For a few years, Jose Mourinho was sensationally good at creating an ‘us vs the world’ spirit that inspired his greatest successes. One game against Sampdoria in 2010 was the peak of that…
If Jose Mourinho donates his entire salary to a charity caring for abandoned puppies, dedicates his spare time to helping old ladies across Tottenham High Road and visits every Spurs fan in the world to give them a hug, you suspect he still won’t be as popular as Mauricio Pochettino.
He’s done too much, his reputation as a baddie too entrenched. But while he might not be loved in the stands, what he still might be able to do is be adored in the dressing room. To do that, you suspect he will have to change, his apparent problems empathising with millennial or even Generation Z footballers causing plenty of problems in his last two jobs, at Chelsea and Manchester United.
Who knows how he will do that. But the key to his success or otherwise at Tottenham will almost certainly lie in reaching Harry Kane and Dele Alli in the same way he did John Terry and Frank Lampard, or Marco Materazzi and Diego Milito.
So he will either have to find a way of relating to the younger generation, and the answer could lie in the memories of the treble season at Inter. There seems to be a common consensus that a light went off in Mourinho’s head at some point during his time at Real Madrid, and he’s never been quite the same since, unable to create the same spirit in his squad that he did in the first spell at Chelsea, or indeed in Italy.
Those teams were part football sides, part cults, the old cliche about willing to run through brick walls for the boss seemingly being absolutely true. In Italy, headstrong players like Javier Zanetti and Samuel Eto’o seemed to follow him blindly, the utter conviction that their leader was taking them on a path to glory their motivating factor. “We won everything,” said Eto’o recently. “We had a team of eleven warriors.”
That feeling was already well underway after his first season with Inter, when they won the title by ten points, but it was a match the following February that really feels like it represented the peak of the early-era Mourinho. Indeed, it might have been the game that inspired the most famous performance of Mourinho’s time with Inter, the siege in the second leg of the Champions League semi-final against Barcelona.
‘A few weeks earlier they had played Sampdoria,’ explained James Horncastle on the episode of Golazzo dedicated to Inter’s treble season. ‘They went down to ten men, then to nine men, and Mourinho famously made the handcuff gesture: “they’re trying to tie my hands, they’re trying to stop us from winning.”
‘People say the mentality that was forged from that game – when they went down to ten at the Camp Nou, they knew they could get through it, because they could point to recent precedent.’
The game in question took place on a chilly, misty evening in Milan, Inter already six points clear at the top of the table. The final score was 0-0, but watching encounters like this is when you realise that people who dismiss such stalemates are missing the point of football. It was ferociously bad-tempered, with more needle than a diabetic’s bathroom cabinet and featured three red cards, two for Inter and one for Sampdoria.
Mourinho had already been complaining at great length and volume at the apparently awful treatment of his brave boys by the higher powers, poor little old Inter seemingly the victim of some great conspiracy. He was fined in his first season for suggesting Juventus were favoured by officials (although, in fairness…), and given a one-match ban after he “theatrically contested a referee’s decision and repeatedly directed harsh insults at the referee” during a game against Cagliari.
And then, a few weeks before the Sampdoria game, there was the Milan derby, which inspired him to complain: “Everything was done today to try to prevent Inter from winning, but my squad is strong and we will win the scudetto. But I will leave it at that. This is your country and your league. I am just a foreigner working here. One day, I will go and leave the problem with you. I think we all understand that it was no coincidence that the referee showed the red card to Sneijder.”
So by the time Samp visited, he was already cooking, and the pot boiled over after about half an hour, when Walter Samuel was sent on his way by referee Paolo Tagliavento, then seven minutes later the pot exploded when Ivan Cordoba was also dismissed.
Mourinho, by this stage 50% flesh, 50% pure outrage, stalked up and down the touchline, railing at the blinding unfairness of it all, wailing at the skies, bewildered as to why the gods had been so cruel to him. Which is where the handcuffs gesture came in, placing one wrist over the other and flexing them up and down, in a manner that foreshadowed the dance for Psy’s ferociously irritating global superheat ‘Gangnam Style’, released two years later. Maybe we’ve got Jose to blame for that one too.
The fact that both of Inter’s red cards in that game were fair enough is really here nor there. Samuel, already on a yellow card, was sent on his way for clotheslining Nicola Pozzi when clean through, and Cordoba received his first yellow for pointlessly charging down the resultant free-kick, before joining Samuel in the early bath following a late challenge on Pozzi. Mourinho, in the days when there was some vigour to his showmanship, performatively banged his head on the edge of the dugout.
He wasn’t done there either, aiming what would later be called ‘offensive expressions’ at the officials in the tunnel at half-time, and allegedly saying to the referee: “Well done, well done, remember your family is watching you on TV.”
The Italian FA, by this stage firmly sick of Mourinho’s bullshit, banned him for three games and fined him €40,000. But his players followed him over the cliff edge too: obviously Cordoba and Samuel were banned for a game each, but additionally Sulley Muntari got a two-match suspension for insulting the officials, while Esteban Cambiasso was also placed on a two-game naughty step for trying to punch a Sampdoria player in the tunnel.
Spicy stuff. Of course, all of this was part of creating the bunker mentality most managers try to create, us against the world. For a few years at least, Mourinho was sensationally good at this sort of thing.
Afterwards, through a spokesman, Mourinho said: ”You can take me away, arrest me, but my team is strong and will win anyway, even if we are reduced to nine men.”
These were the good days of Jose the good bastard, as opposed to the sad one we saw in the latter days of his time at United, the man who could be an absolutely sensational piece of work, but everyone who was on his side loved him for it. Those days look long gone now, but he’s had nearly a year in which he has apparently developed a fresh outlook on things. If that includes reigniting the spirit of that day in Milan, he could still be a success at Tottenham.
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