Third season syndrome: Is there a hoodoo that Jose Mourinho must overcome?

On the 17th December 2015, Jose Mourinho was relieved of his duties as Chelsea manager for the second time after a ninth defeat in just 16 Premier League games against champions elect, Leicester City. As he did during his first spell at Chelsea, Mourinho departed in his third season with the club. It mattered not that he had delivered the Premier League title seven months earlier and the League Cup, three months prior to that. His third season had been a disaster by his high standards and his tenure as manager was terminated. His spell as Real Madrid manager also ended after three years in 2013. In fact, Mourinho in his 18 year managerial career has never managed anywhere for longer than three years.

It is a trend that cannot be ignored. Do Mourinho’s methods only work for three years? Does his personality begin to alienate rather than inspire? Is Mourinho’s third season syndrome legitimate or does it bear further scrutiny?

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that if a trend does exist, it is a more recent phenomenon. In his earlier managerial career, Mourinho’s lack of time at clubs was due to him being somewhat of a nomad. However, this was because he had a hunger to move on to bigger and better things, not due to a lack of success.

His first managerial appointment was with his native Benfica, where he had been Assistant Manager but found himself with a great opportunity when Benfica boss Jupp Heynckes left the club. The reign only lasted nine league games, as Mourinho butted heads with incoming club president, Manuel Vilarinho. Mourinho pushed for a contract extension when he suspected Vilarinho had plans to replace him as manager. Vilarinho refused and Mourinho resigned. A decision, Vilarinho later regretted.

Mourinho then found work at Uniao de Leiria and enjoyed great success, competing with fellow Portuguese giants FC Porto and his former charges, Benfica at the top of the table.

This attracted the attention of Porto, where Mourinho subsequently enjoyed two and a half years of success. In his first half season, he turned Porto from a faltering force into contenders once again.

In his second season with Porto, Mourinho led the team to unprecedented heights securing a treble of trophies; the League title, the Taca de Portugal, and the UEFA Cup.

Mourinho’s third season is best remembered by United fans for the sight of him running the entire length of the Old Trafford byline celebrating an injury-time winner which consigned United to a heart-breaking last-gasp Champions League exit in the Second Round. Mourinho’s Porto continued to defy the odds, by defeating Lyon, Deportivo La Coruna and Monaco en route to winning the 2004 European Cup.

Mourinho’s Porto also retained the League title and picked up the Portuguese Super Cup. Season number three was arguably his most successful.

Mourinho only departed because he had a much bigger offer on the table.

Before Mourinho even won the European crown, Chelsea owner, Roman Abramovich had decided that the young, dynamic Portuguese was the perfect man to lead his Chelsea project, as opposed to his current incumbent, the older, more reserved, Claudio Ranieri. What irony then, that a decade later, it was a defeat to Ranieri’s Leicester that proved the final straw and cost Mourinho his Chelsea job in 2015.

However, in 2004/05, Mourinho and Chelsea were a much more harmonious combination as Mourinho dubbed himself the “Special One” and proved it, sweeping to a Premier League and League Cup double success.

Mourinho and Chelsea retained the Premier League crown in 2005/06 and in 2006/07, Mourinho signed off his third season in charge of Chelsea with a 1-0 success versus United in the 2007 FA Cup Final. This added to his League Cup triumph the earlier that year. This was far from an unsuccessful season obviously, but the relationship between him and owner, Abramovich had irrevocably broken down.

Mourinho did begin a fourth season for Chelsea, the only time in his career in which he has done so, but it ended prematurely on the 20th September 2007, just six games into the Premier League campaign, officially by “mutual consent.”

Could Mourinho have continued his successful Chelsea tenure if this were not the case? His side was so dominant and serial collectors of trophies in that three-year spell, that further success was seemingly inevitable.

Inter Milan appointed Mourinho on a three-year contract that he only served two years of. But what a two years they were.

His first was viewed as a slight disappointment at the time despite winning Serie A and the Italian equivalent of the Community Shield, the Supercoppa Italiana, but no one in the blue side of Milan was complaining in 2009/10 when Mourinho secured an unprecedented treble consisting of the Serie A, the Coppa Italia and most impressively, the Champions League, for the third time in Inter’s history and their first success in the competition since 1965.

After completing the greatest season in Inter’s history, Real Madrid came calling, meaning Mourinho did not fulfil the final year of his contract. However, with a predominantly young side, there is no reason to suggest why a third season would not have yielded further success. However, Mourinho felt it had nothing left to achieve in Italy, so would his motivation have remained as fierce?

The challenge at Madrid was obviously much greater in the face of their nearest rival, Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona.

Despite finishing runners-up to Barcelona in La Liga, Mourinho did get one over on Guardiola with Madrid defeating Barcelona 1-0 in the Copa del Rey.

Mourinho’s second season trend of delivering the title came to pass once again as Madrid set records for points amassed (100) and goals scored (121).

Admittedly, season three was not a success. Aside from victory in the curtain raiser, Supercoppa matchup versus Barcelona, Madrid were second best: runners-up in La Liga and the Copa del Rey. However, second best was hardly disastrous in the face of one of the greatest teams of their generation.

Like there is no great disgrace in finishing second to the greatest Premier League side in a single season ever, albeit it a distant second to Guardiola’s Manchester City. Although, 2016-17 was a disappointment in terms of silverware, the progress United made under his stewardship in the League at least means there is a reason to be optimistic for the future.

But when people speak of a third season syndrome, Mourinho’s record flies in the face of the theory. He completed a successful third season at Porto in 2003-04 and Chelsea in 2006-07. His third seasons at Madrid and Chelsea ended trophy-less but he was still competing for the major trophies in Spain and did not get the chance to turn the ship around in his second spell at Chelsea due to him being dismissed mid-season.

The Chelsea season in 2015-16 is the only major blot on an otherwise impeccable managerial record that has brought in 20 major trophies in 18 years, and in isolation is not a fair reflection that Mourinho has an issue spending over three years at any one club.

However, as he enters his third season as United manager, it is true he faces a potential make or break situation. Mourinho needs to at least compete for the major prizes, i.e. the Premier League and the Champions League in 2018-19, otherwise fairly or not, his managerial style and his capability of delivering the sport’s most important silverware will be questioned.

Whether he is successful or not in that endeavour, there will be no third season hoodoo haunting Mourinho.

Even if there was, Mourinho has a history of proving people wrong dating back nearly two decades with Benfica’s Vilarinho. That is and will continue to be Mourinho’s legacy.

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copyright: JW

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