The Intellectualization of Illogic

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A rejoinder to Kevin McCarra’s article titled Mourinho must move on or he will soon need to move out, published in last Tuesday’s Guardian newspaper.

Mr McCarra’s article should be exposed for what it really is. It is nothing short of the intellectualization of illogic — a surreptitiously constructed vicious attack on the managerial integrity of Mourinho, which he has masqueraded as constructive criticism. It is aimed at demystifying Mourinho’s most notable achievements in English football via sowing seeds of discord and doubt in the Chelsea camp. The handiest instruments in this attack are Joe Cole and Chelsea’s two defeats in the hands of Fulham and Barcelona. McCarra cleverly weaves his tale around these to give the impression of a repressive, limited and unchanging Mourinho, who, if he continues like this, would soon find himself out of Stamford Bridge after only two or three years. It is a case of trying to prepare for Mourinho’s supposedly imminent funeral by proclaiming his near-death, when all he’s suffering from now is no more than a minor hiccup.

Presenting Joe Cole as the poster-victim of Mourinho’s supposedly repressive football philosophy is admittedly a well-worn path. On coming to the Bridge, Mourinho quickly declared his admiration for Joe Cole, not for his style of play, but for his work ethic. He was impressed that the player was one of the first to report for duty, even after the grueling European Championship schedule in Portugal. Soon, the press was awash with accusations of how Mourinho was killing one of the best English talents of his generation by keeping him on the bench, yet when he finally unleashed the new improved Joe Cole, everyone marveled at his newfound discipline, technical awareness, defensive capabilities, economic and effective use of the ball, confidence, strength and overall vision. From the England manager to the most hard-hearted hack, no one could deny Mourinho’s miracle touch on Joe Cole.

This season, not unexpectedly, Cole has been one of the better performers for club and country, to the extent that Eriksson has already declared him his choice for player of the season. Yet, when Mourinho hauled him off (along with Wright-Phillips) in the Fulham game for reasons he explained, it was again a signal for the vultures to sharpen their talons. After all, Chelsea lost on the night and Mourinho made the substitutions too early in their estimation. To crown it all, Joe Cole was visibly annoyed! So, what better time than now to let Joe Cole see that the man killing his football and stopping him from freely expressing himself in the field of play is the coach precipitately reputed to have made him a better footballer? This is the old wine in new bottle being served by McCarra. It is important to take away Mourinho’s achievement with Joe Cole in order to sow that seed of doubt in the minds of the player and his colleagues, preparatory to poisoning the Chelsea dressing room, being that one of Chelsea’s strongest points is their team spirit. Once one or two players begin to doubt the manager’s methods, the cancer would have been successfully implanted.

The idea of magnifying the effect of Chelsea losses this season and McCarra’s deployment of language to convey this in that article are also part of the demystification campaign. At Fulham, Mourinho was “careworn” as Mike Dean and other ghostly factors “reduced him to a somewhat haggard state”; his team was “jaded” and in “decline” — a “deterioration” that should have Mourinho truly shaking in his boots! This fall of Armageddonian proportions is curiously only noted by McCarra and the tribe of those struggling to hold on to our coattails. Even Mr Alex Ferguson now reckons that Chelsea have hit a brick wall. It doesn’t matter that the Fulham loss was only Chelsea’s third in the league, one less than his own team, Manchester United, our closest rivals. It doesn’t matter that we’ve won a whopping twenty-four matches out of thirty, five more than our closest rivals. That we’ve drawn only three games compared to six by our closest rivals should only be mentioned in hushed tones. So far, we’ve scored 58 goals, the most number of goals scored by any team in the Premiership, which though is matched by our closest rivals, yet considering the fact that they’ve conceded 10 more goals than us, we still are far healthier on that score; but the less anyone mentions this, the better for the press. We need not mention also that we have the healthiest goals difference in the league, including a margin of 12 points at the top (though Manchester United have a game in hand). We have conceded fewer goals than any other team in the league and yet the news is abroad that out defence has been shot to pieces by marauding marksmen. Last season, we broke all sorts of records, but while some of those records aren’t threatened this season, we still are on course to break the total points record the second season in a row. Yet, in spite of all these, Mourinho is a walking corpse according to McCarra.

