A thought occurred on Friday when I was having a chat with a figure in the frenzied world of refereeing.
It was about Anthony Taylor, naturally enough, and the strides he made in his career before flying chairs, phlegm and other acts of extreme aggression became a feature of his time in airports and car parks.
The crux of the discussion was his journey to becoming a ‘f****** disgrace’. It was a long one and in the past two years alone it has taken in the finals of the UEFA Super Cup, the Nations League, the FIFA Club World Cup and, of course, the battle of Budapest on Wednesday.
It’s a solid body of work that looks stronger when you add up the domestic assignments that served as his stepping stones to broader deployment — a couple of FA Cup finals, another in the League Cup and the 2018 Championship play-off, so now we are seeing a picture emerge. They are the sort of games that matter. Games that need a good referee.
And Taylor is a good referee. Imperfect, yes, but they are not the fixtures you get if you’re a bit flaky and it’s a sentiment that intensifies when we understand his near-misses.
Anthony Taylor is among the best referees and his appointments demonstrate his standing
Taylor did a fair job in a desperately grim Europa League final between Sevilla and Roma
They include the Champions League final of this year and that of 2022 — if there were no English teams involved, the feeling is Taylor would have had the whistle.
Mail Sport columnist Riath Al-Samarrai
Same goes for the 2022 World Cup final. It is said by folk who would know that he was considered the top choice, only for it to be ruled out because of the sensitivities around England’s history with Argentina.
Seen that way, Taylor is considerably more than good. He is among the very best, actually, and that takes us to Jose Mourinho and the specific thought I had on Friday: one of those guys is currently far better in his field of expertise than the other and it isn’t the man whose brilliance has long been outweighed by his poison. A ‘f****** disgrace’? Try the mirror, old boy.
We can all have our thoughts on Mourinho and who he is, especially in light of his vilification of Taylor on Wednesday. What I saw was a defeated manager and a lost soul, whose only certainties at 60 come from his instinct that blame for failure should always reside elsewhere. He is the sewage pipe who would for ever have you believe that the lake made him do it.
What we watched in midweek was desperately grim, before and after Taylor’s last whistle. It was a European final played out between stoppages, moans, dives and fouls — there were 40 of the latter, and 13 yellow cards spread between two cynical teams, not counting one for Mourinho.
The referee was labelled as a ‘f****** disgrace’ by Roma boss Jose Mourinho in the aftermath
Seven of those bookings went to his Roma players or, to look at that another way, almost two for every one of the four shots they managed on target.
Those matches are the stuff of nightmares for a referee, but Taylor did a fair job — some big decisions went to Sevilla and some went to Roma. Swings. Roundabouts. And a game lost because Roma missed two penalties in a shootout.
Could Taylor have been better in all that? Yes. Did he have a stronger game than many of the players? Yes. Was there a clanger? No. Did Roma lose because of him? Let’s not be so daft. But that is Mourinho’s stock in trade and has been for much of the past 20 years.
He just has fewer wins and less charisma now to offset the filth, but the filth has always been there. It was there in the Anders Frisk episode. In the voyeurism nastiness about Arsene Wenger. In the Eva Carneiro business and so many points in between, up to the three red cards he has had in Serie A this season and beyond to the mess in Hungary. It is his way.
He detracts and diverts. He finds conspiracy. He speaks nonsense into microphones and pursues referees into underground car parks and the unintended consequence is what happened next in the airport, when those thugs went for Taylor and his wife.
Mourinho was a defeated manager seeking conspiracy by deflecting attention onto Taylor
I’d be apprehensive about drawing an arrow in thick ink between what Mourinho said and the subsequent actions of morons — at some point in life you become responsible for your own behaviour and I’d hope that generally arrives before most adults throw a chair.
But Mourinho did compose the mood music for the situation and he has been playing his same tedious tune for an awfully long time. We can call it the ballad of a shrinking giant.
The temptation in these moments is to visit one of Mourinho’s many highs as a means of assessing how far he has fallen. It’s not a new device, but the slow rot of his reputation isn’t a new topic. It’s just one that is for ever acquiring new layers and depths, so when I think about what he used to be, I usually spool back to 2010.
He was a force of nature back then. An incredible coach, too, and perhaps his finest hour can be traced to that Champions League semi-final 13 years ago, when Mourinho’s Inter knocked out Barcelona. That was a counter-attacking masterpiece and it pulled apart one of the greatest club sides in history.
The Roma boss contributed the mood that led to Taylor being confronted by fans in an airport
Pep Guardiola, the Barca manager, was devastated and my reference point is the savaging he then received from his striker, Zlatan Ibrahimovic. In his memoir, Ibrahimovic wrote: ‘He was staring at me and I lost it. I yelled to him: “You have no balls! You are s******* yourself because of Mourinho”.’
That’s who Mourinho was back then. A genius. A king of tactics and man-management. A man who could make Guardiola feel small. Grinding his axe, Ibrahimovic also wrote: ‘Mourinho lights up a room, Guardiola draws the curtains.’ But that was then.
Guardiola’s next match is the Champions League final. Mourinho? He still lights up a room but he does it with petrol and matches and sparks of joylessness.
Time was he nurtured a siege mentality as part of a wider management arsenal; now it is his only obvious trait and it is carried out with the wide-eyed zeal of a man in a tinfoil hat.
Mourinho is among the game’s greats but his magic has increasingly diminished over time
Possibly the responsibility here should be shared by more of us — we all enjoyed the early Mourinho and his rough edges. We accepted it. Loved it, even. But I am sure there was some charm then. More of a glint in the eye.
These days we are talking about a manager who recently wore a wire on the touchline to ‘protect’ himself from a bad referee and just played a part in bringing chaos to an airport for another.
That he is still reaching finals shows he has retained some of his ability to energise and extract. But they are lesser finals. And they are smaller clubs. And the direction of travel is south, further from that night in 2010, or 2004, or whenever you fancy among his 26 trophies.
It’s sad when you think about it, because he is one of the greats, but all magic diminishes with time. And most rage against the dying of the light, as they say. Then again, it’s a personal choice to ‘f****** disgrace’ yourself as you go.