It is hard to find a man as polarising as José Mourinho in football. Loved by his own while loathed by his detractors, he is a man and manager who divides opinion. Mourinho’s three-season stint at Real Madrid showed the world everything he is, and what lengths he would go to in order to achieve his aims. During his time at the Bernabéu, he displayed glory, ruthlessness and, quite possibly, his darkest side professionally. Arriving as a Champions League winner in the summer of 2010, his Real years would signal the end of Mourinho’s time as the “special one”, going on to display a new, impalpable version of himself.
The dark triad is a psychological trifecta that refers to three very distinct personality traits shown in various situations or places. It’s made up by narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy. Its most literal meaning ends with severe consequences and is unlikely to be remotely involved in football – or the entire sporting world – but José Mourinho’s spell at Real Madrid is quite possibly the closest example of displaying the dark triad personality in sport.
If you enter ‘José Mourinho’ and ‘narcissism’ on Google, you will find about 250,000 search results – and rightly so, for he is the most narcissistic manager in world football. For a man who so confidently proclaimed himself to be the “special one” in his very first public appearance in England, Mourinho has always displayed himself to the world with a large chip on his shoulder. The word narcissism is appropriately described as extreme selfishness with an extravagant view of one’s own talents and a craving for admiration.
Over his three seasons in the Spanish capital, Mourinho demonstrated various instances of his narcissistic personality; the most prominent exhibited in his rivalry with Barcelona and Pep Guardiola, who they contested against for the LaLiga title in each of his three years, as well as once in the Champions League.
It is no secret that Mourinho and Barcelona go back in history, even before he was appointed at the helm of Real. Dutch manager Louis van Gaal wanted Mourinho to be his third assistant at the Catalan club when he was their head coach in 1997, and before that, he was an interpreter for Sir Bobby Robson. His time at Barcelona came to an end in 2000, and it wasn’t until the summer of 2008 that the two would be mentioned in the same paragraphs again.
This time, Barcelona were in search of a new manager after their previous boss, Frank Rijkaard, was shown the door. Their shortlist was down to two men: Mourinho and an inexperienced Guardiola. Txiki Begiristain, Barcelona’s technical director at the time, decided that the decision would be down to Johan Cruyff, who held no directorial role at the club but was still an influential figure behind the scenes.
In a bid to increase his chances of making a return to the club, he had personally asked for a talk with Cruyff via then-president Joan Laporta, but was dealt a major blow: Cruyff was adamant on appointing his former midfielder as the man to take the club forward. It was a damning indictment for Mourinho, but instead of dampening his spirits, it inflated his ego yet further. The revenge mission was on, and his first chance would arrive two years later.
As the manager of Internazionale, Mourinho was on his way to leading them to a historic treble, but in his way stood Barcelona in the semi-finals of the Champions League. Heading into the tie at the Camp Nou with a 3-1 advantage, Mourinho launched a pragmatic approach after seeing Thiago Motta earn a red card, and played with most outfield players in defence for much of the game. They lost 1-0 but progressed 3-2 on aggregate. With the final whistle came a victory sprint to the Inter fans perched in a high corner of the stadium, much to the disgust of the local support.
He would go on to beat his former mentor Van Gaal in the final in Madrid, and in doing so he passed his test to be the head coach of Los Blancos. His opportunity at inflicting greater damage and boosting his own image was now clearer than ever.
His first shot at gunning Guardiola down came in November 2010, with both teams in an intense battle for that season’s league title. Real Madrid were leading Barcelona by a point at the top of the table, and a win at the Camp Nou would give them a genuine advantage – and Mourinho another chance to prove that he was the man to topple Barcelona’s greatest team. It wasn’t to be, though: Guardiola had done his homework better this time and saw his troops comfortably dispatch Real Madrid 5-0 – the grandest embarrassment of Mourinho’s career.
It’s said that narcissism is infectious. In the months following the humiliation in Catalonia, Mourinho and Real Madrid set out on an agenda to dismantle Barcelona on all three fronts – the league, the cup and the Champions League. They achieved success at the Mestalla in the Copa del Rey, with a Cristiano Ronaldo header in extra-time in the final, and were confident of dismantling them once again when they met in the semi-finals of the Champions League just a few days later.
The first leg was held at the Bernabéu and the teams sent out were similar to those from the Copa del Rey from a week earlier. Los Blancos started off with their usual back five of captain Iker Casillas in goal and Álvaro Arbeloa, Raúl Albiol, Sergio Ramos and Marcelo in defence. The midfield consisted of Pepe, who started in a similar role in the final a week earlier, alongside Xabi Alonso and Lassana Diarra, while the line-up was complete with Cristiano Ronaldo leading the line alongside Mesut Özil and Ángel Di María.
