16th May, 2012
Barca: The Making Of The Greatest Team In The World is a new book by Graham Hunter which chronicles the footballing revolution that has taken place at the Catalan giants.
This exclusive extract reveals how Jose Mourinho nearly took the reigns before Pep Guardiola…
In early 2008 with Frank Rijkaard’s position as coach of Barcelona under threat, the club’s then Sporting Director, Txiki Begiristain and Vice-President, Marc Ingla were investigating possible replacements. A certain Jose Mourinho, out of work since his departure from Chelsea the previous September, was on the shortlist. A meeting was arranged in Lisbon.
“What happened was both fascinating and a definitive moment in the development of modern Barcelona – as well as Inter Milan and Real Madrid.
Mourinho had prepared what Ingla and Begiristain remember to be a brilliant power-point demonstration. His self-belief was clearly intact; he understood intimately the challenges ahead of Barça’s next coach, had deduced from a distance what was going wrong and had clear views on the best way out of the mess they were in. In normal circumstances the material, and the man, on show would have been so dazzling, so convincing that the argument would have become whether to give him the job there and then.
However, in the meetings – Ingla and Begiristain each met with Mourinho individually, and then they talked as a three a trend started to appear and it jolted both Spaniards.
Ingla confirms: “There was one moment when I said to him, ‘José, the problem we have with you is that you push the media too much. There is too much aggression. The coach is the image of the club. Three times a week, talking to the media for an hour, talking for the club, you cannot start fires everywhere, because this is against our style’.
“He said, ‘I know, but that is my style and I will not change’.
“He told me, ‘Look at Van Gaal. In his first era he was mean at Barca and he was a success. The second time he became like a ‘mother’, he changed his style and he failed’.
“The summary of my visit to José Mourinho is that he can be pleasant, he can be a charming guy, very simpatico. I had fun with him and then Txiki came a bit later for us to listen to the football ideas. Mourinho was renowned to be No.1 and he was first class at pitching himself – but he wouldn’t listen.”
That was the key. To Ingla and Begiristain, it appeared Mourinho believed that because Barça had gone awry, the directors didn’t know the correct way forward only he did. The Portuguese didn’t hear the warning signs when told of the board’s insistence that he renounce his love of polemic. To him, it was apparently unclear which party was sitting in the power seat.
Mourinho felt that his record at Porto and Chelsea, his firm control of the transfer market thanks to the increasing influence of Jorge Mendes, his past at the Camp Nou and his ability to crack the whip, something Rijkaard didn’t possess made it a buyer’s market.
It was, by his standards, a towering misjudgement.
Ingla and Begiristain had an ace up their sleeve. The job was theirs to give and they felt no desperation about filling the post – largely because they already suspected that Guardiola was the man to rescue Barcelona. It was, definitively, a seller’s market.
Ingla left Lisbon with his principal fears confirmed and the Catalan word ‘imbecil’, which could mean jerk or idiot, reverberating around his head. Begiristain, too, left Portugal racked with concerns.
The Director of football was now convinced that Barça would win trophies if Mourinho was appointed three-and-a-half months down the line, in June 2008. Like Ingla, however, he’d found the Special One wanting.
Begiristain couldn’t imagine Mourinho understanding that the club didn’t want or need outbursts in the media two or three times a week. What’s more, the Basque felt that the Barça he was trying to build valued respect for the opponent, honour in defeat, dignity and other fragile concepts more highly than Mourinho did at that time, or perhaps ever would. Begiristain, on the flight back to El Prat airport, knew that they were about to play a percentage game.
He was 100% sure, and remains so to this day, that Barça would have trained well, played decent, if pragmatic, football and won trophies. However, he was equally sure that these would become pyrrhic victories compared what Mourinho would cost the socios, the board, Barcelona’s international brand and a host of other ‘intangible’ concepts that the club saw as intrinsic.
Begiristain feared that Mourinho felt that he was more than the club.
Ferran Soriano, Barcelona’s General Manager describes the mood of the expeditionary force when Ingla and Begiristain returned from Portugal. “Txiki and Marc thought that Mourinho was very well prepared,” he recalls. “He had a PowerPoint display on how he would manage everything. They spent three hours with him and both came away thinking Mourinho was not our guy. Marc said that Mourinho spoke 90% of the time and didn’t listen. He said: ‘I just don’t like him.’
“Txiki was a bit more rational. He said: ‘Mourinho would do well, but the number of fires he would cause internally, and with the media, are not worth it.’