Last time around, the FA very publicly failed to get their top choice for the England job. Eighteen months later, we’ve had the spectacle of the Sun’s similarly high-profile failure to propel its candidate into the ceremonial Three Lions blazer. No prizes for guessing the nation’s favourite daily paper’s choice to succeed Steve McClaren, not in a month when it resorted to projecting an enormous picture of José Mourinho’s head on to the side of FA HQ, with the message Call José (December 7).
This proved the high point of a fortnight of Mourinho fever, during which it seemed at times that the Sun might actually swing it. The People certainly agreed. FA Chiefs Reach a Decision: It’s Jose, it blared, albeit above an article without a single quote from anybody at the FA. Not to worry: by now the Sun had recruited Michael Essien to the cause. Stop Messin About, the Ghanaian allegedly ordered the FA (December 6), backed by Geoff Hurst and Rio Ferdinand, who didn’t really say he supported Mourinho at all, just “someone who can organise the team”. At one stage the paper seemed convinced the whole thing was a done deal, with its The Ego Has Landed story about Mourinho flying to London for talks with the FA. Mour in FA ‘Yes’ it reported triumphantly. The only flaw in all this being that the whole thing was made up.
Elsewhere there was a rather prim suspicion that Mourinho might, believe it or not, be playing games with the press. Has Jose used FA to land big club? the Mail On Sunday wondered, ever mistrustful of foreigners (December 9). Jose’s Great 3 Lions Bluff – He only wants big club worried the People (December 2), getting it about right, as it turned out. The Mirror seemed compelled to oppose the Sun’s bullish championing of their man. England? Only If I Can Work From Home! it mocked (December 8), as it emerged the Sun’s story about Mourinho coming to London was eyewash. Snubbed was its verdict a day later, a headline that could have been aimed squarely at its red-top rival. Still the Sun kept hoping, even as the whole thing was relegated to the inside pages. England? Why Not? it trumpeted on page 15 (December 8): “Asked if he was about to take on world football’s biggest job, the Special One grinned, shrugged and replied ‘Why not?’”
That reference to “world football’s biggest job” offers a key to the whole bizarrely feverish campaign. This is clearly wrong: the England job is no such thing. Unless, of course, you’re in charge of an English tabloid, when it really does assume a career-shaping importance. The editor of the Sun began angling for Mourinho almost immediately after McClaren’s sacking. It’s not hard to see why. Mourinho is tabloid gold, a rolling one‑man front page. And here was a chance to bundle him right into the top job for a very public two-to-three-year roughing up. In the end, it all looks like just another instance of the immediate future of the England team getting itself tangled up with external vested interests. Some consolation, though. This time, at least, they failed to get their man.
From WSC 252 February 2008