The sacking of McLaren on Thursday came as no surprise. To be honest, even if England had qualified, McLaren would have been unemployed next summer. Another thing that was not surprising was Mourinho’s emergence as most fans’ favourite to take the England job. With an amazing record at Chelsea and Porto in the past several years, an attitude which makes him hated by all of his opponents and his ability to keep even the most pretentious player in check it sounds reasonable to think that he would really be the perfect man. But would he really be as good most think he will be? I think not.
I am not looking at the obstacles within the squad, the quality of the players or pressures from the FA, media and ultimately fans who think they can do a better job. We know he can handle those issues. The problem is that Mourinho would not be able to take full advantage of the quality that makes him such a good manager.
Looking back to his Chelsea days, The Special One seemed to have a way with his players. He managed to get what he wanted from his players and they respected him as though he was a god. Looking at his treatment of Wright-Phillips, whose receipt suggested that he was as good as Rooney —which certainly was not the case— we can understand his philosophy.
Wright-Phillips was horrible when he first came at Chelsea and his first performances showed that a lot of work was to be done with what was once a very promising youngster. Instead of blasting him or admitting that he was gravely mistaken in paying that much money for him —something he would never do— The Special One began working with the diminutive winger. Over the next season and a half he was limited to appearances in meaningless matches and cameos in already won matches. And then he burst out and started to play well. So well in fact that he managed to hold down a place in the team for short periods of time. At the start of the current season he was almost never absent from the Chelsea team and for good reason: he was playing very well.
I could be wrong, but the development of Wright-Phillips suggests much about Mourinho. It shows that he is most effective on the training ground. Mourinho developed Wright-Phillips as he wished: he concentrated on the player’s discipline and technical abilities in which he was most interested. It is not only Wright-Philips that Mourinho has moulded into a more pleasant shape, other Chelsea start such as Drogba, Essien and Mikel have all been altered by the Special One.
Not much was to be done with Drogba or Essien as far as technical abilities go, but they lacked serious discipline and could not fit into the style of play of the team. After what was probably a never-ending amount of work on the training field, these two have not become among the Premier League’s most efficient players. Ultimately they were also the players which proved to be so crucial in Mourinho’s success at Chelsea.
If he takes the England job, Mourinho will not have the time to manage his players as he likes. Not only will they not have that level of discipline that is so very crucial in a team which chooses to play conservative football, but they will not be trained to play with each other. Given time with his players, Mourinho could achieve anything he sets his mind to, but that commodity is not there if you are the manager of a national team.
Managing a team where your players do not play exactly as you want them to because there is no time to train them, your player’s fitness level are out of your hands and there is no chance that any of them will actually put in an hour worth of effort while they play for you will be extremely difficult. Given that Mourinho is among those few people in the world who could motivate Gerrard, Lampard & Co., he will still have a mammoth task in developing a tactic which could turn England into a fearful team. For these reasons, Mourinho does not seem to be the perfect candidate. Someone like Capello or Klinsmann seems more suited for a job where the manager has to work with what he’s given.
The first task of the next man to be handed an office at Soho Square will be to ensure that England qualify for the next World Cup, at the expense of one of those teams who are actually good. The next would be to take England as far as possible. Failure to achieve the first task will make him a hated individual. Taking England to the last four in South Africa will make him a god for those who can understand football. A World Cup final would make him bigger than Ferguson and Wenger together. But let’s not get carried away…