The game proved to be a toxic affair, with the first foul of the game arriving after just 44 seconds. It would set the theme for the rest of the fixture as consistent patches of good football were hard to come by. However, in contrary to Barcelona’s slick style of football, this game saw them commit more fouls than their Madrid counterparts, a surprising statistic considering they dominated the ball and were playing a Mourinho side looking for a clean sheet. The teams had met five times that season but this was the most controversial affair between the two.
There was a memorable battle between Spain teammates Sergio Ramos and Gerard Piqué, with pushing and tugging a constant affair throughout the first half as it ended goalless. Tensions rose in the tunnel at half-time as Barcelona’s second-choice goalkeeper, José Manuel Pinto, was sent off at half-time for an ugly altercation with Real’s matchday manager, Miguel Porlán, an incident that had personnel from both teams, including Gabriel Milito and Arbeloa, reprimanded.
Mourinho sent on Emmanuel Adebayor as an extra attacking outlet at the start of the second-half, replacing Özil, but the physical flare-ups would continue as Pepe went late into challenges, while there was also a furious forearm smash by Ramos on Lionel Messi. But the game took a huge turn with a straight red card shown to Pepe after launching a high challenge on Dani Alves, with no clear intention of playing the ball at first glance. Video replays, however, highlighted that minimal contact was actually made. Mourinho was furious.
Seated on his bench for a majority of the contest, he came out to protest and was eventually sent off by German referee Wolfgang Stark. It initiated Real Madrid’s crumpling. Messi would score twice in the final 15 minutes of the game to give Barcelona a 2-0 advantage and two away goals. But the controversy wouldn’t end there.
Rui Faria, Mourinho’s most trusted disciple and his right-hand man, took charge of the side following Mourinho’s dismissal and he would carry on the tensions into the tunnel and the changing rooms. He would insinuate to his Barcelona counterparts that they were aided by the referees and that they should “go and change in the referees’ dressing rooms” before sending Pepe, another Mourinho mercenary, to go into their locker room and talk them down.
The boiling point had been reached and the fighting reached a crescendo as Barcelona, and the watching world, were shown that Real Madrid’s players were far more loyal to Mourinho than they thought. This was the loyalty Mourinho demanded, the siege mentality that punctuated all his best teams.
Matters would become worse in Mourinho’s press conference following the tie, where he would launch a scathing attack on Guardiola, Barcelona and a series of ties that went their way due to questionable refereeing: “If I tell UEFA what I really think and feel, my career would end now. Instead I will just ask a question to which I hope one day to get a response: Why? Why? Why Ovrebo? Why Busacca? Why De Bleeckere? Why Stark? Why? Because every semi-final the same things happen. We are talking about an absolutely fantastic football team, so why do they need that? Why? Why does a team as good as they are need something [extra] that is so obvious that everyone sees it?”
The game a week later was a less feisty affair, with many feeling the tie was sealed in Barcelona’s favour with their two-goal lead from the first leg. It ended 1-1 at the Camp Nou to send Barcelona through 3-1 on aggregate. A suspended Mourinho watched the game at home. Barça would go on and win the Champions League that season’s LaLiga title, perhaps the most bitter pill Mourinho has ever had to swallow.
Mourinho’s narcissistic personality would be well on show to the world once again against Barcelona just three months later, this time in a Supercopa tie against their fierce rivals. After the first leg ended 2-2 at the Bernabéu, there was another aggressive affair at the Camp Nou. An exciting encounter was sealed with Messi scoring the winner. In the dying minutes of extra-time, however, a rash challenge by Marcelo on Cesc Fàbregas provoked an intense retaliation from both benches.
The last few seconds saw a parade of arguments in the technical area, with Mourinho sneakily walking onto the Barcelona side and raking the eyes of Guardiola’s assistant, Tito Vilanova. Unapologetic, he received a fine as well as a two-game Supercopa suspension, as Barcelona lifted the season’s curtain-raiser.
The Prince, by Niccolò Machiavelli, tells readers that the author is writing for a particular kind of leader who has achieved power through his own cunning and force, and not for a person who has been handed power. He claims that he thinks more highly of people that have a special kind of ambition and a knack for glory and charisma. Obviously, this was targeted towards people in the 1500s, and it took five centuries for this Machiavellian figure to arrive in football.
Mourinho was always compared to Machiavelli, before his arrival in the Spanish capital and long after he left it. His charm, desire and charisma was always held in high regard, and at Real Madrid, he showed his true Machiavellian capabilities. Aptly described in psychological terms, Machiavellianism is a personality trait which sees a person so focused on their own interests that they may even manipulate or deceive others to make their ambition a reality.