I don’t know how many losing managers looked better than Mourinho on Sunday, except he’s the constantly polished mannequin at Madame Tussauds. Why McCarra expected him to look his best when his team had just lost beats me. In truth, how haggard was Mourinho at Craven Cottage to warrant such talk from him? Does he, Kevin McCarra always look his best everyday, every hour, every second doing his job? I don’t think so, because not every day is honky-dory at the office. It is irresponsible journalism to read more than there is into Mourinho’s usual demeanor. Mourinho felt the way anyone who hates to lose would feel and that was what showed.

Of course, McCarra’s comment on the loss to Barcelona is part ignorance and part mischief. Chelsea lost to arguably the best team in Europe and only by a lone goal over two legs and in the most controversial of circumstances. Considering that our players displayed an uncharacteristic lethargy in Catalonia, including the intimidating and ill-behaved crowd, big stadium and the psychological obstacle of needing to score two clear goals to be in contention, Chelsea’s no-show of a draw on the night was still a respectable outing. Yeah, we lost, but it wasn’t something unexpected by the pundits who’d given it to Barcelona since the draw was announced. Mighty Liverpool, the defending Champions, scandalously lost to lowly Benfica and everyone seems to want to keep that off the back pages! Every critic tends to forget that this is just our fourth attempt ever on that stage, in spite of the super-human expectations from people. Mourinho did not say he was winning the Champions League in his second year at the Bridge. In fact, Kenyon says the plan is to win it at least once by 2010 and then more than once by 2014; so why the hoopla over this loss to Barcelona in 2006? Even Barcelona with all their swagger and history have never won the Champions League (though they’ve won the old European Cup once), so why is this whole alarm about the sky falling on us?

Having attempted to sow the seed of discord between Mourinho and his players via making a case for freeing Joe Cole, McCarra then turns his attention to doing same between Mourinho and the club’s management. This he introduced with the press-contrived Inter move, which Mourinho was forced to deny. McCarra points out that “it is the type of rumour that could not even have been floated with any plausibility a year ago” blindly forgetting how illogical that sounds. I mean, why should such a rumour be floated a year ago when that was the man’s first season at Stamford Bridge? Does it make sense that anyone would float such a rumour just as Mourinho was settling into his new job in his first season here? And why should the rumour about Inter be such a big deal when it is McCarra and his mischievous colleagues concocting tales that are neither here nor there? Why aren’t they making an issue of the stories (which are more than rumours) about Real Madrid and the same Inter pursuing Rafael Benitez? Benitez has even more or less confirmed the Real Madrid interest while declaring his happiness at Anfield; yet no one is bleating this as loudly as they’re trumpeting the non-existent Mourinho-Inter story.

The seeds of deconstructing McCarra’s claims are right there in his own statement. This whole piece is based on the misconceived notion that Mourinho cannot change and renew himself. But, knowing that such a claim cannot be sustained on the basis of the shortness of his managerial career, McCarra lays a non-existent obstacle for Mourinho to cross in terms of expectations. He unilaterally declares on the strength (or lack of it) of three defeats in the league and being knocked out by Barcelona in the Champions League that Mourinho’s methods are “suffering from diminishing returns” and that our progress in the Premiership has been “duller than it was in Mourinho’s first season”. And on these bases, he surmised that Mourinho’s career has entered a “new phase”.

But how did Mr McCarra reach this conclusion? So, being on the verge of winning the Premiership the second year in a row after a wait of fifty years and the possibility of adding the FA Cup to this is Mr McCarra’s idea of diminishing returns? That we may not meet our own exceptionally high standard of last year, even where we have the possibility of winning the double is now a duller expectation? By the way, did he interview Mourinho to reach such a conclusion that he sees his career as now entering “a new phase”? Didn’t that new phase actually start the day he set foot in Stamford Bridge? Clearly, having exaggerated Mourinho’s troubles, McCarra now wants to carry us along on a ride to nowhere. Contrary to his claim, Mourinho’s career has actually proved that he can change and renew himself. He didn’t enter football as a coach or manager; he entered as a mere translator and see what he’s become! Today, Mourinho’s peers hang on to his every word. His tactical formations are adopted without question worldwide, even by those who don’t know what it entails! In every forum where football management or coaching is discussed, Mourinho’s ideas are given pride of place. Players and managers who’ve taken time to know him talk about his prodigious knowledge of the game and the new ideas he has. Asked recently the difference between Sir Alex and Mourinho, Peter Kenyon, who knows both men (while holding out both as people with that winning quality, even if with different styles), declares Mourinho as having the edge because of his use of technology. In fact, he called him “the next generation”. I think McCarra needs to be reminded that Mourinho was not named coach of the year by the statisticians of International Federation of Football History and Statistics for the second year running by being a dinosaur.

