Questionable links | Looking for the ‘inner Mourinho’ in Iberian past

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Jose Mourinho shilling for BPI Portugal. Link to Observer essay.London | In advance of today’s first-leg Champions League encounter between Chelsea and Barcelona, Oxford don Peter Conrad shames even our ABC (“Anyone but Chelsea”) sensibilities by branding manager Jose Mourinho a dictator, technocrat and marketing shill (see also 22 Dec 05). Conrad’s assessment does not occur in the sports section but as a splash feature in the review section of the Sunday Observer. This erudite chronicler of modernism (Modern Times, Modern Places) does not shy when extrapolating from Mourinho’s upbringing in Salazar-led and, then, post-revolutionary Portugal to the inner Mourinho, a man with “unregenerately right-wing views” following the humiliation of his parents’ ousting from bourgeois dwellings in Setubal. Conrad continues:

[Mourinho's] political sympathies are encoded in the beliefs with which he indoctrinates his Chelsea players. “The team,” he ritualistically insists, “is more important than the player.” That’s not exactly the same as extolling life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; in fact it’s the ideology of Salazar’s corporate state, applied to the microcosmic society of the football club that Mourinho regulates.

Whew! Unfortunately, all football managers would qualify as mini-Salazars in these terms. The athletic team, like the school classroom, in its hierarchy infantilizes the participants. It does not take a reactionary communist mayoralty in one’s youth to instill these ambitions.

Mourinho’s wife, Tami, also has grudges to bear, according to Conrad, as part of a family caught in Angola’s war for liberation. The family was evacuated and, on arrival back in Portugal, branded as “retornados” (see 31 Dec 05). Through it all, football served as a state-funded distraction, “stoking up the aggressiveness needed for the persecution of unwinnable wars in Portugal’s insurgent African colonies.”

In the end, Conrad’s pastiche of quotes offers a poor substitute for biography. He grants Mourinho influence that far exceeds the reality: Mourinho is a football manager and, although he might demonstrate arrogance, hardly bestrides the world.

About the Author

John Turnbull founded The Global Game in 2003. He was lead editor for The Global Game: Writers on Soccer (University of Nebraska Press, 2008) and has also written on soccer for Afriche e Orienti (Bologna, Italy), the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the New York Times Goal blog, Soccer and Society, So Foot (Paris) and When Saturday Comes. His essay "Alone in the Woods: The Literary Landscape of Soccer's 'Last Defender' " in World Literature Today was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Also for World Literature Today he edited a special section on women's soccer, "World Cup/World Lit 2011," before the Women's World Cup in Germany. The section appeared in the May-June issue. His next project is a book on soccer and faith.

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