Let’s see the funny side
I’m really going to stick my neck out here, and post a defence of public enemy number one, Jose Mourinho.
Everything I have ever read about this highly successful manager suggests that he is a perfectly reasonable chap, who spends time with his family, and has a sense of perspective about football, which he sees as a job, not a calling. Some of the comments that he makes are really quite funny if you step away from the emotion of it all. He is quick-witted, intelligent and has a real eye for the one liner (‘the special one’ resonates almost as strongly as Shankly’s joke that football was much more important than life or death).
It’s a curious thing, that in the world of football, we don’t seem capable of giggling. So when Mourinho describes Costa as ‘man of the match’, instead of laughing at what is actually quite a good joke, we are outraged by it. Anyone who watched the match, and Mourinho is obviously an intelligent observer, knows that Costa played poorly and should have been sent off. Actually, by a huge stroke of luck and refereeing incompetence, Costa won the match for Chelsea.
This is ironic on a number of levels. Lest we be in any doubt that Mourinho is joking about Costa being man of the match, he says that he is looking forward to going to the rugby tomorrow, directly after talking about Costa’s performance. This comment is unnecessary and redundant, unless we understand the implication that Costa’s behaviour was more appropriate to the rugby field. Mourinho is not only making a joke, but goes to the trouble to add on a comment of such stupidity that one can be left in no doubt that he is being ironic. Yet, of all the things I have read about the match, no-one comments on what a good joke this is. Now certainly, it is not so funny if you are an Arsenal fan. The joke is very much at our expense, but its still only a joke. As football fans, we can surely live with a bit of banter (or even admire it)?
Its not really Mourinho’s fault that no-one appears able to see the joke. To make it worse, we read all sorts of nonsense into Mourinho’s comment. We think that Mourinho’s game plan was to cheat and wind Arsenal up. We conclude that he knew what he was doing all along and his cheating master plan came up trumps. This is ridiculous. Maybe this is why Mourinho likes England so much. I don’t think his jokes are taken so seriously elsewhere.
Let me assure you, Mourinho is not clever enough to orchestrate what happened on Saturday. (We will assume for the sake of this article that the referee wasn’t bribed – I know it looked like he was, but this is actually quite unlikely). Mourinho is not omnipotent. He is just a normal human being who is quite good at managing football teams. Mourinho may well have suggested to Costa that he try to irritate the Arsenal defenders, he certainly wouldn’t be the first sports coach to suggest such a thing. Costa also doesn’t need much encouragement from his manager on this front, he is naturally annoying. Mourinho wouldn’t have based his whole game plan on this idea (he is far too good for that), and he certainly wouldn’t have suggested the kind of assault on Koscielny, which in normal circumstances would lead to a red card and a ban (as of course happened although it took a while.)
So why don’t we laugh at Mourinho? He is quite clearly funny. His witticisms are in the same class as Shankly and Clough, and we had no trouble laughing at them (actually we laughed with them, not at them). Is it something to do with him being foreign? Does his Portuguese accent somehow make us less inclined to think he is joking? Do we incorrectly ascribe his humourful tones of delivery to a lack of familiarity with English pronunciation? Are we fooled by his deadpan mode of delivery – surely not, this style of comedy is as old as the hills, or at least as old as Jack Dee.
I suspect that the standard of journalism is partly to blame. Most football commentators nowadays are ex-pros rather than professional journalists. Can we be surprised that ex-pros in a sport that encourages people to leave school at sixteen don’t make very insightful journalists? The shocking standard of journalism in English football is often commented on by UA. In fact, people are increasingly turning away from mainstream media towards sites such as UA in search of reasoned analysis.
Mourinho’s jokes are also perhaps a bit more edgy than Shankly and Clough. For example, his descriptions of Wenger as a ‘voyeur’ and a ‘specialist in failure’ are quite funny, but also lack grace. They are memorable because they have a ring of truth to them. Wenger is a voyeur (dedicated student of the game is a kinder description), compared to Mourinho, who does not live and breathe football in the way that Wenger does.
Mourinho also feels a little upset that he was sacked by Chelsea in 2007 despite being considerably more successful than Wenger during the preceding three years. I think Mourinho bears a genuine grudge about this incident which forced him to move his family away from a home they loved. Wenger was kept on for a number of reasons. For example, he was working with less money than Mourinho. He also generates value for the club by developing young players in a way that Mourinho does not (Mourinho sold De Bruyne, Wenger kept Coquelin).
