Mourinho v. Klopp: the “Special One” v. “The Normal One”


Not for the first time, football has given us a fascinating contrast in Leadership styles: Jurgen Klopp, the new Liverpool manager, versus Jose Mourinho, the ultra-successful, though currently struggling, Chelsea boss. The Liverpool Echo, describing Klopp as a “football geek”, claims he has “usurped sarky, surly Mourinho.”

As speculation surrounding Mourinho’s future mounts, following his team’s 1-3 surrender to Klopp’s Liverpool, we are reminded how quickly things change, especially for Leaders: just six months ago, the “Special One” lifted the Premier League trophy and seemed to have the footballing world at his feet. Meanwhile, Liverpool’s season ended ignominiously, deepening the furrowed brows of former manager Brendan Rodgers and departing on-field Leader Steven Gerrard, as they were thrashed 6-1 by Stoke City.

I watched Liverpool play Bournemouth last week, in a cup game, narrowly won by Liverpool. What struck me was the positive energy radiated by Klopp: he punched the air and applauded every time one of his players did something encouraging; he ran on to the pitch at the end of the game, embracing and warmly congratulating each and every member of his Team. The really interesting thing he did, however, was to seek out every member of the opposing Team too – including those substituted earlier – shaking them by the hand and exchanging friendly, respectful notes on the game.

Klopp genuinely seems to be a breath of fresh air, having quickly replaced the worried frowns on the faces of his players with smiles and a new intensity of focus. In just four games, he has given his previously frustrated players (and fans), reasons to believe that they can perform at the highest level.

What a difference a Leader makes!

The most telling utterance so far from Klopp was when, in his first press conference, he was asked to sum himself up. Reminded that Jose Mourinho has called himself the “Special One”, Klopp quipped that he is the “Normal One”. Although his track record and demeanour suggest otherwise, Klopp was making the point that building a great Team is the job of the Leader – but it is not all about the Leader. As his performances so far have shown, building a great Team is actually all about the Team, and nurturing and orchestrating the individuals within it.

Mourinho, on the other hand, has never shied away from the cult of personality: his Chelsea Team is Mourinho’s Chelsea Team, and its performances are (and are dominated by) Mourinho’s performances. His press conferences make headlines regardless of what his Team does on the pitch. Often he has deflected criticism from the Team – by asserting his own analysis, or by blaming the referee, or sometimes by just saying something distracting,

Recently, however, Mourinho’s actions have called into question his divine (or at least, Abramovich-given) right to be right. His treatment of the former Chelsea Team doctor raised eyebrows, and now informed rumours suggest that he has “lost the dressing room”. Suddenly his insistence that everyone else is wrong, and he is right, does not seem to be enough.

As I’ve stated before, Leaders must demonstrate that they know where they are going; they must tell a story; that story must include and engage their followers; they must be humble; and they must be credible. By making his story exclusively about himself, Mourinho now finds himself at risk of losing his credibility, because that credibility has been about his own superiority rather than about a long-range Vision for Chelsea, the Team, and the fans. Jose Mourinho is without question, an outstandingly successful football manager. Now it is time for him to aspire to be a successful Leader, too. Perhaps he should even aspire to become the “Normal One”.

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