Why did Mourinho get the push?
Why did Mourinho get the push? The word is that he lost the dressing-room – too many Chelsea players had clearly grown sick of the sight of him – but there’s something else he’s recently lost as well: his astonishing good looks. Photos in this morning’s papers of Mourinho on the training ground just before his dismissal show a balding, puffy, slightly dishevelled figure. Once agelessly glamorous, he now looks older than his 52 years. When he arrived in English football in 2004 he came trailing not just a reputation for arrogance and achievement but unquestioned sex appeal. He was frankly a lot better looking than any of his players. In such a deeply homoerotic sport, this counts for a lot. The extraordinary hold he had over homely superstars like Frank Lampard and John Terry stemmed in large part from their desire to please their handsome boss: they used to look at him with adoring eyes, just waiting for a hug. Their fondest hope was that some of his stardust would rub off on them. Not any more. Now he looks more like Terry’s grumpy uncle.
I first felt that he might be in trouble over a year ago when a woman I know with only a passing interest in football asked me what was wrong with Mourinho. Nothing, I said (Chelsea were then riding high at the top of the league). ‘But he’s starting to look like a tramp. What’s the point of him now?’ What indeed. Along with his good looks, he used to dress beautifully (footballers care a lot about clothes too). He still sometimes wears the same coats and scarves, but where he once made them look good, they now make him look uncomfortable: just another irritable man in an expensive jacket. The same goes for his attitude. His recent press conferences had been increasingly awkward, because his ugly ill-temper and barbed asides needed a heavy dose of glamour to make them palatable. The hauteur was coming across as straightforward resentment. What was he so cross about? The passing of time.
A glamorous appearance is not the only way for a football manager to command respect. There is also the been-there-done-that school of hard men: mottled pros who can stare anyone down. Alex Ferguson was no oil painting. In many major sports this still seems to be the norm: the enormous, sweaty men barking orders on the sidelines of the NFL are not trading on their good looks to get their way. But the new breed of star football managers – all of them following in Mourinho’s wake – spend a lot of time on how they look. Pochettino, Villas-Boas, Simeone, Guardiola: these are all men who believe that appearances matter. Guardiola has shown that hair loss need not be a barrier in the way of success: you just have to carry it with conviction. Last season the Everton boss Roberto Martínez was clearly troubled by his incipient baldness – subject of much ribald commentary on Match of the Day – and couldn’t decide how to wear what was left of his hair. His players also seemed to lose their way. This season he has gone for a much more confident, sleekly close crop. His team have rediscovered their mojo at the same time.
Louis van Gaal at Manchester United seems like a man who was used to turning heads, but he now resembles an over-coiffured granddad, trading on past glories. His team have that feel to them too. Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool is handsome and has great hair but catch him at the wrong angle and he looks craggy and past it. His players need to decide which version they are playing for. One early rumour suggested that Chelsea were considering the black-suited Simeone as a long-term replacement for Mourinho. A better bet might be Villas-Boas, who was too young and fresh-faced when he came in first time around but has grown into his looks. He is also not shy about dressing up. He recently posed with his entire Zenit St Petersburg team in 19th-century Russian military uniforms. If Chelsea are looking for someone to help Eden Hazard rediscover his inner dandy, Villas-Boas is your man.