GestiFute, the world’s most powerful football agency, led by super-agent Jorge Mendes, kept close ties with Mourinho and the Real Madrid boardroom. He was a close friend of Mourinho’s having represented him from early on in his career and was a visible figure at Real Madrid’s Valdebebas training complex, talking to the man himself along with some of his other clients in Cristiano Ronaldo, Pepe and Ángel Di María.
Mendes had completed more deals with Real Madrid than any other club and was prepared to continue providing his expertise to the capital giants. But this didn’t go down well with members of the Real’s boardroom who, according to Spanish journalist Diego Torres’ biography of Mourinho, The Special One: The Secret World of José Mourinho, thought that Mourinho was more interested in doing business with the club and not interested in achieving their aims.
The Prince describes how one should focus on their own prowess instead of relying on others to be successful, and Mourinho showed exactly that with the ousting of director Jorge Valdano, a club legend. Mourinho demanded a more British style towards handling transfers in his first year at the club, wanting full control of the players that came and went.
Valdano left the club in the summer of 2011, nearly 12 months after appointing Mourinho as boss. It is believed to be over a row regarding Karim Benzema, Gonzalo Higuaín and the lack of attacking options available to Mourinho. He didn’t think both strikers were able to play his style of football and he wanted to bring in a new, unfamiliar face to the club – Hugo Almeida from German outfit Werder Bremen.
There was no evidence to suggest that Almeida was a better alternative than Benzema or Higuaín, but with his height and competence in the air, he would have made a perfect target man for Mourinho’s style. With little surprise, Almeida was a client on GestiFute’s books, which was yet more evidence that Mourinho was favouring Mendes’ men.
A move was vetoed, however, largely by Valdano himself, much to the disappointment of Mourinho. According to Torres’ book, Mourinho had already taken a risk by signing a 30-year-old Ricardo Carvalho from Chelsea and Ángel Di María from Benfica.
Their toxic relationship was finally exhibited to the world for the first time in a 1-1 draw against lowly Almería, where Mourinho left Benzema on the bench for the entire night and refused to bring him on, probably as a message to the board to get him a new forward. Higuaín missed out on the action that night after suffering a slipped disc and Mourinho’s only other viable option was a forward from the club’s B team, a young man who had scored just five times that season up until that point: Álvaro Morata.
Valdano represented the club in most post-match briefings and, after the draw at the Estadio de los Juegos Mediterráneos, he came out in defiant mood: “I hope Benzema does not stay on the bench for too long. The situation surrounding him is unfair.” That would prove to be the end of the line for Valdano as Florentino Pérez’s right-hand man. In his parting statement, he claimed that he and Mourinho had not spoken to each other for months, and that he was not the cause behind Real Madrid’s failure to win either the Champions League or LaLiga that season.
The following season exemplified Mourinho’s Machiavellian nature. He wanted to impose an innovative trivote system, where three defensive midfielders formed a high-pressure triangle that enabled his team to close the space behind the defence but still press high up the pitch. Mourinho believed that this system would enable them to counter-attack at speed while they kept a low defensive line, and that it would find them success in the long run. But in testing this new formula, they were unsuccessful.
Their pre-season games in the United States and China were unconvincing and so were LaLiga games against the likes of Valencia, Barcelona, Málaga and Villarreal. Several games with this method ended in victories, but the style of football was often slated by the unforgiving Madrid media.
Barcelona’s inconsistent form over the course of the season, combined with Los Blancos’ 11 successive wins following a 3-1 home defeat in the season’s first Clásico, meant that they developed a substantial lead at the top of the table. But then they went through a rough patch. Three draws in five, against Málaga, Villarreal and Valencia, prompted Mourinho to ditch the trivote experiment as Real’s lead at the top was trimmed down to just four points ahead of the Clásico at the Camp Nou.
Consequently, Mourinho resorted back to his trusty 4-2-3-1. They won the game 2-1 with Cristiano Ronaldo scoring the winner, and would romp to the title, winning their final four games. Los Blancos ended the season with a record number of points (100), which was matched by Barcelona the following campaign, scored a record number of goals, and had a goal difference of +89. They also had three players who scored over 20 league goals – Ronaldo, Benzema and Higuaín – lifting the title in Mourinho’s second season in impressive fashion, despite having several high-profile figures question his tactics.
‘Psychopath’ is a term Mourinho does not like to be associated with. Ex-Barcelona vice-president Alfons Godall labelled him as one in 2012 following a controversial knee-slide celebration after Cristiano Ronaldo scored a late winner against Manchester City in a Champions League group stage tie. But as part of the dark triad, psychopathy will demonstrate actions such as displaying a lack of empathy or remorse towards another person. Mourinho would often do that in his first and last seasons as Real Madrid manager.
