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At a crossroads in his career, does Istanbul suit Mourinho?

Friday 28th December 2018

Jose Mourinho is a water bottle filled with contradiction, shaken, kicked about, spilled on your best shirt and yet still drunk with gusto. If you lined up a hundred psychoanalysts all experienced in profiling the most twisted minds, none would pin down the Portuguese. Just as no pundit [hello] has.

One minute, Luke Shaw isn’t fit and can only play the half when he’s nearest the touchline so his manager can think for him. The next, the pudgy blonde kid with chocolate stains on his shirt now sports six-pack abs and is the best left-back in the business.

When asked, Jose claims absolutely no problem with Paul Pogba but give it a few days. The young Frenchman who’ll “never wear the captain’s armband again” suddenly sits out every big match that comes along.

Listen to the Special One say his defenders simply aren’t good enough for the club then check your messages. Switch back to United’s latest post-match presser; Victor Lindelof magically becomes what every Manchester United player ought to be.

Watch Mourinho take the club to three finals in two years, win a pair and lift the Red Devils to second in the Premier League. Blink and Crystal Palace is the better team in a goalless draw at Old Trafford while Jose’s lifting three fingers at journalists who dare ask what changed.

There’s at least one certainty when it comes to Jose Mourinho. He must be in full control at any club he manages. When he isn’t, handbaskets postmarked for hell show up at the clubhouse door. He didn’t have things his way at Real Madrid nor at the new Chelsea he encountered on his return to Stamford Bridge. He fought for it at Manchester United and lost. Consequently, his success at those clubs was limited.

Don’t permit “limited” to blind you, however. Despite an unfavourable working environment, he still found success.

Moreover, when his surroundings suited, he blew the doors off the established order. Don’t write off the Champions League title with Porto when he went through Sir Alex Ferguson’s United. Don’t dismiss that he set Arsene Wenger on an irreversible decline when he first arrived in the Premier League. Don’t forget he was the first to prove Pep Guardiola was human when he won the treble with Inter. Drop a tiger into the ocean; the sharks feast. Encounter him in the jungle; you’re the one on the menu. In the proper environment, Jose Mourinho’s the most dangerous manager in the world.


Image: Martin Palazzotto, CC BY-SA 4.0

The problem with a tiger is he’ll go where he pleases. He may haunt a village or city because, on its face, there’s so much easy meat. Then the tables turn. Sometimes the richest ground isn’t the best when you hunt alone. Mourinho’s pride is there for all to see. He may believe he needs to keep hunting in the Premier League until it belongs to him. Instead, he should find new terrain more suited to his personality and strike back from there. He should go to Turkey.

The Super Lig’s on the rise. Their BeIn television deal raised revenue that allowed the competition to lower the quota on Turkish players, prompting an influx of foreign talent. If that sounds like the Premier League, it is. Smaller clubs began signing Argentines and Brazilians, not to mention fading stars from European clubs. One or two big stars, like Arda Turan, came home.

They didn’t all go to the big three clubs, Fenerbahce, Galatasaray and Besiktas. Turan signed with Istanbul Basaksehir then led them to the top of the table. The names just below are unfamiliar to casual observers, as well. Trabzonspor. Yeni Malatyaspor. Kasimpasa. Only when your eyes drop to fifth do you encounter defending champions Gala. They’re level on points with the other three but six points off Basaksehir’s pace. Besiktas lie seventh, a further three back. Fenerbahce’s in the most desperate straits, courting relegation in 17th.

Ersun Yanal’s roster features ageing European stars Martin Skrtel, Roberto Soldado and Mathieu Valbuena along with Premier League castoffs Islam Slimani and Andre Ayew. Fenerbahce are a big club but not the job for Mourinho. He isn’t a relegation specialist.

Besiktas is the club he should ask super-agent Jorge Mendes to contact. The Black Eagles’ problems hinder their progress but aren’t nearly so dire as the Yellow Canaries’.

Twelve months ago, the football world wondered if Besiktas were for real? They were in the hunt for the Lig title and bossed Group G in the Champions League, winning handily over Porto, RB Leipzig and Monaco. They drew Bayern Munich in the Round of 16. Die Roten finished second in their group to Paris Saint-Germain. After looking vulnerable early in the season, Jupp Heynckes’ squad gathered momentum. Nevertheless, the tie appeared finely balanced.

Domagoj Vida’s red card on the quarter-hour tipped it over. Bayern romped to a 5-0 first-leg victory, 8-1 on aggregate. Besiktas’ title run stalled in the aftermath. They’re mid-table this season. With an ageing squad similar to Fenerbahce’s, the club is cleaning house.

December 2018

Pepe has already gone. Mourinho would be sorry to miss him. The former Real Madrid centre-half and the Croatian World Cup finalist are defenders Mourinho loves: hard-working grafters. The fanbase is blue collar, too. Their parting message to Pepe, who generously tipped the supporting staff before he left, was "thanks for all your labour". They’d love the new boss.

That isn’t to say there aren’t problems. Young American forward Cyle Larin gives Mourinho a Luke Shaw-like whipping boy and the Black Eagles have their Paul Pogba. Dutchman Ryan Babel changes his hairstyle more often than his socks. A brilliant talent, he’s also mercurial. At 32, it’s all behind him, though. Unlike United with Pogba, the club are less interested in keeping him. It’s said they’ve already told him to find a new home.

The fans agree by overwhelming majority. They’ve been brutal to the player on his Instagram account, questioning his manhood, telling him to play for the shirt rather than his personal enjoyment. A subtler hater left the message, “Goodbye, we’ll miss you,” attached to a picture of China’s Great Wall.

This is Mourinho’s type of club. The squad’s cultured to respond to a stern taskmaster. Nothing less than full commitment is tolerated and there’s sufficient backing available to import a choice talent or two. Mourinho has a surprisingly good history with Mesut Ozil and the former German international allegedly seeks an escape from Unai Emery at Arsenal.

All the elements exist at the Vodaphone Park for Mourinho to revive his flagging career. His influence can close the gap with Basaksehir. His experience can lift the Black Eagles higher in the Champions League. Besiktas isn’t Inter or Real Madrid. The Super Lig isn’t the Premier League. Regardless, it’s a rich hunting ground waiting to be claimed by the right tiger.

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Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin contributes frequently to Stretty News and is the author of the short story collection strange bOUnce. He has appeared in several other blogs which, sadly, have ceased to exist. He is old and likes to bring out defunct. Although football is his primary passion, the geezer enjoys many sports and pop culture forms. Expect them to intrude upon his meanderings for It's Round and It's White.

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