Wenger is also a good corporate man who looks after the long term interests of the club by building new facilities, investing in coaching and seeking value in the transfer market. Mourinho, by contrast, is only interested in winning football matches. And we must sympathise with Mourinho’s point. After all, winning is the most important function of a manager. He feels aggrieved that he was rewarded with the sack, despite doing better in his primary function than a rival, Wenger. The ‘specialist in failure’ comment is a pithy and witty way of expressing this frustration.
So let’s look at what has really happened. A manager is under terrible pressure because his (champion) team has had a terrible start to the season. He has then had an immense slice of luck. He should have had a player sent off, and lost another game at home. Such a result would have threatened his job, his livelihood and a reputation he had spent nearly twenty years building up. Instead of sending Costa off, the referee made a horrific error, and actually sent off one of the opposition players for retaliating to the original, unseen, offence. This is even better (from Mourinho’s perspective) because the opposition is a genuine rival. As a result, you have been gifted your first, desperately needed, home league victory of the season, lazy pundits will talk of a ‘turnaround’ and confidence around the club will be generally boosted. At the end of this game, you are naturally on a high. Being an intelligent and witty man, you then make a joke about it. You say that Costa was the man of the match. Of course, he was in a way. He really did win the match. He did it by cheating, in a manner which is an affront to the sport of football. But actually this makes it even better, because it’s the unearned victories that really make a difference to your final league position.
Mourinho is a competitor, who sees football as a competition, not a pure art (he is very different to Wenger in this). Annoying a ‘poncy’, ‘snooty’ purist like Wenger (who thinks he is better than you, despite the relative lack of silverware!) actually makes the whole thing better from Mourinho’s perspective. He doesn’t really care how Chelsea won, he just wanted to win.
What I think, cannot be denied, is that my favourite manager of all time, does not like Mourinho. He doesn’t like him one little bit. The handshake nonsense is not all a media invention. If you look at Wenger’s body language, he genuinely doesn’t want to touch Mourinho. By contrast, Mourinho sees the funny side and never wants to miss a chance to make Wenger uncomfortable by shaking his hand (Wenger had a similar issue with Ferguson). Wenger doesn’t like what Mourinho stands for, the way he does it, and the sort of football be promotes. I love Wenger, but he singularly lacks a sense of humour when it comes to football matters (his sincerity is one of the reasons that he is so good). Wenger most definitely does not find Mourinho amusing. This is a genuine clash of personalities.
Wenger’s teams have been consistently more fluid passers, less inhibited and less defensive. Mourinho’s teams are consistently more defensive, more physical and more disciplined. Wenger sees magic in football, Mourinho sees a battle. They are both great managers, and actually their rivalry is good for the game, just as Borg/MacEnroe was good for tennis, Prost/Senna was good for F1 and Ashour/Matthew was good for squash (sorry, I’m a squash fan and couldn’t resist this one).
My suspicion is that history will be kinder to Wenger than Mourinho, because Wenger has contributed positively to the overall way that the game is played. I also suspect that history will treasure Mourinho’s witticisms for what they are.
We love Wenger on this site, and we will always support him. But let’s not deify him. His lack of a sense of humour about football, allows Mourinho to wind him up. By taking Mourinho’s comments seriously we add to some kind of nonsense mythology about the man. He is not that clever, and dignifying his jokes with serious analysis implies some kind of mystic power, which he most certainly does not have. So can I politely suggest to my fellow fans that we draw the following conclusions from Saturday:
- Mourinho was incredibly lucky
- He is an enemy of pure football, as Wenger sees it, but ‘vive la difference’ as they say in Alsace
- He is a witty man, and his comments about Costa are actually quite funny. Don’t let him wind you up. Have a giggle, see him for what he is, and move on. Actually the injury to Coquelin worries me far more than the result on Saturday.
In my final attempt to cheer the Goonersphere up, I simply have to include a Shankly joke that I came across in researching this article. I desperately tried to work it into the article, but failed. Nonetheless, I think it stands on its own:
[dismissively responding to a journalist who asked if he had taken his wife to see Rochdale as an anniversary present] “Of course I didn’t take her to see Rochdale as an anniversary present…….It was her birthday. Would I have got married in the football season? Anyway, it was Rochdale reserves.”
The petition “Prevent Mike Dean from refereeing another Arsenal game” needs just 500 more signatures to reach 90,000. Please sign up if you agree.
23 September 1995: Dennis Bergkamp scored his first two goals for Arsenal, and in the 4-2 defeat of Southampton at Highbury. Adams and Wright scored the other goals to make it seven unbeaten.
23 September 2008: Arsenal put out a youth team and beat Sheffield U 6-0 in League Cup. Fabianski, Hoyte, Djourou, Song, Gibbs, Randall, Ramsey, Merida, Wilshere, Bendtner, Vela. Among the substitutes was Francis Coquelin.