Was Jose Mourinho Good or Bad for the Premier League?

I think I’m a special one” were the words from Jose Mourinho during his first Chelsea press conference after the Champions League-winning manager took charge at Stamford Bridge on June 2nd 2004.

Arrogance? Whatever you think of Jose Mourinho, his record speaks for itself. Arsenal were coming off their unbeaten season, finishing 11 points clear of Claudio Ranieri’s second-place Chelsea.

Jose Mourinho’s first task was to strengthen Chelsea’s defence, and did so with the capturing of Petr Cech, Paulo Ferreira and Ricardo Carvalho. All three whom played well under Mourinho in his two seasons at Stamford Bridge and have all been suspect since. Mourinho also made two significant attacking signings in Didier Drogba and Arjen Robben as the former Porto manager constructed the most expensive squad in Premier League history (Roman Abramovich had bought Chelsea a year before and the club had spent well over £100,000,000 in their unsuccessful season prior to Mourinho). Mourinho did clear out a lot of waste from the Chelsea squad; Juan Sebastian Veron, Jesper Gronkjær and Carlton Cole to name just a few.

Impressive Record

In his first season, Chelsea recorded a record 95 points, losing just one game (to Manchester City) and conceding just 15 goals in their 38 league games. They scored 72 goals; 15 less than second-place Arsenal.

His side were arguably unfortunate in their Champions League campaign. Having eliminated Barcelona and Bayern Munich in the previous rounds, they were knocked out at the semi final stage to Chelsea and that Luis Garcia goal. This was the same stage Chelsea had reached the previous season, eliminated by Monaco after throwing away a 2-0 lead at Stamford Bridge.

Patrick Kluivert scored the only goal of the game in February 2005 as Newcastle eliminated Jose Mourinho’s nine man side from the FA Cup at the fifth round, despite one acrobatic save from Glen Johnson playing in goal at the end of that game following Carlo Cudicini’s red card. Mourinho’s side did win the League Cup at the Millennium Stadium a week later, with help from a Steven Gerrard own goal in normal time; Mateja Kezman scoring the winner.

Jose Mourinho had lifted two trophies in his first season at Stamford Bridge; most significantly Chelsea’s first Premier League title, and their first top flight title in 50 years. He was entertaining in front of the camera, both on and off the pitch. He matched, if not out-fought Sir Alex Ferguson in the pre-match mind games and he had bought a new winning formula to English football.

Winning Tactics

While previous winning tactics included Manchester United’s attacking flair of Ryan Giggs, Eric Cantona, Andrei Kanchelskis, the goalscoring talents of Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke, Ruud van Nistelrooy, and goals from midfielders such as Paul Scholes, David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo over the years. Blackburn won the league goals from S&S; Alan Shear and Chris Sutton. And Arsenal had won the league three times under Arsene Wenger playing the attractive ball on the floor, pacey and danger counter-attack football. One thing they all had in common? They liked to attack. That’s where Jose Mourinho’s team changed the rules.

Mourinho Left His Mark

Jose Mourinho left his mark in the Premier League, not just with the dominance Chelsea now had in the Premier League, not with all the records and trophies they now had, but in a way that has seen Premier League managers change their style in the six years since Mourinho joined.

A Break from Tradition

The traditional 4-4-2 that had been the English way for centuries has started to disappear over the years. Didier Drogba was Jose Mourinho’s lone striker in a system that saw him capable of holding up the ball to bring midifelders into play, and score goals. Now the likes of Aston Villa, Everton and Liverpool are regularly playing 1 striker, even at home!

Defence First

Claude Makelele would sit in front of his back four, while the rest of the midfield helped defend before hitting teams on the counter attack. A season later, Michael Essien would play thuggishly alongside him. Chelsea conceded just 22 goals as they reached 91 points in 2005/06; Jose Mourinho winning two Premier League titles in two attempts. His sides Champions League campaign would end in dubious circumstances again, with Asier Del Horno sent off in a 2-1 home defeat by Barcelona. Barcelona only ever beat Jose Mourinho’s side when they were reduced to 10 men in both seasons knockout matches. That was true also in last seasons semi final second leg victory versus his Inter Milan side.

Mourinho wasn’t the first to play this way. Sam Allardyce’s Bolton Wanderers finished sixth that season with the hoof ball style. From that season, the Premier League has been losing its reputation as the most exciting league in the world, at least amongst its hardcore support; those that were there from the beginning.

