Mau and Mou: Two Different Approaches to Soccer
March 18 – Milan
Maurizio Sarri and José Mourinho represent two contrasting visions of soccer. They have different personalities, work methods, relationships with their teams, and interactions with the media. Sarri is the “Maestro of soccer,” while Mourinho is the “Winner.” Their approaches to the game are vastly different, and they don’t seem to get along well.
The Chosen One
Mourinho believes he is a chosen one, while Sarri believes he has crafted his destiny over time. They can both be dismissive and abrasive, and they don’t mind if some of their colleagues dislike them. They have always thrown poisoned darts, even in the last few hours with post-cup controversies. Sarri mumbles and grumbles, while Mourinho speaks in slogans. And every time, it’s a headline.
Sarri is a fundamentalist. At Sansovino, one of his players said they had tried 33 different set-piece plays. Sarri replied with irony, “He exaggerated: it’s not 33, but it’s definitely more than 30.” Sarri is more convinced of the power of the game than of himself. Mourinho’s cult phrase is, “Those who only know about soccer know nothing about soccer.” It’s a different perspective, for sure. Sarri sows, but doesn’t always reap. He won a scudetto with Juventus, but was fired shortly afterward. He won a Europa League with Chelsea, but then he was already somewhere else, and the “Sarriball” lasted only briefly. Mourinho, for example, didn’t just win a Conference League with Roma; he did something more. He gave identity and pride to the yellow and red people, creating a sense of belonging. One for all, all for him. Mou works to fuel the nostalgia of those who leave.
One certainty unites them: they would have done this job for free. Both have a burning passion, even if they arrived at fame in different ways. Mourinho comes from a wealthy family and interned with the best coaches (Bobby Robson, whom he interpreted for at Barcelona); Sarri, the son of an Italsider crane operator, worked in banking and as a financial consultant to keep his passion for soccer alive. One evening, when he was already forty years old, he went home and announced to his wife, “I’m quitting everything and dedicating myself to soccer.” It was 2001, the year Mourinho began his ascent with Uniao de Leiria, a Portuguese mid-level club that José took to the next level. When Sarri wins, he only wins. Like a job well done, practice closed, let’s move on. When Mourinho wins, he wins big. It’s just how he is: he either wins big or loses big. Without half measures. Mourinho needs to identify an enemy: the opposing team, the referee, the Power, the Counterpower, anyone. Sarri seems to have that enemy inside and fights with him.
The derby puts them against each other, and it’s the fifth time it has happened. Sarri has the advantage: two wins to one, plus a draw that marks the beginning of the rivalry. In October 2018, at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea-Manchester United ended in a 2-2 draw. The game was explosive. Mourinho’s team was up 2-1, but then Barkley scored for Chelsea after 5 minutes and 30 seconds of stoppage time. Boom. A fight broke out, and tensions were high. Sarri’s assistant, Marco Ianni, went to celebrate in front of Mourinho, shouting his happiness in his face. And no, Mou didn’t take it well. The stewards stopped him. Sarri didn’t see anything and was on his way back to the locker room. In the underpass, Mau and Mou cleared the air. Sarri convinced Ianni to apologize in Mourinho’s office. Then three Rome derbies. The first (September 2021) was won by Sarri’s Lazio: 3-2. The second (March 2022) was won by Mourinho’s Roma: 1-0. The third, the first of this season, went to Lazio again: 1-0 (November 2022).
Mou lives to fuel his cult of personality and points to the trophies in his cabinet, while Sarri proudly showcases his idea of the game, even though he has won fewer trophies. Sarri’s ideological stance is also his limitation, while deception – communicative, tactical – is the basis of Mou’s philosophy. When he coached amateur teams, Sarri wrote slogans on a blackboard in the locker room. His favorite was, “Greatness is not never falling, but falling and getting back up.” In Mourinho’s locker room, all the players are “Brothers in arms,” and he is their leader. Mourinho is the only coach in the world who gave himself his own nicknames. First, he was the “Special One,” then the “Happy One.” Sarri doesn’t have any nicknames. When he was young, they called him “Secco,” but that’s it. Sarri’s game is “Sarriball,” while Mourinho’s is “parking the bus in front of the goal.”
Jose’s teams think, “Mourinho is one of us.” Sarri’s teams think, “Sarri is himself, and we are ourselves.” Mourinho plays the role of Mourinho. He can be shy, a populist, angry, confrontational, falsely humble, or controversial for no reason. The feeling he leaves is always the same: he studied better than the others. Mourinho has this extraordinary ability to cloak everything about him in epic, as if there were a destiny that belongs to him and him alone. Sarri is less calculating, he explodes, stumbles into controversies, and triggers them. When he coached Napoli, Sarri received sweet words from Pep Guardiola, which highlighted the quality of his work. Guardiola is Mourinho’s biggest enemy, of course. They can never be friends, but in a world like soccer, which tends to compromise naturally, Sarri and Mourinho are two voices outside the chorus. That makes them unique. Very different, but unique.
18 March 2023 (updated on 18
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