London | Is Chelsea Football Club a winner because manager Jose Mourinho sends all fellow Premiership managers a nice holiday card? Is this what he means when he calls himself “the special one”? In a 5,300-word review of Patrick Barclay‘s Mourinho: Anatomy of a Winner, Cambridge lecturer and London Review of Books contributor David Runciman does not necessarily tackle these questions. (The essay appears online and in the LRB issue dated 5 Jan 2006.) He does, however, question Barclay’s uncritical acceptance of the Mourinho myth, that ineffable charisma and self-belief have led to a magical transformation—along with owner Roman Abramovich‘s bankroll, of course. Runciman claims that Mourinho is too intelligent to believe in his own influence, but “knows that the most important thing for a football manager’s reputation is being in the right place at the right time.” Practically speaking, Runciman writes, Mourinho adheres to percentage football, realizing that perhaps as little as “5 percent of the action is exclusively subject to the differential skills of the players and the tactics of the team, the rest being shaped by such chance or inconsequential factors as the bounce of the ball.” The manager’s influence is thus mundane: avoiding the “bulls***” surrounding the game and minimizing distractions on players.
Not all would agree. Marina Hyde speculates, tongue in cheek, in the Guardian that Mourinho’s recent Christmas-card message to Arsenal manager Arsí¨ne Wenger might have been a Trojan horse deliberately designed to toy with the mind of his Arsenal rival. “Contemplating Mourinho and Wenger,” Hyde writes, “it is hard not to be reminded of [Prince von] Metternich and [Charles Maurice de] Talleyrand, the masterful 19th-century Austrian and French diplomats whose rivalry and gamesmanship was so intense that, upon hearing Talleyrand had died, Metternich replied: ‘Yes. But what did he mean by it?’ “