Buffalo to Bristol Rovers: The story of Big Mal, the Great Gatsby & Supermou
Malcolm AllisonÃ¢ÂÂs death moved people in many ways, but it made me think of F. Scott FitzgeraldÃ¢ÂÂs novels, and Jose MourinhoÃ¢ÂÂs future.
Fitzgerald probably didnÃ¢ÂÂt even know soccer existed. But in the final three paragraphs of his magnificent, flawed novel Tender Is The Night, he perfectly envisages the tragic fate that befalls most managers.
His hero, the psychoanalyst Dick Diver, is initially as commanding a presence on FitzgeraldÃ¢ÂÂs French Riviera as Mourinho is at the Bernabeu. But in those final paragraphs he has become a nomadic exile, cycling between a series of smaller towns and smaller practices in New York State.
Fitzgerald even loses track of his erstwhile hero concluding: Ã¢ÂÂIn any case, he is almost certainly in that section of the country, in one town or another.Ã¢ÂÂ
From Buffalo to Bristol Rovers
Fitzgerald famously said: Ã¢ÂÂShow me a hero and I will write you tragedyÃ¢ÂÂ. And AllisonÃ¢ÂÂs heroic tragedy could have easily have been written, suitably mythologised, by Fitzgerald.
The GuardianÃ¢ÂÂs Michael Henderson saw Allison as a footballing Jay Gatsby who epitomised FitzgeraldÃ¢ÂÂs description of his most famous hero: Ã¢ÂÂIf personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life.Ã¢ÂÂ
Yet Mourinho seems more of a Gatsby, a self-created hero, than Allison. The coachÃ¢ÂÂs personal bible of notes even recalls the young GatsbyÃ¢ÂÂs schedule of self-improvement which includes the Mourinhoesque note: Ã¢ÂÂNo wasting timeÃ¢ÂÂ. And that dismal schedule of DiverÃ¢ÂÂs small towns Ã¢ÂÂ Buffalo, Batavia, Lockport, Geneva and Hornell Ã¢ÂÂ recalls the nomadic decline of AllisonÃ¢ÂÂs last years as a coach shuttling from Yeovil to Sporting, Middlesbrough, Willington, Kuwait, Vitoria de Setubal, SC Farensie and Bristol Rovers.
In his heyday, Fitzgerald declared that life was something you dominated if you were any good. Yet his fiction traced the many tragic ways life overwhelms even the very best. Personality Ã¢ÂÂ no matter how long your unbroken series of successful gestures lasted for Ã¢ÂÂ was ultimately not enough for Gatsby or Diver.
Tolstoy made the same point, tediously, in War And Peace, suggesting that the outcome of NapoleonÃ¢ÂÂs invasion of Russia could not be wholly explained by the character, genius or behaviour of Napoleon, Tsar Alexander or their generals.
But the media ignores TolstoyÃ¢ÂÂs reproof and FitzgeraldÃ¢ÂÂs tragic wisdom, preferring to interpret European football largely as a clash of personalities. These heroes and villains are eulogised and criticised like contemporary Napoleons.
This approach is not entirely wrong Ã¢ÂÂ it would be churlish and stupid not to recognise MourinhoÃ¢ÂÂs part in ending InterÃ¢ÂÂs 45-year wait for the European Cup Ã¢ÂÂ but it is far from the whole story, as LiverpoolÃ¢ÂÂs travails have shockingly revealed.
Daisy, Judy and Jose
Whether Mourinho loathes Benitez or vice versa is an entertaining Punch and Judy show, but is it anything more than that?
If you look beyond the cult of personalities, what is most striking about European football is not how radically geniuses like Mourinho have changed matters but how much remains the same.
At the top of the game, though competition has varied in intensity since the late 1960s, the profound resilience of Ajax, Arsenal, Barcelona, Bayern, Juventus, Inter, Liverpool, Manchester United, Marseille, Milan has been impressive. They have all had their struggles but the sheer longevity and overall consistency of their success would be deemed phenomenal in any other industry.
To give you a point of reference, between 1970 and 1983 a third of the 500 largest global companies ceased to exist. The difficulty of merging and acquiring clubs skews the comparison a bit Ã¢ÂÂ mind you, clubs face far fiercer competition than the giant multinationals.
In this context, MourinhoÃ¢ÂÂs rise looks slightly different. The Special One got his big break at one of PortugalÃ¢ÂÂs big three, cemented his reputation at a rich, long-established English club (albeit one with a gift for flashy underachievement), reconquered Europe with one of ItalyÃ¢ÂÂs most successful, well-off clubs and now reigns as footballÃ¢ÂÂs greatest living superhero at the wealthiest club in the world which has won the European Cup nine times.
Once you set aside the matter of MourinhoÃ¢ÂÂs genius, the other common factors in his remarkable story are pedigree (which implies a position of power, an expectation of success and, in many cases, a certain quality of infrastructure) and wealth.
One of MourinhoÃ¢ÂÂs lesser spotted gifts as a coach is his instinct for selecting clubs with the financial resources to give him a temporary, but hefty, competitive advantage. ThereÃ¢ÂÂs an echo of Gatsby here too. FitzgeraldÃ¢ÂÂs doomed hero says of his beloved Daisy Ã¢ÂÂHer voice is full of moneyÃ¢ÂÂ. Since heÃ¢ÂÂs been able to pick and choose, Mourinho invariably joins clubs that are Ã¢ÂÂfull of moneyÃ¢ÂÂ.
So, for me, even if Mourinho rewrites history and becomes the first coach to win the European Cup with three clubs or the first to win it twice in a row with different clubs, his greatest feat will be winning the UEFA Champions League with comparative underdogs, Porto.
The haunter becomes the haunted
MourinhoÃ¢ÂÂs alliance with the media has created a myth Ã¢ÂÂ letÃ¢ÂÂs call it Supermou Ã¢ÂÂ that is so powerful it has diminished Phil Scolari Ã¢ÂÂ a coach who had merely won the World Cup Ã¢ÂÂ and haunted the likes of Avram Grant, Jesualdo Ferreira and Benitez.
But ultimately, as Allison discovered, such myths haunt the very person they celebrate. One of the recurring trials in superhero fiction is the moment the baying, betrayed mob turns on a superhero deemed to have lost his superheroic gifts.
Brian Clough avoided such nastiness by achieving a kind of success so unprecedented and spectacular that most Nottingham Forest fans never blamed him when the club fell to earth. The fans, owners and presidents of the clubs that hire Mourinho are less forgiving.
Mourinho does not talk like a student of football history. But as he basks in the deserved adulation in Madrid he might want to reflect on one line in Brian GlanvilleÃ¢ÂÂs obituary of Allison: Ã¢ÂÂThe worst thing that happened to him was what, at the time, appeared the best: when, in 1971, he was made manager of Manchester City.Ã¢ÂÂ
Mourinho is more disciplined than Allison but Tolstoy, Fitzgerald and Glanville would probably suggest he ought to think ahead if he seeks to avoid the worst.
If he could avoid the Diver/Allison syndrome by bowing out at the top (as a World Cup winner with Portugal?), the legend of Supermou would remain untarnished. And that might just be the most special thing The Special One ever does.