Jose Mourinho Tactical Thinking – Part 1

Jose Mourinho Tactical Thinking – Part 1


I have been a fan of Jose Mourinho for many years. When the opportunity came to watch him work first hand with Real Madrid in Los Angeles, I signed up for the NSCAA Course right away. I have observed numerous training sessions at professional clubs with top coaches before, but this was different. I expected to get an insight to how he worked on the practice field and hear his football philosophy – what I got however, was much, much more. An insight to life at the top end of world football, a chance to see what level of organization it takes to be successful, and what techniques are used to get the best out of the best. To summarize the course in one blog would do it an injustice. Therefore, I will do three blogs that will cover his training sessions, the work of his staff, including right-hand man, Rui Faria, and this current blog, his presentation on his leadership and philosophies.

I just arrived on campus at UCLA to register for the NSCAA event on Sunday afternoon when Jose Mourinho and his assistant coaches were on the way to the training pitch for the afternoon session. Initially, I thought this trip would be both a public relations and commercial exercise for the Spanish giants, so expected Mourinho to be all smiles and signing autographs. He did sign a few but I did not witness a smile. A familiar face at the entrance to the field greeted him warmly and welcomed him back to UCLA. ”Welcome back Jose, look forward to catching up after your session”, the official said with excitement. “How is the pitch?” was Mourinho’s quick response. That was  my first sign of why he is so successful. All business. When the boots were on and the clipboard was by his side, he had time for only work. Professional, polite, but here to do a job with his team.

The hugely anticipated presentation for the NSCAA group, took place in between two training sessions. Mourinho brought his staff along (six in total) who would take turns in discussing their role in the Real Madrid empire. Mourinho himself would discuss his beliefs and leadership. As he introduced his staff, Mourinho pointed out that they were all wearing fluorescent yellow Adidas shirts “like traffic wardens”. He explained that the reason for this was for the players to know the difference between coaches and players, both on and off the field. Coaches have to stand out at all time so players must not pass them the ball by mistake. Very simple, he stated, “but it works very well for us.” Mourinho’s first slide was titled, “The Secret of Our Success.” The bullet points were:

– Leadership

– Group/ Team

– Connections

– Relationships

He told us that these were not in order of importance, and instead felt that relationships were vital because “when things go bad, relationships keep control and balance in the team.” Mourinho then discussed the types of leadership that are consistent with his approach.

Charismatic Leadership

This is something which he has become famous for. I would define it as the “Special One” image that has become synonymous with his managerial style. He started by explaining that this brings a lot of negatives by the media because of the focus on image and the fact that it opens the door to criticism. However, it is clear that he believes strongly in this form of leadership because of the effect it has on his players. The two areas he discussed were “non-traditional behaviors” and “sensibility for players needs”. Despite having not been a top player himself, experience has taught him to recognize what these needs are. As for “non-traditional behaviors”, he claims to “work on it and gamble with it”. The first thought that entered my head was the 100 yard dash down the sideline at Old Trafford when his Porto team scored to knock Manchester United out of the Champions League. A “gamble” that helped shape his career. His touchline behavior, which is sometimes controversial, is always planned. “I feel sometimes that I’m playing the game. And sometimes the players demand that of me.”

Transformational Leadership

Here Mourinho stressed “Intellectual Intelligence”. He explained to us that he wants his players thinking all the time, even if it means wondering what kind of response they will get from the coach. “Every player is a player, every man is a man”, Mourinho explained. He will treat them fairly, but not maybe not equally.  Different actions will trigger different responses.

Mourinho then began to discuss what is the most difficult side of leadership. He believes the goals of his group of players can sometimes be different from that of the club. He told us that he struggles to go from the effects on the group (team) to the club philosophy. He wants to control the group but has no interest in controlling the club itself. Common objectives and principles may not be consistent with club philosophy. Here, I believe Mourinho would have to fight a lot of his battles within the club structure. Perhaps commerical  or financial interests of the club, may conflict with how he would like to work. As he showed a photo of the victorious Real Madrid, he explained that “the end should always be just the start of it”. This will be a huge message to send to his current group of players as this is only the third club he will have spent over two years with.

Emotional Intelligence

For me, this was the most interesting topic that Mourinho covered because it gave us an insight into two managerial skills that separate him from the rest: how he motivates and deals with pressure. “Books help but you have to be in the active life to understand.” He defined Emotional Intelligence as:

– Coping with Pressue

– Sharing Emotions

– Create Forever Links

Mourinho copes with pressure by training himself and his people. Again, he is always consciously aware of messages he is sending by his actions and body language. How he gets players and teams to stick together and work hard, Mourinho said, “I motivate others with my own motivation. Your motivation must be the engine so the players must then go with you.” This led him to explain how he always tries to create a family atmosphere where he works, to the extent that he uses his own family as a framework.

“I have no problems to kiss, cry with, or kick my players. Everything belongs to the family. I learn this from my wife and my own family. In my family, we are open to be criticized by my kids and the same applies to my players. You must be open in order to share emotions and ideas.”

Mourinho then asked his staff how long they have been working together. When one informed him that it has been since 2001, Mourinho then explained that he and his staff have worked with many players over the past 12 years, but when they move on to another club, they never view the player as an ex-player. Instead, once you play for Mourinho and his staff, you are always one of ‘theirs’. “Forever is forever”, he told us. This is a unique bond that is not evident in professional football. Again, by creating this bond with the players, he can get top performances for a long period of time.

Integrated Leadership

He touched briefly on this and defined it as every aspect of training. The “complexity of operation” means that if one aspect of their work is not where they need it to be, it can have effect other areas. Therefore, Mourinho’s attention to detail is not limited to tactics or training techniques, but instead to every aspect of the club that can effect his players.

As Mourinho handed the microphone over to his coaching staff, his presentation was never quite done. He sat on the edge of his chair and constantly added or politely interrupted his assistant coaches as they explained their role in the club. He believes in the complexity of each relationship at the football club and so must manage it accordingly. He looks at his players as people, who need to be managed, motivated, and given special attention to. He also understands the importance of his own behavior. Although he admits having to “gamble” with his actions, he is always in control of them and that is key. Top players must love it, and most importantly, they respond to it. I would suggest that the ‘special one’ tag would be used just as much by these players, as the fans and media.


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