By Danny Wyn Griffith
I have a fair collection of critically acclaimed books, although I’ve probably only completed reading half of them. Much of that is down to the fact I’m easily distracted whilst probably lacking the self-discipline when it comes to finishing something I’ve started. Yet, despite not normally being one for New Year resolutions, this year I set myself the target of actually completing the books I read.
One of the books I’ve had on the go for a couple of months is Sid Lowe’s Fear and Loathing in La Liga. The fact this book remains unfinished is in no part down to its content. This, in fact, is a book I’ve enjoyed reading thus far and offers a thorough chronology of La Liga – and arguably Europe’s – biggest rivalry, between Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Whilst cracking on with the book last night, I came to a chapter called HH: The Original Special One. Now, I’ve come across Helenio Herrera numerous times over the years whilst researching different pieces. However, last night the surreal similarity in nuances and character, between both himself and José Mourinho, dawned on me.
True, both have followed similar career pathways to a certain extent, but the sameness in which they dealt with aspects of the game stretches much, much further.
Back in 2010, José Mourinho arrived Real Madrid, much the same as Helenio Herrera arrived Barcelona in 1958. Both men were tasked with knocking their arch-rivals off their perch. Both succeeded in similar vain.
Herrera came to Catalonia at a time when the Madridians had won four of the last five league titles, along with the first three European Cups, and they also had Alfredo Di Stefano. Mourinho on the other hand, was called upon by Real Madrid President, Florentino Pérez, at a time when Barcelona had won consecutive league titles, were managed by Pep Guardiola and also had a younger Lionel Messi.
Nevertheless, both had relative success at that they were tasked with. Helenio Herrera lifted the league titles in both his seasons at Barcelona, the 1958/59 Copa del Rey and also picked up two Inter-Cities Fairs Cup – similar to the latter UEFA Cup Winners Cup. Whilst José Mourinho’s Real Madrid picked up the 2010/11 Copa del Rey and also beat Barcelona to the 2011/12 La Liga. In doing so, they topped the league by nine points, setting records for most games won in a La Liga season (32), most away wins (16), most points obtained in any of the top European leagues (100), improving the most goals scored record they already held (121) and finished the season with the highest goal difference of +89.
Both Helenio Herrera and José Mourinho employed similar tactics to overhaul their rivals. The pair approached their roles with enough aggression, bite and rancour to inspire an entire army, whilst also creating a siege mentality and adopting a win at all costs mentality that was unrelatable to others.
Helenio Herrera, the founder of catenaccio, will forever be known as a true master tactician – despite some calling it anti-football. José Mourinho, revered for his ability to study his opponents to the utter most minuscule detail, arrived at Real Madrid having just won the treble with Inter Milan, and in doing so, knocking Barcelona out of the UEFA Champions League semi finals, despite a 1-0 defeat at the Camp Nou; a defeat Mourinho recalled as “The most beautiful defeat of my life.”
Both are pure controversialists. Helenio Herrera often mentioned in full-view that he believed Real Madrid were paying the referees and opposition, much like José Mourinho stated that Barcelona were diving and cheating their way through matches – and recently referred to Manchester City as a team who “falls over with a little bit of wind.”
They deal in provocation and nothing else. Real Madrid players came to hate Herrera, with some refusing to shake his hand, and even debating a boycott of Spanish duties when he became Spain national team coach between 1959-62. José Mourinho and his role in arguably the most infamous rivalry in modern day sport, between his Real Madrid and Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona, is just one of many furious scenes he’s been partial to over the years.
Both Herrera and Mourinho are similar in their reputations of creating strong-minded dressing rooms, but that doesn’t stop them from singling out those who fail to follow their strict demands.
Helenio Herrera decided early on at Barcelona that much-talented Barcelona great, László Kubala, had surpassed his peak, and as the team’s highest earner at 1,308,025 pesetas a year, was therefore a burden. Herrera called Kubala out on his fitness and dedication, stating more than once that he believed the Hungarian failed to look after himself during his trophy-laden career. He even called him the ‘cancer’ of the team for constantly slowing his team’s quick tempo.
You need not look further than Mourinho’s current spell as Manchester United manager to spot his willingness to call out his own players. Henrikh Mkhitaryan seems the most recent casualty, whilst Luke Shaw has also bore the brunt for the best part of his Old Trafford reign, with Mourinho previously stating: “I cannot compare the way he trains, the way he commits, the focus, the ambition. I cannot compare. He is a long way behind.”
José Mourinho has a purpose for each word he states. He delivers them with venom, skill and composure, none more so than his recent spat with Antonio Conte. Get into a verbal slanging match with Mourinho with the utmost caution – his vocabulary and lengths holds no boundaries. He finds no separation between the physical, technical and psychological sides of football, and believes that each match starts at the pre-match media conference. It’s hard not to imagine Helenio Herrera employing the same tactics in today’s media-frenzied game.
José Mourinho, much like Helenio Herrera, is also known for his short-term success – rather than long-term. He builds for the present, and seems to care little for the future. Like Herrera, Mourinho has tendency to focus on players in their prime, and less on potential.
As former Inter Milan Chairman, Massimo Moratti, who employed José Mourinho to great success, just like his old man, Angelo Moratti, did all them years back with Helenio Herrera, once put it: “They have similar characters – great workers, great professionals and charismatic. It’s difficult to find a defect in Mourinho. Perhaps that he is a little bit introverted, but he is marvellous.”
Masters at winning, cut from the same cloth. Helenio Herrera was the special one, fifty years before the dubbed special one.
Now then, where was I on that book…
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