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José Mourinho has received widespread criticism from most, if not all, quarters for his reactionary jibe at Juventus fans in the aftermath of Manchester United’s enthralling 2-1 comeback win against the Old Lady. But instead of lending my voice to the mainstream media’s echo chamber that is slamming the act as a “classless” one, I will provide my rather contrarian take on the motivation behind Mourinho’s taunt.
Before I proceed, let me make it abundantly clear that I am not claiming that he should or should not have done what he did. The use of the word ‘should’ introduces a moral connotation and as long as you aren’t engaging in universally condemnable acts such as hurling abuse or inciting violence without provocation, I am no one to slap my morals on to you. I am simply trying to put myself in Mourinho’s shoes to expound the psychological and circumstantial factors that made this audacious act understandable and justifiable in my eyes.
Mourinho, in my opinion, is very insecure by nature. Insecurity alone can be crippling. In Mourinho’s case however, his insecurity is coupled with a grandiose sense of self-worth and self-respect. This concoction results in Mourinho oftentimes making self-affirming statements to remind the media and the general public of how good he thinks he is. The football fraternity, who do not quite hold Mourinho in the same high regard as he holds himself, dismiss Mourinho as being arrogant and pompous, and sometimes rightly so. This, in turn, expands the already-massive chip on Mourinho’s shoulders, which has the salutary effect of motivating Mourinho to now go on and walk the talk.
Being the highly skillful manager that he is, Mourinho more often than not does walk the talk by virtue of what his teams achieve on the pitch. This manifests itself in Mourinho leveraging post-match interviews / press conferences to answer his critics in his usual smug manner, thereby having reinitiated the aforementioned feedback loop.
How does all of this relate to what transpired during Tuesday’s encounter? A degree in Rocket Science was not a pre-requisite to have been able to discern that there is no love lost between Mourinho and Juventus. Throughout the 90 minutes of play during Tuesday’s encounter, Mourinho was hurled heinous abuse by the Juventus faithful. Not just the usual abuse for being José Mourinho, but abuse carrying double the potency for the indelible dent that he left on Juventus during his managerial days with Inter Milan, Juventus’s arch-enemy.
As I mentioned above as well, Mourinho, by nature, possesses too much integrity and pride to miss out on an appropriate opportunity to take center stage. United’s victory provided that opportunity for Mourinho to fight fire with fire.
Other factors also contributed to the heat of the moment. Defeating Juventus is no mean feat, let alone at their home turf where they had been undefeated in a Champions League group stage game since December 2009. The dramatic nature of the comeback victory, secured through two late goals, made the victory sweeter. Add to the sweetness the revenge gained for Juventus’s 1-0 victory against United in a dominating display at Old Trafford just a fortnight ago. Lastly, the stakes were high. Mourinho has copped a tremendous amount of pressure, disrespect, and flak all season from the media and other football “experts”. Defeat here would have added fuel to the fire by leaving United’s qualification to the knockout stages, which is still far from guaranteed, hanging precariously in the balance. All of these circumstances provided the perfect platform for Mourinho to blow off some steam in classic Mourinho fashion.
It is important to note that this is a high-risk, high-reward strategy and one that is not cut out for everyone. The highs from silencing your critics through your achievement on the pitch can be very high; however, the lows from failing to produce results on the pitch after all the chatter outside of it can be equally low. Mourinho believes that the risk is justified only because he has immense faith in his ability, which stems from having spent decades being one of the most diligent students of the beautiful game and having a track record of success. In other words, his self-belief isn’t hollow; he does his homework, which gives him the confidence that his teams will continue to be able to produce the goods on the pitch even if he ruffles a few feathers off it. It is this strategy that makes the likes of Mourinho and Conor McGregor serial winners.
The more he has achieved in the game, the more his insecurity has grown. Insecurity about what, you may ask? About not receiving the amount of respect from the football world that he feels he deserves for all that he has achieved in the game. About not receiving the adulation he deserves from Chelsea fans after he was the one who made their Club the significant force that it is today. About the media repeatedly writing him off with claims that he no longer has what it takes. Such factors have been responsible for Mourinho developing a sort of siege mentality. However, instead of tapping out despite attempts to pin him down, Mourinho has channeled this mentality in a productive manner by developing a thick skin, which is an attribute required of a champion in order to succeed on a consistent basis.
But what has contributed to the mainstream media’s anti-Mourinho rhetoric and why does Mourinho feel wronged by this treatment? What has led to his siege mentality? Why does he so strongly divide opinion? According to me, it is because of Mourinho’s proclivity for political incorrectness, which I define as the elevation of truth over sensitivity. And although Mourinho could win more friends by adopting a radical leftist stance of upholding sensitivity by subverting truth, doing so would go against the conscience of his soul. And “for what shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36)
The fact that Mourinho has been a serial winner nearly everywhere he has been has also led to the adversarial treatment meted out to him. This is the price that he pays for his success. Apart from Mourinho, whose CV boasts of laurels at Porto, Chelsea, Inter, Madrid, and United, how many Managers can you think of who have managed at the biggest of clubs across the biggest of leagues in Europe and tasted success everywhere? My point is that the more adversaries you encounter, the more enemies you are likely to have, especially if you dethrone your adversaries, which Mourinho has. Had Mourinho simply gone to one of the aforementioned clubs and not caused any threat to the reigning champion, he would have been considered too innocuous to be the subject of any animosity. Similarly, if he had gone to a club which was already reigning supreme and simply maintained that supremacy, he wouldn’t really be disturbing the status quo. The truth is that wherever Mourinho has gone, the task at hand has been anything but straightforward and despite its challenges, he has always agitated the incumbent seated on its high horse, thereby making enemies in the process.
If a Jürgen Klopp or a Mauricio Pochettino were to carry out an act similar to Mourinho’s act in the aftermath of the Juventus game, they’d receive nowhere close to the same amount of flak. This is because they’re far too inconsequential in terms of how much they have achieved compared to Mourinho to warrant as much limelight as Mourinho.
This is the price that Mourinho pays for being a serial winner and this is the price that Manchester United pays for having been such a dominant force in England over the years. Just like the modern feminist movement confuses men’s desire for achievement and competence with the patriarchal desire for tyrannical power, and just like Socialism is often driven more by hatred for the rich than by compassion for the poor, the volume of achievements that Mourinho and Manchester United have enjoyed over the years empowers the Football world to attempt to bring both these forces down.
Whether you hate him or love him (it’s almost always one or the other), the game needs characters like Mourinho. And whether Mourinho loves the provocateurs or hates them, he sure does thrive on their criticism because he knows that, just as we saw against Juventus, he still has it in him to have the last laugh.