What do John Obi Mikel, Juan Mata, Paul Pogba, Iker Casillas, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Anthony Martial all have in common? The answer is that they are all players who were very good at football before the arrival of Jose Mourinho at their club, before suddenly becoming quite bad at football during his tenure and/or after he left.
Another name on that list that already has 430 international caps and counting is Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah. The PFA Player of the Year, club record-breaking scorer and Champions League semifinalist has had such an outstanding season that he has suddenly made the Ballon d’Or duopoly an actual competition for the first time in arguably almost a decade.
It is a meteoric rise that the footballing world would almost certainly never have experienced were the magical goal machine to have stayed under the thumb of Mourinho at Chelsea. Brought to Stamford Bridge in the winter of 2014 from Basel as a rising star, the Egyptian’s time in London was notable only for his failure to launch in Mourinho’s squad.
To illustrate, here are Salah’s season goal tallies every year since his first year at Basel in the 2012-13: 10 goals, 10 goals, 2 goals, 0 goals, 9 goals, 15 goals, 19 goals, 43 goals. Can you guess which seasons were under the Special One?
Fortunately for anyone who enjoys watching great players thrive, the trauma of playing for the Portuguese manager was short enough to not leave the Egyptian King with any lasting psychological damage. A loan to Fiorentina after merely two half campaigns at Chelsea and then an eventual sale to Liverpool’s current Champions League semifinal opponents, Roma gave the 25-year-old a lifeline, with the winger immediately smacking in nine goals in his first half season in Italy.
That Mourinho no longer improves players under his tutelage and, in fact, is often the catalyst of their demise is almost moot point. On the pitch, his regressive, outdated and restrictive tactics have shown him to be a manager who does not play to win as much as to not lose. This combined with an overly harsh and out-of-touch man management style have combined to reduce the once revolutionary to a fossil of a bygone era.
It makes Jose Mourinho the polar opposite of, say, Liverpool’s Jürgen Klopp, a manager who tries to win by playing well, fostering a culture of unity and togetherness and first seeking to make the players in his squad better and greater than the sum of their individual parts.
However, the Manchester United manager has never been one to allow facts and numbers to get in the way of his grandiose opinion of himself, with the 55-year-old recently performing some impressive mental gymnastics to explain why nothing about Salah’s stagnation under his guidance was actually his fault.
In typical Mourinho fashion, he first found a way to congratulate himself for discovering the player in the Swiss League:
”People say that I was the one that sold Salah and it is the opposite. I bought Salah,” he grumbled to ESPN Brazil in a recent interview.
”It is the opposite. I was the one that bought Salah. I was the one that told Chelsea to buy Salah. It was with me in charge that Salah came to Chelsea.”
The Portuguese then pulled another time-tested Mourinho move, seeking to blame the player for the single outlier data point of his Chelsea stint in an otherwise upwardly trending career to date:
”[Salah] came as a young kid, physically he was not ready, mentally he was not ready, socially and culturally he was lost and everything was tough for him.
”We decided to put him on loan and he asked for that as well. He wanted to play more minutes, to mature, he wanted to go and we sent him on loan to Fiorentina, and at Fiorentina he started to mature.”
Mourinho’s then wrapped things up by graciously deflecting some of the blame off the player…and onto the club for selling him:
”Chelsea decided to sell him, OK? And when they say that I was the one that sold him it is a lie. I bought him. I agreed to send him on loan, I thought it was necessary.”
It was a truly impressive rhetorical performance by a man enviously comfortable in the castle of his own delusions. A place that hopefully has a telly where he can sit on his couch and watch Salah try and lead Liverpool to Champions League glory.