training for the 1st team as well as taking charge for minor cup games.

After finding himself out of work at the start of the 2000/01 season, Jose began keeping a confidential personal diary, ‘The Bible’.

Jose’s bible was something of a myth in the coaching circles years ago, it included a set of 36 drills that had the benefit of ticking the players over in terms of technique. The drills worked fitness, tactical and technical factors simultaneously with a high number of ball touches, psychological factors are also worked on at the same time. The ‘TP’ or tactical periodisation format for the overall season plan along with coaching points needed to place the focus on one of four different periods in the game (I’ll touch on this later).

When asked about the bible Jose said; “It was the first time I ever had holidays at that time of the year. I began a document which will never be published, it’s my training dossier where I keep all the records of my work. It reflects the targets and methods of my training and the way to achieve them. I’ve got used to making notes every day, be it with regards to training, or be it concerning my thoughts.”

Mourinho is one of the worlds most technically literate coaches, he is notorious for constantly adding to his database that has enough files to make the NSA jealous. He would collect information religiously that would include graphs and performance data on everyone. Prior to games Mourinho will hand out dossiers on Chelsea’s opponents some running up to 10 pages long containing information on tactics, individuals and how he expects players to perform.

Mourinho never believed in conventional ideas, where coaches would instill their own ideas and approach games with the mindset of not to worry about the opposition, but let the opposition worry about you. Jose does the exact opposite, using his nous to shut down opponents, force them into mistakes and exploit their weaknesses.

When Jose 1st met Roman Abramovich he used a laptop to present a slide-show presentation, it gave the club’s Russian owner an in-depth analysis of the Chelsea squad’s strengths and weaknesses and how he would set about leading them to success.

Mourinho said: “I think a document of this type is extremely important. This document is a presentation which I showed the club president at Porto and Roman Abramovich at Chelsea. With the first diagram you can read the basic idea of the whole programme; the idea of the club is more important than any player. This is the concept on the first slide and serves as a base for the whole structure of the document. It’s something which must be passed throughout the entire club, especially through to the youth levels. I want everyone at the club to realise that the important thing, when we think, talk and train football, is that the principles of the game are much more important than what everyone thinks for himself.

The organisation of the team’s play is a more important factor than any other. Apart from that, the respect for the club, for the norms introduced, for the club’s philosophy, etc, all that is more important than any individual.”

When arriving at Chelsea, Jose wrote a simple letter to each member of the club. “From here each practice, each game, each minute of your social life must centre on the aim of being champions, First-teamer will not be a correct word. I need all of you. You need each other. We are a TEAM.” To underline his point, at the end of the letter, Mourinho inscribed a gnomic equation: ‘Motivation + Ambition + Team + Spirit = SUCCESS.’

When running training at Chelsea, Jose considered himself (still does) the number 1 coach in the world, Mourinho’s training methods have been the subject of countless case studies for post graduates. As John Terry touched on while appearing on Monday Night Football, the days of running around the pitch for hours and physical exercises without a ball were things of the past, under Jose everything was done methodically and with the use of a ball.

As said earlier, Jose’s training sessions would develop a multitude of skills, such as:

  • Training the tactical aspect of the game
  • Include a degree of decision making scenarios
  • Incorporate a high amount of touches
  • Always progress the players fitness

Mourinho’s 36 drills go from training individual technique all the way to training the entire system, he lays these drills out in accordance with the periodisation schedule and trains possession, specifically possession in the opponents half religiously; something he learnt from Van Gaal while at Barcelona.

Jose would mark out 2 pitches side by side and it would work like:

  • Defence > Transition to Attack > Attack
  • Attack > Transition to Defence > Defence

The above is the basic foundation of what most of Jose’s sessions would be built upon, the next step would be to condition the box system to his team that would include different coloured boxes for different tactical scenarios and drill it so much the players automatically know when the transitions are presented.

Guided discovery is Mourinho’s main tool when educating his players, during the season he tweaks his 36 drills so that the factors to be discovered are based on the weaknesses of the opponent on a tactical and technical level. He will produce dossiers and DVDs of opponents which players memorise.

Perhaps Jose’s best quality is his man-management skills; his ability to create an ‘us against them’ spirit and have his players willing to die for him. At Chelsea he quickly identified that John Terry and Frank Lampard were the natural leaders in the dressing room so at times would give Terry or Lampard a rollicking at half time even if they were playing well, this would get the rest of the dressing room to raise their standards. Sir Alex Ferguson did this a lot with Ryan Giggs to great avail.

The Jose Mourinho of today is a bit different, after reading one of my favourite forums online; and-again.com, ‘coachkev’ put it across brilliantly. “What it is, is that his ‘system’ of man management is to get players to follow him and that he’ll protect them as long as they put their hearts and minds into his ‘project’.

He did this with Porto and left them at their pinnacle = winning the Champions League
He did it with Chelsea and they won nearly everything, then 3 years =  gone
He did it at Inter Milan
He failed at Real Madrid
Back to Chelsea, won the PL then….gone
Onto Man U
But now his ‘powers’ are no longer enough to cope with the biggest ego’s on the planet.
Zlatan didn’t buy into it…
Pogba certainly hasn’t…
Top players are no longer wetting themselves to go to Man Utd. Basically, he’s got old and these young players want the world but don’t want to ‘pay the price’”

I still see Mourinho as one of the top coaches in the world, but a question could be asked if he has moved with the times and advanced his tactical knowledge to compete with the worlds best. His style of football will always divide opinions but if he remains successful and keeps up his track record of winning silverware he may turn the naysayers over.

Written by Sean Harmon (@TheHalfSpace)