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Jose Mourinho: Has the time come for the Special One to retire?

Jose Mourinho, Roma
(Image credit: Getty Images)

When players are thrown under a bus in the Arctic Circle, does the said vehicle have snow tyres and if so, does it hurt the footballers more or less?

It was not a question Jose Mourinho had to wrestle with in the glory years, in the time when he threatened to become the greatest manager ever, when it felt entirely realistic that he spoke of his ambition to become the first manager to win the Champions League with three different clubs.

Embarrassments were rarities for Mourinho in the time when he went unbeaten in home league games for nine years, when he won eight league titles, when his two Champions League crowns were all the more admirable because Porto remain the only team outside Europe’s top five divisions to win its greatest prize in this millennium and because Inter Milan had not conquered the continent for 45 years. Not when he was smarter and funnier than everyone else, and he knew it.

And now? Mourinho, a manager defined by the Champions League and who in turn defined it, is in Europa Conference League, losing 6-1 to Bodo/Glimt, a club who were in Norway’s second division when Inter did their treble. He returned to Italy to get sent off for a tantrum in a stalemate against Napoli: 58, going on two, he behaved petulantly. 

Whereas many used to laugh with Mourinho, now more laugh at him. It is only a few months since Tottenham contrived to lose 3-0 to Dinamo Zagreb. It was Mourinho’s worst European result... until, in the 1,008th game of his managerial career, his team conceded six for the first time.

Mourinho has no trophy since 2017, no league title since 2015. He has spent the last few years damaging his reputation; perhaps even his legacy. It prompts the question of at what point, rather than suffering more setbacks, Mourinho admits defeat and retires.

Because, with each job, there should be a greater recognition that his best days are further away, that he won’t recapture past glories, that continuing brings an even bigger risk of more humiliations. Manchester United was his first post since Uniao de Leiria where he did not win the title, Tottenham the first since then where he secured no silverware. Arguably, his last great feat was dethroning Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona as La Liga winners in 2012. He has not won a Champions League knockout tie since 2014. After sacking him, Spurs came seventh last season; attribute that to Mourinho and it is his lowest finish since Leiria.

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The fact he has gone to Tottenham and Roma is a relegation in itself: neither is perhaps in Europe’s top tier and virtually all of the clubs who are would not consider him. The pattern of his reigns, from the initial uplift and hopes he can recapture his alchemy to a toxic blend of criticism and underachievement, has come to unravel quicker; the highs are less high but the lows can be lower. 

Mourinho’s management seems ever more outdated: the man-manager supreme now devotes more time to criticising and alienating his players while his style of football belongs in the 2000s, not the 2020s.

Admittedly, reaching the heights Mourinho did requires industrial capacities of belief; he was the interpreter who became the planet’s outstanding manager. Perhaps elite-level sport requires faith in your capacity to win, despite evidence to the contrary. Successes are not forged by giving up.

And even in his decline, Mourinho has conjured occasional reminders of his past, which may in turn encourage him that there will be more: the 6-1 demolition of United, a couple of victories against Guardiola, the brief sight of Tottenham top of the league. 

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Maybe Roma will finish in the top four, which he would be able to tout as a triumph of sorts, but not compared to his past achievements. Possibly he wants one final crowning feat before he goes, but with each year, it feels less likely. Perhaps Mourinho will be rewarded for plugging away, as Claudio Ranieri was in Leicester’s utterly unexpected title win.

But Ranieri behaves like a man who enjoys management. Mourinho, ever disappointed in his players, forever blaming others for failures, does not.

Management may be an addiction rather than a pleasure. He excels at getting lucrative contracts which often result in huge pay-offs, but a man who should already be a multi-millionaire should not need them and ought not to carry on seeking clubs with ever lesser players but still the budget to pay him excessive amounts to underperform. It might be a bit late to say that Mourinho should retire with his dignity intact; not after the indignities of recent years. But he should retire.

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