July 5, 2013

Pakistan's saviour? Jose Mourinho

Why the confrontational football coach is just right to team up with Misbah and Co

"Biting the ball shows a healthy desire to face your problems head on. I'm all for it" © Getty Images

In 1947, a few weeks after Pakistan's independence, a group of politicians, army generals, journalists, intellectuals and milkmen (highly revered as fortune tellers in the local culture) met for a long series of meetings on what to do with this newly born country.

Seeing that Pakistan had dozens of ethnicities, who spoke scores of languages, each of which had hundreds of dialects and thousands of curses, it was decided that the country should celebrate its "diversity" from there on in. Unfortunately email facilities in the 1940s weren't quite what they are now, and so somewhere between a garbled accent and a missed keystroke, the press release for this conference announced that Pakistan had decided to revel in its "adversity".

Now, lesser countries would have fallen apart at such a catastrophic typo, but Pakistanis are made of something else entirely. Sixty-five years later we are the Microsoft of global adversity, and everyone seems to be used to it.

One of our most effective ways of dealing with the constant adversity has been to bury all our hopes, faith and identity in the cricket side. Consequently, every year we are either burning effigies or dancing in the streets. Sometimes we dance with burning effigies in the streets, usually to celebrate draws.

We blindly love our cricketers too - we almost elected one captain to the prime minister's post, and another is still our most eligible bachelor ten years after he retired.

But things are getting a bit tough these days. After all, you might remember that no one wants to tour Pakistan anymore. You might also recall that some of our best players are currently banned for spot-fixing and ice-cream-store-visiting. You might even be able to call to mind that instead of a maddeningly mercurial team, we are now a Misbah-matured one. But the problem is that we've stopped winning. And despite Misbah's tragically forlorn efforts, we don't look like ever winning again. So why not embrace this adversity, as we have been mistakenly doing for so long? Why not look to be creative with the current conundrum?

After about 17 minutes of strenuous thought, I've come up with a 100% foolproof, money-back-guarantee solution for Pakistan cricket: (drum roll) let's hire Jose Mourinho to be our coach.

Before you scoff, hear me out for a bit.

The Special One's stock-in-trade is to win, no matter what the cost. More pertinently the Portuguese provocateur is at his best when creating functional sides that are tough and combative but eschew flair and creativity. Well, look no further than Misbah's modest men when searching for such a side in international cricket. Pakistan's current cricketers are more functional than a Swiss-assembled wristwatch, and the only fleeting traces of flair can be found by way of Umar Akmal's green-zinc lips, and the worried tresses of Shahid Afridi's bronze-kissed hair.

Mourinho is the master of reactive football. The most sublime exposition of this expertise was witnessed in 2010, when his Inter Milan came up against their antithesis, the transcendental LSD trip known as Pep Guardiola's Barcelona. Mourinho instructed his players to give up the ball to their opponents throughout the match, in order to play the most nihilistic game possible - which his side eventually won.

Well, once again there is quite no country like Pakistan when it comes to not wanting the ball. Our fielders routinely pretend to not see it, whether it's on the ground or in the air, while our batsmen prefer flirting with the ball rather than striking it. If reactive, ball-avoiding players are Mr Mourinho's thing, surely he doesn't need to look beyond Pakistan.

Mr Mourinho's fame is linked to his unique approach towards the media, which even overshadows his magnificent record. "Scorched earth" is possibly the most polite way to describe his approach, and it's one that Pakistan could do well to adopt. For starters, our media would drown in ecstasy at the thought of deciding which Bollywood song to play in the background for all the prickly Mourinho-related headlines.

In the past, Mourinho has often had to create controversies in order to satiate his desire for a siege mentality among his players. Much to his probable relief, there will be no need for such creativity in Pakistan. We're already fighting three, maybe four, insurgencies, as well as being global cricketing and political pariahs, and all the while being serial occupants of the Failed State Top of the Pops charts. If Mourinho wants siege mentality, he has come to the right place.

Finally, there is one more essential cog to the Mourinho machinery - the pantomime villain. John Terry performed the role admirably at Chelsea, while Marco Materrazzi and Pepe did the job at Inter Milan and Real Madrid respectively. Can Pakistan offer a character that's reprehensible to the rest of the world but the inexplicable heart of the team he plays for? To borrow a phrase from American comics, this looks like a job for KAMRAN AKMAL.

I mean, here's a guy who had a dream start to his career, but once established began hacking away maniacally at his team's fortunes every chance he got. Yet despite this, he seems to be like a lollipop floating towards Jonty Rhodes - undroppable. No one seems to know why this is, but if anyone can take a serial curse-provoker like Kakmal and polish him into gold, it's the man who once poked a cancer patient in the eye.

So let's ask Mr Abramovich to bring forward the inevitable sacking of his manager by a few months, and get Jose on the first flight to Lahore. Mourinho and #TeamMisbah are a match made in a pragmatic, attritional heaven.

Ahmer Naqvi is a journalist, writer and teacher. He writes on cricket for various publications, and co-hosts the online cricket show Pace is Pace Yaar. He tweets here