Is Mourinho A Car Crash Manager?

Updated: February 18, 2014

The Coaching Game | John Clarke | Galway, Ireland | Blog 002 | 28 February, 2014

John Clarke blogger

John Clarke, The Coaching Game.



Mourinho of Chelsea

Jose Mourinho

When Ipswich Town, managed by Alf Ramsey, won the old First Division title in 1963 they were drawn against Nero Rocco’s Milan in the European Cup. What happened next came as a surprise to them. Interviewed after the game their captain complained that during the game his players were spat at, had their hair pulled and were stamped on whenever they fell down. This was, in English terms, considered unsporting behaviour as–at that stage–it hadn’t been defined as a tactic geared towards the winning of a game.

Likewise Celtic, then European champions when playing Racing Club of Argentina in the Inter-Continental Cup, was confronted by excessive dirty play and extreme provocation until they retaliated and had three players sent off. Two Racing players were also sent off. In the aftermath of the game all the Celtic players were fined by the club while all the Racing players were presented with new cars for winning the game. To Racing it was, win at any price.

Racing Club was typical of the way a number of teams in Argentina played the game of football, Estudiantes however were considered the dirtiest team in world football as the European champions of 1968 Manchester United found out in the Inter-Continental Cup. The 1969 Inter-Continental Cup final between Estudiantes and Milan was so violent that the President of Argentina ordered that three of the Estudiantes players be arrested and put in jail for 30 days for disgracing a public spectacle.

The manager who created that Estudiantes team was Osvaldo Zubeldia. When he took over at Estudiantes in 1965 he released all but four of the first team squad and promoted most of the second team who had the nick-name “The Killer Juveniles”. Estudiantes style of play was described as ultra defensive, with little creativity and a great emphasis on set pieces with intense pressing all over the field. What many commentators of the time remarked on was their use of dirty tricks and negative psychology. Estudiantes tried to find out everything possible about opposition players’ personalities and private lives as a way of goading them into over-reacting and getting them sent off. In one particular case they continually called an opposition player a murderer as he had killed his best friend in a hunting accident.

It was during a Copa Libertadores game against Palmeires of Brazil that a journalist first described Estudiantes style of play as anti-football.

Anti-football Managers in Italy

European football was not immune from managers who espoused the anti-football approach. Nero Rocco’s Milan and Helanio Herrera’s Grand Inter being two of its greatest exponents. Both were very successful but utterly ruthless in their use of Catenaccio, dirty tricks and other less-than-legal methods of winning a game of football. Il Mago (the Wizard) as Herrera was known was called the Pharmacy Cup Coach by one journalist.

Anti-football Managers in England

When Brian Clough became manager at Leeds United and told the players to throw all their medals in the bin as they won them by cheating, it was obvious that he questioned the methods employed by Don Revie during his successful management of Leeds. In conversation with a former player who played against Leeds on numerous occasions in that period he explained how Leeds approached every game. As early as possible in the game those players considered a threat to the possibility of a Leeds win were kicked and attempts were made to intimidate them. The logic of the early attacks was that the referee was less inclined to put a player off early in the game even for dirty tackles.

Revie was suspected of having certain referees in his pocket. This was always suspected but never proven. In one incident however, a brown envelope was passed between Leeds and a referee. In a cup game against Bristol City when the referee entered his changing room he found a brown envelope waiting for him, when he opened the envelope it contained newspaper articles about a number of Bristol City players who had been involved in violent conduct during games. This was the Leeds United. of Norman Hunter etc. complaining of dirty play.

Gary Lineker once said that the best place to watch Wimbledon was on Ceefax as the only point of interest in Wimbledon–because of their style of play–was the result. Wimbledon kicked long balls and opposition players all the way from the Fourth division.

The expression Car Crash Manager was coined by a journalist who writes for the mass circulation sports paper, Marca in Spain. He used the expression to describe the career of Jose Mourinho as he moved towards a summer exit from Real Madrid. However before there was Mourinho there was Bela Guttmann. Guttmann was brash, massively confident in his own ability and successful with the majority of the clubs he worked with. Guttmann managed 25 clubs in 13 countries stretching across Europe, and north and South America. He is often credited with bringing the 4-2-4 system to Brazil when he managed Sao Paulo in 1953. He is most-often remembered in Europe when as manager of Benfica he broke Real Madrid’s stranglehold on the European Cup. Under Guttmann, Benfica won two European Cups before being sacked for asking for a pay rise. Benfica never won another European Cup after he left.

As Manager of AC Milan he was sacked while they were top of the league because of his attitude to the club President who tried to interfere in football affairs. After that he insisted that his contract should contain a clause stating that he could not be sacked if the team were top of the league. Guttmann’s career is explained by his philosophy “The Third Year Is Fatal” meaning that after three years, players and opponents began to understand your strengths and weaknesses so you were less effective. You became less special.

What the Marca journalist actually said of Mourinho was that Mourinho was the type of person who would drive away after causing an accident. The journalist’s comment seems to have struck a chord with Mourinho as he threatened to sue the newspaper. Mourinho’s career is beginning to resemble that of Guttmann and the car crash scenario.

Benfica 2000-2001, Unio de Leiria 2002-2004, Chelsea 2004-2007, Inter. Milan 2008-2010, Real Madrid 2010-2013. Chelsea 2013 -?

His legacy when he left Madrid is mostly defeats by Barcelona and antagonistic behaviour by him and some of his players towards the Barcelona players and management. It is hard to ignore the nastiness of Pepe’s stamps on Mesi or Mourinho’s sneak attack on the then-Assistant Manager of Barcelona, Tito Vilinova. Two of Mourinho’s players Sergio Ramos and Iker Casillas refused to follow his orders to make all Barcelona players their enemies. They were not only their Spanish team mates “but also their friends”, was their answer to his orders. This incident shows Mourinho’s philosophy is consistent with that of the anti-football managers. Much of Mourinho’s antipathy towards Barcelona, I think, can be traced back to Barcelona’s rejection of him in favour of Louis Van Gal after Bobby Robinson’s departure. Barcelona never saw him or his methods as special. Even back then they understood his philosophy was not about the ball.

I feel there is a common thread which runs through the anti-football managers and that is their functionalist approach to how their teams perform on the field. They have a total over-emphasis on tactics and set pieces, Mourinho said after his Inter side beat Barcelona in the Champion’s League “we were a better team when we didn’t have the ball”. This, and a complete lack of trust in individual creative ability. It is a philosophy based on negatives. Be those negative intimidation or negative psychology.

Some managers working in the premier league in England still try to ensure that the creative urges of both their players and opposition are stifled. Stoke City would certainly show elements of the anti-football approach e.g. long throws, overly-physical and they have a team in which many of the players would physically not be out-of-place on a rugby or basketball team.

Old habits die hard.

What do you think? Is Jose a Car Crash Manager, or just a clever manipulator of people and the media? Feel free to comment below.



  1. centrehalf

    February 18, 2014 at 4:55 pm

    Leeds United fans are like protestants in Ireland. Dieing out slowly but it seems like we will always have a few about the place…

  2. Mick McArdle

    February 18, 2014 at 3:13 pm

    Ah, how I miss the Leeds of old…

  3. Pete Kelly

    February 18, 2014 at 1:48 pm

    Much to ponder in Clarkey’s piece, great read by the way! Mourinho is essentialy a self centred ‘git’ who developed a formula – bus parking , etc – and he won’t trust some players, because it is about him! and if the players do well indivudually, its a happy coincidence.

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