COS contributor James Ball takes a look at two contrasting managerial figures who have tasted the sweet nectar of success this season.
It is not likely that Blackpool has ever been compared to Milan, but two footballing triumphs over the weekend can be attributed to a common attribute: inspired management. Jose Mourinho’s already exulted status has risen further following Internazionale’s success in the Champions League final, with an impending move to Real Madrid signalling another ‘blue chip’ challenge for the Portuguese. Ian Holloway will not be swapping the promenades of Blackpool for anywhere more glamorous, but his transformation of relegation candidates into Premiership new-boys is perhaps a more remarkable achievement than Mourinho’s.
Although Mourinho had a squad of talented internationals to help him achieve his goal, it is true to say that Inter were not deemed to be one of the favourites for glory following 45 years of disappointment in Europe’s grandest competition. And despite having an admirable, flowing style of play and a never-say-die work ethic, even the most ardent of the Tangerine Army could not have foreseen their rise to England’s top table this season. The fact that both clubs have over-achieved in the eyes of their fans, the media and all of the football fraternity is testament to the managerial stardust that Holloway and Mourinho have sprinkled over their respective clubs.
Roberto Mancini had delivered back-to-back league titles to the Nerazzurri, but it was his failure to add success in Europe that saw him ushered out in favour of Mourinho. Just as the ‘Special One’ was motivated by trying to end Chelsea’s wait for a League title, he saw a move to Inter as a chance to go down in folklore as the man that returned the ultimate prize to a club, who in terms of European success, were living in the significant shadow cast by their stadium mates.
After defeat to Manchester United in the first knockout round of last season’s competition – the third consecutive campaign this had happened to the Milanese – there was scepticism that even the charismatic Mourinho could fulfil his brief, but the Portuguese did not lose faith in his abilities and instilled in his players a fortitude that has seen them dispatch Chelsea and Barcelona en-route to lifting the trophy in Madrid.
This success will have tasted sweet. Derided and ostracised by the Italian press, Mourinho has made no secret of his desire to leave the country for pastures new, and whilst part of his personality craves affection, his ego can also withstand personal criticism as long as it can be suppressed by the weight of his professional achievement. In winning the European Cup with a second club, even those who don’t like Mourinho are compelled to acknowledge his genius.
Ian Holloway may not be as celebrated as Mourinho, but nor does he have as many detractors. Despite a patchy managerial record, including relegation with Leicester two years ago, he has a warmth of personality and enthusiasm for the game that make him a likeable and respected figure. Previous spells at Bristol Rovers, QPR and Plymouth provided only modest success, but like Mourinho he has always been admired for a willingness to speak his mind. Honesty and frankness are rare commodities in an increasingly sanitised game.
The latest and greatest triumph of his career can be attributed to the time spent away from the dug out following disappointment at the East Midlands club. Whilst employed as a pundit, Holloway experienced some form of footballing epiphany, where fed up of watching insipid, defensive displays he vowed to espouse an expansive style of play when he returned to management. This he duly delivered at Blackpool, operating a bold 4-3-3 formation that emphasised his attacking mentality.
To play pretty football is one thing, but we all know that is no guarantee for success – just ask Arsene Wenger. The fact that Holloway has managed to combine fluency with combativeness and turn a team of modest talents into promotion material is a remarkable achievement. Blackpool may not have the cultural cache of Milan, but thanks to Holloway it may be a preferable destination for football purists.