Football! – the most accessible global sport. You can kick a stone down the road, a ball on a beach, all towards the same end – just to keep getting closer to the goal.
It’s also the richest of all sports. José Mourinho’s journey exemplifies this journey; from Portugal to the 3 biggest European leagues. He played in the Portugese league, but didn’t shine as a player – I didn’t have talent, he says. He started out with coaching in his home country with Porto, took them to unattained heights, and then he was off like a rocket. An all-Europe phenomenon – from one club to another, from one country to another, taking each of them to Championship levels. An amazing decade – almost like no other decade for a coach in club football.
If you’re not a referee or the press person, he’s (Mourinho’s) a nice guy.
People see him as the bad boy of Football Coaching but he reminds you that he was only a coach so obsessed with the team, its winning, and just refusing to be politically correct, even by Football standards – all of which were perfect ingredients for the press to be, in turn, obsessed with him.
The José Mourinho episode of The Playbook was so different from the first two episodes of the season. The format changed a bit – we could hear the interview questions. We could see traces of how he toys around with the media.
There were lessons of course, but had to be gleaned from the story-telling.
The interviewer asks about his earliest childhood memories, any early experiences that shaped his philosophy – he brushes them off “I don’t want to speak”, “Don’t want to go there”.
Where did you learn things that became valuable to you later in life?
“Me!” replies Mourinho.
Everything about life coaching I’ve learned so far seems to require one to dig deep into the nurture part of your childhood – by Mourinho finding José. By shunning it, Mourinho is determined to shape his own identity and destiny. If we were expert psychiatrists, we would probably break down the storyline and link it back piece-by-piece to his childhood.
You don’t win big things with nice guys – winning on a globally competitive level, it’s about an immense amount of toughness. It’s not the 80’s. It’s a post-Covid era.
Rule No 1: UNDERSTAND YOUR AUDIENCE
Mourinho was promoted to Head Coach at Porto in 2002-03. He had to rebuild. There was no passion in that team.
You are born loving your club, you die loving the same club, but sometimes you are not in love with your team – People relate to the values of a club, they demand that spirit and sacrifice, if that’s the people you represent.
He didn’t spend on stars, he picked players who were diamonds in the rough, from some of the lower leagues (sound familiar? MONEYBALL strategy), but players with a deep feeling for Porto. The result was a team full of competitiveness, aggression, sacrifice, without titles, international experience, unselfish; ready to do anything to win.
When this happens, the crowd connect becomes cosmic, the home ground becomes a fortress – for two years, they did not lose A SINGLE MATCH AT HOME!
Rule No 2: IF YOU ARE PREPARED FOR THE WORST, YOU ARE PREPARED
It’s a crazy story of how he converted the fear of playing Manchester United in the 2003 UEFA Champions League opener to mental strength – he basically goaded the team to almost wish for it as they sat around together and watched the Draw being unveiled on TV. They did get Manchester United. And they celebrated that they drew this powerful team in the first round. What we saw is what we term “reverse psychology” in daily parlance.
Classic underdog strategy – still works with the best of founders. Show them the top dog and they hunt it down. David beats Goliath! Blume’s portfolio is decked with Davids. They keep rising. You will hear of more of them, one by one.
Rule No 3: THE UNDERDOG ATTACK
Porto went back to Manchester United for the reverse leg. No Portugese team has ever won a knockout tie on English soil. Manchester United scores at the 25th. At half-time, he decides he’s going to wait and become aggressive at the right moment.
Manchester United started getting defensive and a bit nervous. Silence in the stands. They try to run out the clock. Mourinho decides to start pushing and taking risks. Push on courage and aggression. 90th minute; direct free kick; final chance. Great kick, off the goalkeeper’s glove goes the Porto forward’s kick into the goal. The huge upset was complete, Porto kept climbing to win the UEFA Champions League – beginning the amazing journey that took Mourinho to newer climes, newer clubs.
The day wasn’t done and he had two English club offers and majority of the players had better teams reach out. Nothing succeeds like success.
Next stop: Chelsea FC, EPL, June 2004.
Rule No 4: SOME RULES ARE MEANT TO BE BROKEN
Oddest story yet. 8 months into the Chelsea stint, he was suspended for making disparaging comments on Rijkaard, the other coach. 2-match suspension; no bench, no tunnel, no locker room said the suspension notice. He needed to guide his team through the QF with Bayern Munich. On the day prior, he tells his players: “I don’t want to put pressure that we have to win, but we cannot lose, we cannot lose”. Classic Mourinho!
He takes some crazy risks and decisions – best explained by him (when you watch the episode) – and somehow averted being detected despite sneaking into the locker room. He was there for his players of course. Good win and while not proud of breaking a rule, it leaves him proud of sticking with his players.
2 Premier Championship Titles. 2008 move to Inter Milan.
Rule No 5: THE TRAIN DOESN’T STOP TWICE
Cruelty of Football is that most coaches are sacked. Mourinho had a great run where he got to choose where to go, before anyone could contemplate sacking him.
2010: Inter Milan is now the League winner in Italy. He loved his team, wanted to win the Champions League for them. They hadn’t in decades.
He gets an offer during the tournament to join Real Madrid. The offer was too tempting – the challenge of beating Barca, 3 national league titles with 3 different teams, moving to the fourth league (Spain) and trying to win there – all these were too big a dream to pass on. The train doesn’t stop twice.
The Real Madrid stop had arrived. Does he get off the train? He won the Champions League with Inter Milan and he decided to report at Real Madrid next morning. He skipped the locker room, the team bus and would’ve loved to have celebrated differently. The emotion sometimes of leaving your team, even if on an absolute high, is a tough decision one has to make. Bigger goals beckon!
Rule No 6: DON’T COACH THE PLAYER, COACH THE TEAM.
[The Big Players] – If you’re not able to coach the Big Players, you are not able to coach anyone.
It’s very important for a coach to understand that you are not going to teach them how to play football. You are going to coach them how to play football in that team.
Real Madrid: 2011 | Copa Del Ray Final | v Barca – Mourinho moves Ronaldo to the Central position, #9, to counter Dani Alves. Ronaldo scores a great header to win the game.
[About the stars] They are guided, they discover the way. I’m not Waze.
They are special talents; Without the team, they can not express what they have. Everything is about the team.
I do not coach football players. I coach football teams.
This serves as a stark reminder of one principle we keep reiterating at Blume to our founders. It doesn’t matter how much of a superhero you are. Where is the team of superheroes with you? No team = no win, however hard you work. It’s more important to build and inspire a team than serving any other stakeholder, investors included. The team serves the goal more than any other ingredient in a startup.
Football is a bit of everything.
Football is an art
But Football is also heart
Football is about winning …
In all my experiences in football, there is the human side of it.
Team, brother, family. And for me, these are the things that … they stay forever.
Mistakes are made, people don’t like his opinions but when José Mourinho says this : The concept of a team is one of the most beautiful things; you hear the innermost voice of a legendary coach. That’s what drives a great coach – makes the team come together, to win, to accomplish the goal they came together for.
It doesn’t matter how long ago his teams were together, they are all a call away for each other. That’s how he built his teams. That’s how great brands are built – teams that believe in a common mission. They never forget the teams they built with.
Mourinho won 20 titles in 10 years, across four countries, four leagues – and the fans at Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid will probably never forget those moments in their lives, orchestrated by José Mourinho. That’s the legacy of a great team manager in football – you allow them a new faith, an alternative religion in football.