Most Exciting League in the World? Otto Rehhagel’s Greece won Euro 2004 with an all-out-defence strategy. And let’s not forget the Italians have been playing this way for years. But the English sides?

At the start of this millennium, the Premier League was winning over fans worldwide for being the most exciting league in the world. We had exciting matches week in week out, up and down the league. The best players from all over the world, or at least Europe wanted to come here. We had Paulo Wanchope and Derby County going to Old Trafford, alongside Dean Sturridge and Ashley Ward, winning 3-2. We had Nottingham Forest not being scared to lineup with two strikers at home to Manchester United in 1999, despite being thrashed 8-1. In 2000/01, all three promoted sides scored 40+ goals (Ipswich Town 57, Charlton Athletic 50, Manchester City 42). Stoke City have yet to reach 40 in a single season.

4-4 No More; It’s 0-0 Now

Two seasons ago, we saw the most 0-0 draws in a single season of the Premier League. Are we ever going to see matches like Bradford City 4-4 Derby County in the Premier League again? West Bromwich Albion and Blackpool are doing their best to prove that teams playing attractive football can still pick up results in one of the toughest leagues in the world. And credit to them; West Brom have won 3-2 at Arsenal and Blackpool 2-1 at Liverpool already this season. West Ham’s 10 men behind the ball approach to their game at the Emirates saw them come away with a 1-0 loss. Where was the harm in West Ham going for it that day?

English Champions League Record

Interestingly, before Jose Mourinho arrived in England, club sides in this country had reached just 1 final of the Champions League in its first 12 years (who could forget Manchester United in 1999?). Since Jose Mourinho’s arrival, England have had 6 representatives in the 6 finals since. Coincidence? The Italian league weakening? Or his tactical success rubbing off on the shoulders of Liverpool and Manchester United who have made it twice each?

Success Breeds Success

Where Jose Mourinho was successful, the likes of Liverpool, Sunderland and Birmingham City regularly play with two defensive minded midfielders. Stoke City never have more than 50% possession in Premier League games, using their strategy of punting the ball up field, winning a set piece (as little as a thrown in) in order to score goals. Stoke City have been the master of the set piece, even during the season they were promoted to the Premier League. Why change a winning strategy I guess?

Final Word on Mourinho

His record speaks for itself. He has won the league (Portugal, England, Italy) in each of the last 6 full seasons he has completed. He has two Champions League winning medals in that time and hasn’t lost a home match since February 2002. He has been playing the “World Cup formation” as was popular with the media back in the summer since his Porto days (and for all I know and presume, with Benfica and Uniao Leiria before) and winning the Champions League with the negative strategy he employed then.

Thanks to Alan at Football Talk for the inspiration and input in this article.

Have Your Say

Did Jose Mourinho leave a positive or negative effect on the Premier League?  Do we enjoy the negative approaches the majority of Premier League sides take into matches, both home and away over the past few seasons in the Premier League?  Or do you want to go back to the late 90’s and early millennium when we saw attacking battles and a lone striker was unheard of?

4 Replies to “Was Jose Mourinho Good or Bad for the Premier League?”

  1. Chelsea played attractive football at times and would not have won the league with another manager then. Joses tactics were not as bad as Bolton or Stoke. They had exciting players like Duff Robben and Lampard. I think Jose exploited other teams weaknesses more than making the league dull

  2. Great post Baz, I’m not Mourinho’s biggest fan myself. But i support Arsenal and our trophy drought started the day that arrogant tw*t took charge of Chelsea so I have my reasons 😉

    No doubt he’s a top manager and has always, and probably will always, be a success where ever he goes. His man-management skills combined with his style of play will always be successful.

    I do believe he contributed to the more negative formations that clubs adopt these days. He brought with him the ‘anchor’ midfielder and playing a tight 5-man midfield with a big powerful lump up top and won the league with it….other managers have seen this, copied it and some managers like Mancini have taken it further and now play 3 defensive mid’s!!!

    Obviously defensive midfielders have been about and used for generations, but I think Mourinho’s tactics have left a negative impression on the league as a whole.

    Still a great manager though and i wouldn’t be upset if he was Arsene’s replacement when he leaves 😉

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