JOSÉ Mourinho is out of work again, but he’s still smiling, quite philosophical and seems to be anticipating a period of normal life for a while. He may well be on “gardening leave”, hence any lack of urgency in finding a new role may have been imposed upon him. Whatever the terms of his departure from Tottenham, and Mourinho has undoubtedly left North London suitably compensated, it is reasonably safe to assume he will be back.
Whenever Mourinho does depart a club, and he’s been sacked by three Premier club in five years, journalists or pundits suddenly claim the league is poorer for his departure. That may be true, but when he’s in situ, the man has to endure no small amount of criticism, forensic analysis and wishful thinking about his demise. The hypocrisy is incredible, but Mourinho is a coach that divides opinion and really stands or falls by his ability to win trophies. His style, not to everyone’s taste, is tolerated when it is accompanied by silverware.
Tottenham, like Manchester United an uncomfortable fit, wanted trophies but they didn’t really give it long enough – after all, this is a club that hasn’t had to stock-up on metal polish for 13 years, winning things is not part of their culture anymore. Sacking Mourinho just a few days before a major final and installing a 29 year-old inexperienced caretaker was a little disrespectful of a man who has won 20 major trophies, including two UEFA Champions Leagues. It was also a bad signal to the club’s fans, indicating that the prospect of a trophy wasn’t that important.
People have been writing Mourinho’s epitaph for some time, but he’s not finished yet. There will always be a club willing to employ a coach with such a glittering track record. His last big prizes may have been in 2016-17, but if you consider that other managerial luminaries such as Mauricio Pochettino, Marcelo Bielsa and Carlo Ancelotti have not won anything in that time, it is clear trophies alone don’t always win affection. If you compete in the Premier League, you have Pep Guardiola, Jürgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel to contend with, so competition is fierce.
To quote Irving Berlin’s song from White Christmas, “What do you do with a general, when he stops being a general?”. Managers like Mourinho only have so many places they can realistically go. Nobody expects to see the controversial Portuguese to run out at Derby, Birmingham or Middlesbrough, or even lower in the pyramid. Firstly, it is unlikely he needs the remuneration, and he is hardly the sort of character to wait for success. He is as impatient as the people that employ him. That’s the manager’s lot these days.
He actually said that he wanted a club with the “right culture”, which was an interesting comment. In any walk of life, the chase is often more satisfying than mere consolidation. In other words, it would be no surprise if Mourinho and his peers look back on the time when they were building something, notably their own reputations, as the most enjoyable stage of their careers. For Mourinho, this would mean his spells with Porto and Chelsea, the first time. Once a coach becomes iconic and possesses a CV with trophies all over it, expectation is so high that even a low-key trophy won’t be enough. Look across Europe and coaches have been shown the door after very successful campaigns – at PSG, at Chelsea, at Real Madrid, at Juventus. For most of these clubs, the prize they covet is the Champions League. Fail in that and you become vulnerable – fail to even qualify for the competition and you’re toast.
A club with the right look and feel is the stage Mourinho appears to be at. This may exclude nearly every front-runner in Europe. Almost all of them have replaced their coaches over the past two years – in 2020-21, Chelsea, PSG, Bayern, Dortmund and Juventus started the campaign with a new manager or changed their coach at some point, the most recent being Spurs’ dismissal of Mourinho and Hansi Flick’s resignation at Bayern.
Mourinho, like Ancelotti, has managed a high percentage of the continent’s top clubs. Ancelotti is now at Everton, who are just outside of the elite group, Mourinho’s next move may have to look into the next category of club. This could prove a good deal more satisfying than attempting to appease a club that would fall into the proposed European Super League bracket.
Mourinho’s win rate has declined since he left Real Madrid in 2013. At Porto, Chelsea, Inter and Real, he won 18 trophies between 2002-03 and 2012-13 (11 seasons) and his win rate averaged over 68%. Since 2013 (eight seasons), he has won four trophies and his win rate has fallen to 56.16%. Since Porto, Mourinho has averaged 130 games per job, but at Tottenham, he managed just 86.
Where will he go next? There are simply a number of clubs where you just couldn’t imagine Mourinho in the dugout: Arsenal, Liverpool, Bayern Munich and Barcelona. You could probably add Manchester City to that list. It is unlikely that Chelsea would employ him again, but stranger things have happened. Wolves would be a logical destination given the number of his compatriots already playing for the club. His agent, Jorge Mendes, is also involved at Molineux. Furthermore, Wolves crave trophies, but their current boss, Nuno Espírito Santo, is still a popular figure.
Maybe he will return to Portugal, where his old clubs, Benfica and Porto, have been usurped by Sporting this season. And what about a club like Germany’s Schalke 04, who have fallen from grace but would surely welcome a hard-nosed drive for success? It’s all guesswork, but Mourinho will not be unemployed for long.
We may be coming to the end of an era in more ways than one. We are aware that Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are reluctantly moving over and new stars will emerge. On the managerial front, we are possibly at the same stage. Julian Nagelsmann, aged just 33, has just been appointed as coach of Bayern Munich. The media have been expecting this for a few years and this will be the biggest text of his career – Naglesmann, for all the plaudits, has never won a trophy. He has made his name purely on his rich potential, which will no longer be enough at his new role. His win rate is currently 48%.
Nagelsmann has always been tomorrow’s man, but it looks as though the moment has come. Mourinho is not yet yesterday’s man, but his next appointment could be the most vital job he has taken since he moved to Chelsea in 2004. Only a fool would write him off because you do not win 20 trophies through sheer luck or a lack of ambition.