x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Curse of the comeback could haunt Chelsea's Jose Mourinho

Across the board, many coaches and athletes have fallen flat after returning to the scene of their greatest triumphs.

After gaining elite status while at Liverpool, manager Kenny Dalglish returned to the club in 2011 but was dismissed 16 months later.  Jon Super / AP Photo
After gaining elite status while at Liverpool, manager Kenny Dalglish returned to the club in 2011 but was dismissed 16 months later. Jon Super / AP Photo

If you are looking for someone to "solve problems", like Harvey Keitel's character Winston Wolfe did in Pulp Fiction, then Jose Mourinho is your go-to man.

No other manager in world football comes with as close to a guarantee of success. Mourinho has won league titles at every one of his fours clubs: Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid. There is also cachet of two Champions League titles, and five semi-finals.

The man has a certain style. Two to three years at a club; win trophies; leave for a fresh challenge; never look back.

But now, for the first time in his career, Mourinho is "going back".

Back to the English Premier League. Back to his true love, Chelsea. Back to a club were he had fallen out with the one of football's most idiosyncratic owners.

The past, it would seem, has been buried.

"Now we are back together and it is a great moment for both, so I think we are ready to marry again and to be happy and successful again," Mourinho said at his official appointment.

In many ways, he was Roman Abramovich's obvious, perhaps only, choice. When all else fails, according to the Russian billionaire's definition of failure of course, you call "The Wolf".

But the appointment ignores one of football's commandments; never go back to the scene of your greatest triumphs. It is often a ruse by the club's management to appease rebellious fans, or an attempt at recreating the magic of happier days.

Most of the time, it fails.

One of football's greatest managers, Sir Matt Busby, discovered that when, having retired as Manchester United manager in 1969, he returned to the hot seat in an effort to steady the ship after Wilf McGuinness was dismissed in December 1970. He could not rejuvenate United in his six months at the club. United's slide into mediocrity continued and resulted in relegation in 1974.

Kenny Dalglish's second stint at Liverpool in January 2011, while not the failure some portray it to be, still ended in tears when he was sacked 16 months later. "The King" is still revered by the club's fans, but his dismissal has tainted his previously impeccable playing and managerial records at Anfield.

In the case of Kevin Keegan, Karl Marx's saying that "history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce", comes to mind.

His first spell as Newcastle United manager between 1992 and 1997 brought promotion, exciting football and a painful failure to wrap up the Premier League in 1995/96.

His second spell, in 2008, was merely painful. Fans flocked to acclaim his second coming, but 21 games and only six wins later, it ended with Keegan taking the club to court for unfair dismissal.

It's not just football managers who can't resist an old flame.

Returning heroes often find sporting environments that have moved on in their absence. Once a seemingly invincible aura has been damaged, it is hard to repair.

Bjorn Borg retired in 1983 at the age of 26, having won 11 grand slam titles, one of tennis' greatest players.

In 1991, he attempted to turn back time, returning to the court with his trademark long hair and trusty wooden rackets. But tennis had progressed beyond his capabilities. He performed dismally, losing all his matches, and retired once again in 1993.

Time, as Michael Schumacher discovered, like Borg before him, is a fearsome opponent.

When Schumacher parked his Ferrari for good at the end of the 2006 season, he walked away as the most successful Formula One driver of all time.

The need for speed would get the better of him, however, and he returned to racing with Mercedes in 2010. He raced 58 times in his return but never won again. He retired again at the end of the 2012 season.

Boxing is infamous for failed comebacks. No boxer had ever spread fear among the heavyweight division as Mike Tyson did. He went 37 fights unbeaten until he was knocked out by James "Buster" Douglas in 1990.

Tyson would retain his heavyweight belt, but the fear factor was gone and he finally hung up his gloves in 2006 after a series of embarrassing defeats toward the end of his career.

At some point, even the best are no longer special.

Will Mourinho be able to avoid the curse of the comeback?

In managerial terms, he remains relatively young, and unlike Keegan or Dalglish, never retired from the game before returning

Despite his acrimonious split, and a trophyless last season at Madrid, he remains the Special One. The man you call in times of trouble.

If anyone can reverse the curse of going back, football's Mr Wolfe can.

akhaled@thenational.ae

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