Jose Mourinho And The Respect Agenda

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It’s January 12th 2005 and Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea have drawn 0-0 at home against Manchester United in the first leg of the semi final of the Carling Cup. Honours even, Jose and Fergie retire for a glass of fine wine. But, disappointingly, the wine is mere plonk and the embarrassed Chelsea boss promises to rectify the situation for the away leg.

He is as good as his word, arriving at Old Trafford with a bottle of Portugal’s finest vintage. Thus he would wish to show his respect for Sir Alex and all he has achieved and, by implication, he is toasting all who toil in the managerial vineyard.

Like Tony Blair and George Galloway, Jose Mourinho has a Respect Agenda. He has unconcealed admiration and affection for football coaches and managers, even if his spats with Wenger and Rijkeard might suggest otherwise. But these are only the kind of squabbles which concern most families and are easily settled.

Such a sense of affinity might be so strong because he was not a successful professional player and had to find other routes into management. His mentors, Robson and Van Gaal, were excellent and highly respected role models and it would be to their schooling rather than some spectacular playing moments, that he would draw on in difficult moments.

When a new manager arrives at a new team he must gain respect; the players want to know what’s on offer. But Mourinho carries his own respect agenda, and if the players don’t adhere to it, they are out. Drug taker, Mutu, was the first to feel the impact of this. Respect for self and respect for others is the mantra which binds the team, and nothing must be allowed to unravel it.

At the end of matches in which the opposition have acquitted themselves well, the Chelsea coach will compliment the manager and publicly shake hands with the opposing players, for he respects their endeavour. Young British coaches like Pearce, Moyes and Jewell have sought and received advice from ‘The Special One’ while others, like Chris Coleman, have been lauded openly by him. Even Sven has been welcomed at Chelsea training sessions because he too is seen to be within ‘the group’.

The group is everything. Stripped of all its excess, football is about the group. For Mourinho this ‘the truth’, it is almost ascetic and must not be sullied. When Arjen Robben is vilified for falling over when pushed by Liverpool goalkeeper Reina, Chelsea’s assistant coach, Steve Clarke, is mystified by the concentration on this incident and disregard for Chelsea’s thoughtfully crafted win.

But, ironically, for Mourinho, it acts as a binding agent and reinforces group unity. Mourinho has spoken and written about his dislike of ‘showboating’ because it disrespects the opposition and the game, and Joe Cole has been a particular target, but Cole’s game has improved and now he is a valued team player. Similarly, the ‘ole’ ‘ole’ style chant, says Mourinho, is disparaging to opponents and should be discouraged. Such excesses adulterate the purity of the game, which in its simplicity has an unrivalled clarity.

Jose Mourinho believes that the beauty of the game is best served when two sharp minds the coaches, are pitted vicariously against each other between the white lines; this is why he seems so joyous when he scores a tactical victory, as against Liverpool; or perceives a triumph for morality, as against Blackburn; or he wins a physical battle, as against Bolton.

The Sports Psychology Summary…

Trying to humiliate the opposition is not his purpose; he has stated that winning 2-0 is enough and almost always restructures the team once such a lead is established.

When he criticized Ivory Coast in their dealings over his striker, Drogba, and claimed they lacked “respect and good sense” he is drawing on the simple rules by which he wants the game to be run; too often the administrators or refs have thwarted his cause and he is not slow to upbraid them. But it is rarely personal, for him it is the game which is important.