McCarra’s opening and closing paragraphs give ample idea what his real purpose is, which is to exaggerate his self-assessed “minor dents” in Mourinho’s reputation. To him, Mourinho’s trick is to be scornful of officials and to dish out second-hand “radical tactical measures” — “tactics and man-management evolved at Porto and applied at Chelsea”, but whose supposed limitations are now being exposed. So, what does he recommend? “An expansive strategy… that leaves referees in peace and puts player rather than manager centre stage”! The way it’s presented, you’d think Mourinho himself played all the football that’s brought glory to Porto and Chelsea. That Mr McCarra does not understand the difference between a manager who’d speak his mind and another who’d bottle it is the real tragedy. If Mourinho’s supposed “man-management” headaches are in dealing with referees (because so far we’ve seen nothing to suggest he’s failed with his players), then it’s safe to say he’s got no problem, because other world-class managers have had their own fair share of run-ins with referees and no one has suggested that it diminishes them. It is the nature of the beast. As for tactics, nothing radical has happened yet to tell the world that the Mourinho success story has hit a brick wall.

Mourinho knows what his job is about, but he’s not about to be dictated to by clueless hacks who use Prof Hindsight as their convenient intellectual guide. He’s bold enough to make his decisions and defend them, win or lose, and he’s strong enough to withstand everything thrown at him by opposing fans, managers, players and the crusading press. Mourinho is a success because he understands his job and craves no love, being content with the love of his wife, his family, friends and true Chelsea fans. Unlike the press and the fickle fans, he’s not given to emotion about any player, because to him, the team is the star and not the player. So, if he has to substitute God in the first minute of a game to try new things, he’d do so without blinking. He’s taken us to the Promised Land once and he’s going to do it again. Whether McCarra and his friends like it or not, he’s the rock upon which Chelsea will build its glory. So, they all better get used to seeing his annoying face around and for a long time to come.

C’mon Blues! In Mourinho we trust, and that’s the bottom line!

Clive Tyldesley: Sniffing Mourinho · Update

One of the first things I read this morning was yet another Liverpool supporter’s rant against Mourinho.

I called up the Telegraph and asked to get a number to reach him. They said they couldn’t give that over the phone; but I said an email address will do. They gave me one and I sent him my response:

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Dear Mr Tyldesley,

Rather than eternally sniffing up Mourinho’s bum, why don’t you tell us what crime he’s committed for standing up for his team and saying what he thinks without the fear of the football dictatorship propped up by the mawkish media? Donning your hypocritical hat, you blithely berate Chelsea for all sorts; but why don’t you isolate any of these accusations and say to the world, without blinking, that these are peculiar Chelsea traits? Your problem, like that of your colleagues in the lower rungs of the Fourth Estate is that you have perfected a hangdog hatred of success and independence, so much so that when you see these being brandished by those you consider foreign elements in the English game, you crank up your vile keyboards and scream blue murder!

Mourinho and Abramovich are here to stay; neither of them would be changing tact to suit your jealous fancy. Chelsea will win, win and win things until you truly become sick of them. And then you’ll do the decent thing that the other sporting press in Europe and elsewhere do – eulogize their own, pretend they’re the best things since sliced bread and truly enjoy sporting success. It is not politics Mr Tydelsley; it is not shooting peasants from greasy soapboxes or scooping whole countries into secret scrapyards. And no, it is not screaming Manuel down the dinner table! It is football, soccer, beauty and the beast! Enjoy it as much as you can, wince when you have to, but to every vengeful hack and hackette (and that includes you, Mr Tyldesley), I present, on behalf of every Chelsea fan, a rose and a kiss.

Yours sincerely,

Kenn Emetulu

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He’s yet to respond (not that I’m holding my breath) and the newspaper is yet to publish it on their “Your view: Football fans’ forum” pages where I’d posted it.