Mourinho Fulfils his Destiny

September 20, 2007

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Jose Mourinho leaves Chelsea football club. In doing so, he fulfils his destiny as the special one, chosen to achieve greatness. His story, like that of David Beckham, is the tragedy of those who would challenge the Gods by flying too close to the sun

Jose Mourinho is the John F Kennedy of football mangers. The clearest illustration of the charismatic personality in a sport not lacking in charismatics. The similarities to the stories of David Beckham and George Best are worth noting.

According the mythologists, the story draws on deep and commonly shared beliefs about ourselves and our world. It speaks of our acceptance of powerful forces guiding our destiny. The most powerful stories are told and retold down the ages. They can be found in Greek tragedies, in Celtic and Norse sagas, and also in the campfire tales of ancient peoples. The central figure is heroic. Destined to succeed spectacularly, and then fail spectacularly. The message is that the special ones may appear to have been blessed, but whoever is out there doing the blessing also wants to remind us that humans at some point have to come to terms with their limitations.

The special gifts of the charismatic include that of captivating those with whom they come into contact. We still use the old terms such as ‘spell-binding’ about their acts and speeches.

Jose had to go

Jose was fated to lead Chelsea to success, as he was fated to win the European Cup with Porto, a team hardly considered capable of it. Charismatic leaders have that effect on followers. The spell makes then capable of achieving things they would otherwise have believed to be impossible.

Those who come to mock often fall under the spell, but may fight against it. So it was that Mourinho even captivated the skilled and wilful members of the English Media legions, although there were those waiting, waiting patiently for the story to end in tears.

However, the spell retains its potency. Even when there are signals of a different reality, there are cries of denial. Jose has a contract to 2010. He will be staying at Chelsea. Thus spake Peter Kenyon on behalf of the club. But the fact he needed to make such an assurance was significant.

Perhaps sensitized by the week’s financial denials and reversals of policy by the Government and the Bank of England, I was not convinced by the spokesman on behalf of the Chelsea financial empire. So much so that I found time yesterday to update an earlier post, on the likelihood of Jose leaving the club.

Jose, David, and George

As is it with Jose, so it was with David Beckham and George Best. Their stories have similar ingredients of great giftedness and achievements accompanied by reminders of their fallibility, and potential downfalls. All achieved world-wide acclaim. All suffered. I will spare further links to the stories of the great Achilles or the original Hero. Jose and David still may have opportunities for further episodes in their reworking of that ancient story.


Mourinho’s job is safe: Update

April 21, 2007

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An earlier post reviewed the prospects of Jose Mourinho staying with Chelsea Football Club. Renewed rumours have broken out at the start of the 2007-8 League season as Chelsea results took a dip. Relations between owner and coach blow from luke-warm to Russian Steppes cold

Original Post

Speculation has been rife for nearly a year that Jose Mourinho will lose his job as Chelsea Coach at the end of the season. CEO Peter Kenyon announces that Mourinho’s job is safe. So why is this unlikely to end speculation? The question takes us into the matter of how leaders in general may fail to convince the press and the wider public of their integrity.

When a politician says “I’m not standing for leader” the message is rarely taken at face-value. I’m most familiar with the UK scene, but it seems a pretty universal reaction. We assume that the politician will find wriggle room so that the original statement did not mean what it sounded like. I suspect that there is widely shared tacit knowledge that the politician is saying something he wants us to believe, while reserving the right to claim that something else was meant, if and when that becomes convenient or necessary.

We can examine this through the highly specific incident in which Chelsea CEO Peter Kenyon has denied the story that Coach Jose Mourinho will be fired at the end of the year. Kenyon could hardly have been more specific. In an interview published on the club’s website he was reported as saying

“Jose’s got a contract until 2010 and we’re not going to sack him. He’s got the full support of the board, that’s really important”

There have been no press stories to indicate that Kenyon habitually misleads the public in his public statements. Yet, my suspicion is, that there is something in stories about Mourinho’s future. An earier denial by team captain John Terry did not not prevent the rumors from continuing. The Press is discounting the public statements without having prior cause for doubting the spokesmen.

Don’t ruin a good story

One broader issue is the attraction to many journalists to keep a good story running. Some have made claims to know that JM is going, with ‘exclusive’ claims that yet another international coaching star has been approached. (Germany’s coach Juergen Klinsmann is the latest of a long line of heirs apparent).

There’s little follow-up mileage in a headline that says ‘Jose to stay’. Maybe this kind of wish from journalists helps achieve self-fulfilling prophesies from time to time. It probably contributes to the uncertainties and insecurities of high-profile jobs. But one factor is hardly enough to explain everything. It pays to look more widely.

The Owner’s influence

In Football, the club owner is often one major factor in the coach’s survival. In the case of Chelsea, owner Abramovich has about as much power as any one person can wield. Whatever Kenyon says, even if Jose’s got a contract to 2010, and even if he has the full support of the board today …. well, you can fill in the dots for yourself. How about ‘things might change if Chelsea fails to win the European Cup, or the Premiership, or the FA cup, or any combination of the three’ ? Abramovich’s reluctance to talk with the press simply adds to speculation.

Jose’s leadership record

Mourinho’s leadership record at Chelsea over the last three years has been outstanding. Before his arrival he had already established himself as one of the most successful coaches in world football. This gives credibility to his somewhat ironic self-description as The Special One. He has recently made it clear that he would like to stay at the club, implying that the decision to leave would not be his.

Leadership and trust

Leadership is often said to be the process of influencing others in seeking to achieve one’s goals. An important aspect is shaping the sense that others make of critical situations. Kenyon would like to reassure fans, as well as the media, that there is no ‘Jose Mourinho problem’ at Chelsea. We have also seen how such a statement may not be taken on trust.

In some contrast, Jose Mourinho seems to be achieving that precious asset in his relationship with his players. He has communicated his belief that the players, too, are ‘special ones’ . When needed, a half-time reminder from the Coach (coupled with shrewd and sometimes daring substitutions) has resulted in the second half, a return to the high levels of performance demanded of the players.

Charismatic leaders achieve their results partly through a form of unconditional trust that they induce in followers. ‘Less special ones’ have to rely on force of argument, often against the reluctance of others to believe what they are being told.

If we want to speculate …

We should take a look at the pattern of behaviours of the actors in the past. Kenyon has tended to be a ‘safe pair of hands’, perhaps tending to a parsimony in revealing and addressing inconvenient information. Abramovich has tended to achieve his results in a discrete fashion. Mourinho has tended to push his employers to get his own way, and has been known to put his job on the line to achieve what he wants. Which suggests that if and when Mourinho leaves, it will hardly be a case of ‘going quiet into that good night’.

Correction, but is it better?

The entry was modified to eliminate the earlier misspelling of Jose’s name. It originally referred to someone called Mourhino. I was tempted to retain the accidental error, but decided it was a bit of cheap and accidental graffiiti and maybe it explained why the post was not being hit very often (message to othe dyslectics out there …).


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