(By Jonathan Wilson).- Modern football was invented in Barcelona in the mid-90s. Of this season’s Champions League quarter-finalists, four sides are managed by players who turned out for Barça in 1996: Pep Guardiola, Luis Enrique, Julen Lopetegui and Laurent Blanc.
Within a couple of years, they had been joined by Frank de Boer and Phillip Cocu as well as the coach, Louis van Gaal, and his assistant, Ronald Koeman. In slightly differing ways, the eight are apostles for the Barcelona way – or, more accurately, given the influence of Ajax on that style, the Barçajax way. However, there was another presence there, initially as a translator and then as a coach. In the Barçocracy of modern football, there is a fallen angel.
In the modern world, at least at elite level, José Mourinho stands alone. He was at the greatest coaching seminar the world has seen, when the game as we know it was shaped, but he did not draw the same lessons everybody else did. The other eight espoused the proactive, possession-based football seeded at the club by Vic Buckingham, developed by Rinus Michels and taken to new levels by Johan Cruyff.
Mourinho, however, was different. Mourinho believed in reactive football. He was the outsider, the outcast who now revels in his role as the dark lord. Saturday’s game against Manchester United was typical. Others, playing at home in a match that could effectively ensure the title, might have felt compelled to attack. Mourinho fielded Kurt Zouma, a central defender, in midfield, sitting deep, and won the game with 28% possession.
Mourinho may have objected to Diego Torres’s biography of him but the passage describing his methods against the better sides was as true of Saturday’s win as it was of the victory over Liverpool that determined the destination of the title last season:
1. The game is won by the team who commit fewer errors.
2. Football favours whoever provokes more errors in the opposition.
3. Away from home, instead of trying to be superior to the opposition, it’s better to encourage their mistakes.
4. Whoever has the ball is more likely to make a mistake.
5. Whoever renounces possession reduces the possibility of making a mistake.
6. Whoever has the ball has fear.
7. Whoever does not have it is thereby stronger.
It’s true that earlier in the season, Chelsea were more expansive. When Diego Costa, Cesc Fàbregas and Nemanja Matic were fit and in form, they attacked and racked up goals. The talk was all of how, after the regular failures to break down massed defences last season, Mourinho had taken decisive action. As the squad has tired and form has waned, as the finish line has approached, though, he has reverted to type. Chelsea have been struggling for form and consistency all year and yet, in the 12 league games since the 5-3 defeat by Tottenham on New Year’s Day, they have conceded only seven goals and dropped only six points.
There was a concern earlier this season that Mourinho might be losing his touch. Against Manchester City (home and away), United (away), Southampton (away) and PSG (home and away), Chelsea took the lead, sat back and ended up conceding equalisers. It could even have happened on Saturday, Falcao hitting the post with 11 minutes remaining. However, even if Chelsea have been unusually vulnerable at times in a lead this season, Mourinho hasn’t changed – and it could be argued that Saturday was vindication.
From right to left, the then Barcelona manager Louis van Gaal, assistant coach Ronald Koeman, keeper’s trainer Frans Hoek and assistant trainer José Mourinho during a friendly in Amsterdam in 1999
From left to right: the then Barcelona manager Louis van Gaal, assistant coach Ronald Koeman, keepers’ trainer Frans Hoek and assistant trainer José Mourinho during a friendly in Amsterdam in 1999. Photograph: VI-Images/VI-Images via Getty Images
Mourinho is not a pragmatist in the way that, say, Fabio Capello is, changing approach according to his players and, where necessary, adopting reactive, defensive tactics. Rather his preferred way of playing is reactive, which is why he sold Juan Mata. He may have been Chelsea’s player of the season in each of the two previous years but he had no place in Mourinho’s conception of football.
The paradox is that if Mourinho really has allowed his philosophy to be defined in opposition to Barcelona – he is that which they are not – then he is still allowing Barcelona to dictate terms, creating a dichotomy where there could be multiplicity. It is not that there is the Barçajax school and Not-the-Barçajax school; it is that the Barçajax school is one way of playing among an almost infinite variety, as represented by Jürgen Klopp, Carlo Ancelotti and Diego Simeone among others.
And that, of course, is testimony to the astonishing influence of Barcelona over modern football. Mourinho cannot escape his upbringing as a coach; even as a rebel, it is Barcelona he is rebelling against.
Source: The Guardian.