COMMENT: In defence of Jose Mourinho's Europa League giddiness
'Oh how the mighty have fallen!'
It is a common refrain amongst football fans basking in the perceived fall from grace of a rival. Interestingly, it is used less in moments of abject failure than in relative success. Of course there is joy to be had in the enemy's defeat or even relegation, but in the age of online banter and Twitter spats, there is an inverse pleasure taken in belittling a qualified moment of triumph. This is what the 'celebration police' of modern football live for; immediately killing jubilation with a cruel word or dismissive refrain such as '...it was only [insert team you should've beaten anyway]'.
When it comes to the mighty, few have scaled the heights of Jose Mourinho. Even fewer have marked those sustained periods of success with such petty impudence and unashamed swagger. Here is a man whose very brand is built around pantomime villainy and an almost cartoonish arrogance. Somewhat understandably, this makes him a prime candidate for targeted schadenfreude - and recent years have given his detractors plenty of material to work with. In spite of maintaining a CV that most of his peers could kill for, he is not where he used to be, and to many that is delicious.
On the final day of the season, the Portuguese greeted the full-time whistle with unbridled jubilation. He grasped his coaching team tightly in a pitch-side huddle of ecstasy and relief, jumping up and down like a toddler on a sugar high. Spurs had just played out a 1-1 stalemate with Crystal Palace which, along with Wolves' defeat to Chelsea, ensured sixth place and Europa League football next season for North London club. As much as this was an achievement of sorts, it was manna from heaven for those looking to mock and exemplify his decline. 'It was only sixth/Europa League/Palace/a draw'.
Of course rival fans should take any opportunity to find mirth in their greatest foes. That is their absolute right and prerogative. But the objective notion that Mourinho should somehow temper his emotions because it isn't winning the Champions League or beating Barcelona in their tiki-taka pomp is joyless in the extreme. It also misses the point. Rather than being painted as a scene of tragic delusion of a fundamentally broken man, it is the opposite. Delusion would be assuming that Spurs deserve anything more right now; delusion would be assuming that Mourinho deserves anything more right now.
Rather than a haughty sulk who thinks he deserves better, Jose seems to be revelling at White Hart Lane. This goes against the script. Mourinho and Tottenham was never meant to work, and it was widely predicted that the usual three-year cycle of boom, bust and fuckety-bye would be expedited without the boom. That may still prove to be the case, but a happy Jose complicates the narrative somewhat. As does Mourinho's public acceptance that he won't have much of a transfer kitty to play with during the concertinaed close season. Still, he insists that his squad will improve and get better.
As much as the most Machiavellian manager in the game loves to twist reality and bend the truth in a manner that would make Malcolm Tucker proud, he does have legitimate reason to be proud of his first incomplete, dislocated season at the club. Last gasp European qualification ahead of a widely-praised Wolves side is an impressive achievement considering the lowly starting point, a lumpy unbalanced squad, a very long injury list, and a string of individual errors that no coach could mitigate against. The last caveat points to a playing staff that Mourinho can't be fully enamoured with.
None of this is necessarily the fault of his predecessor. Mauricio Pochettino worked his own kind of miracles at White Hart Lane which likely won't be fully appreciated for some time to come, but there is certainly an argument to be made that Mourinho is making his own type of progress at the club in a very different way. He will never be regarded with the same empathy and general sense of affection that the affable Argentine attracts from all fronts, nor does his brand of football entertain the neutral as much. That is not Mourinho's concern. He only cares about one thing: winning.
Some of the same people who will find mirth in Mourinho acting the giddy goose at a sixth place finish will praise Michael Jordan for taking even an idle game of pitching pennies deadly seriously in The Last Dance. They'll wax lyrical about Marcelo Bielsa racing a full 60 yards to hug Patrick Bamford after a goal in training. The fact that Mourinho was so excitable at Selhurst Park is an indication that he has lost none of his motivation to succeed, and that he is willing to relish every increment of an upward trajectory. Indeed, there is a maturity and even humility in greeting little wins as joyfully as the greatest you achieve.
If sharing a point with a terribly off-colour Crystal Palace and qualifying for Europe's second-tier competition was the very height of Mourinho's ambition, it would most certainly be a reason to mock and even pity. But there is nothing to suggest that that is the case. As much as his aura of invincibility and perhaps his legacy in the game have taken a hit in recent years, there are signs that he feels as much at home in North London as he has anywhere in a long while. Of course it could all turn to shit very quickly, but a motivated and energised Mourinho is a powerful thing - and something worth celebrating.