The first victim of Mourinho’s ruthlessness was Pedro León, a 23-year-old winger bought in from local rivals Getafe in the summer of 2010. At €10m, no one seemed to think this was a bad deal and that León could develop into a useful squad member for the next few years. His talent was evident to the club: he a key attacking asset in an average Getafe side the previous season. He was relatively naive but was more than determined to make a mark at the Bernabéu.
But in a league game against Levante, which ended in a 0-0 stalemate, Mourinho accused León of displaying a selfish attitude in only his second game of the season, and was subsequently dropped for large parts of the season. When asked about it in a press conference before a Champions League group stage encounter with French side Auxerre, the Portuguese went on a vicious offence: “I don’t have to justify his absence. If the president asks me, I’ll tell him, but he hasn’t asked me. You talk of Pedro León as if he was Zidane or Maradona or Di Stéfano, he’s a player who not long ago was playing at Getafe.”
If there was anything to dampen the spirits of a young footballer who had just joined one of the biggest clubs to play with some of the greatest players on the planet, under one of the finest football managers of all time, this was it. He would make some appearances later in the campaign but they were few and far between. Harshly, he wasn’t even allowed to leave. Chelsea and Manchester City were reportedly looking for a loan deal in the winter transfer window of 2011, but any talks were blocked by Mourinho.
Two years later, however, Mourinho picked the wrong people to meddle with, and it eventually resulted in him leaving the club. That person was Iker Casillas. The feud between the two allegedly kicked off after Casillas made a phone call to Barcelona stalwarts Xavi and Carles Puyol after the violent scenes at the end of the aforementioned Supercopa game between the two that ended with Mourinho’s infamous rake of Vilanova’s eye. Upon learning of this, the two failed to see eye-to-eye and would be on thin ice for the next two years.
It became public knowledge at the end of 2012 when Casillas was surprisingly dropped and replaced by Antonio Adán for an away game against Málaga – the final league fixture for that calendar year – despite facing no injury issues. It was an odd situation, but most fans and pundits predicted this was just a one-off as their captain had never been dropped like this since he became a first-team regular, and that he would be back in the side once action resumed following the break.
It wasn’t to be. Casillas was dropped indefinitely as Adán started the first league game after the break against Real Sociedad. Then came the twist. Within ten minutes, he was sent off for fouling Xabi Prieto and gave away a penalty, subsequently allowing Casillas to make his way back between the sticks and into the side for the following games. That was until he broke his hand in a cup game against Valencia and would be out for a genuine reason.
There were rumours abound that some of the senior players, including Pepe, Sergio Ramos and Cristiano Ronaldo, were annoyed with the way Mourinho was handling the squad; the unity the champions showed the previous year was now breaking into internal discord.
Diego López was signed soon after Casillas’ injury as his replacement, and would keep his spot in the team, earning praise from the manager. His performances weren’t poor by any means – on the contrary, he impressed – but he simply in the right place at the wrong time. The fans bayed for Casillas’s return, while the media were relentless in their bashing of Mourinho.
The club’s senior players felt that Casillas was treated with disrespect and came out in support of their captain publicly, much to the annoyance of Mourinho. It was now clear that he would be leaving the club with a sense of betrayal in his heart, having lost most of his squad. He even refused to travel with them, arriving at games separately, and wasn’t around the players at training as often as he used to be.
The end of Mourinho’s three-season stint was confirmed following Real’s disastrous 2012/13 campaign, where they failed to retain their LaLiga title, were ousted by Borussia Dortmund in the semi-finals of the Champions League, and lost the Copa del Rey final to local rivals Atlético Madrid in their own backyard, a game that lacked any real intent from Mourinho.
In the space of a year, he had gone from being the toast of Madrid to its nemesis, dividing opinion between Madridistas and Mourinhistas – the latter, a group who were ardent Real supporters but were willing to turn on their captain. His relationship with Ramos and Pepe were non-existent after they came out in support of Casillas, and he lost the backing of another compatriot in Cristiano Ronaldo after he claimed that the forward lacked interest in defensive duties that “he couldn’t be improved any more.”
In three unforgettable years, Mourinho displayed all the characteristics of the dark triad. Controversy, fight, desire and success were never far away from the Portuguese manager as his three-season curse struck him again. He would return to Chelsea after his spell in the Spanish capital was ended by mutual consent, but he left with far fewer friends than he had arrived with. The José Mourinho story continued.
By Karan Tejwani @karan_tejwani26