It’s the 31st May 2010 and Real Madrid have just announced the arrival of Jose Mourinho as their new manager. Replacing Chilean Manuel Pellegrini to become Madrid’s 11th coach in the previous seven years, the 47 year old was then the hottest property in world football, having had recently guided his Inter Milan side to a historic treble of League, Cup and Champions League – the latter won thanks to a victory over Bayern Munich in the very Bernabeu Madrid call home.
The lure of coaching in the Spanish capital was one Mourinho himself felt he couldn’t resist, stating, during his first press conference, that to not coach the club would have left a void in his career, as it would any manager. He also spoke of the attraction of Los Blanco’s history, expectations to win and frustrations in recent years – having found themselves playing second fiddle to Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona.
No doubt it Barcelona’s – and Mourinho’s own – recent successes had made the move for the Portuguese man seem a perfect fit, even if Pellegrini’s sacking seemed a tad harsh. The Chilean, with the £80 million Ronaldo in his ranks, conjured up a free scoring side that had the Bernabeu faithful reaching for the pipas (instead of popcorn) with joy, the team scoring an incredible 102 goals in 38 games, 60 of them at home. But an agonizing last 16 exit to the hands of Lyon (after a 1-1 draw at home in the return leg), a humiliating (4-0) cup exit to lowly Alcorcon and a second placed league finish (only 3 points behind Barca) meant zero trophies and, with that, his jotters.
The Alcorcon game such a horror show for the team that the defeat (Alcorconazo) would enter footballing dictionary parlance under ‘debacle’ and even generated superstition among the Spanish public, who flocked in their droves to place lottery tickets using the 27109 date of the game, with perhaps those of a Madrid persuasion looking for some sort of divine recompense to the pain felt in defeat, in the form of wads of cash.
Yet Mourinho, himself described by the Spanish press as a Galactico on arrival (a term normally reserved for players), wouldn’t, in his own term at the club, to steal a Spanish bullfighting expression, leave through the puerta grande. A Copa Del Rey trophy win over Barcelona in his first season did get the ball rolling – the first in 18 years for Madrid, while a La Liga title the following season (and a record 109 goal haul to boot), no doubt had those who sanctioned his arrival rubbing their hands.
But, as per their semi final loss to Barcelona the previous season, defeat in a penalty shoot out to Bayern Munich at the Bernabeu saw Mourinho’s side miss out on the most coveted of trophies for the Madrid faithful, the Champions League, and the one that would ultimately render his spell in charge a failure. A 4-1 loss in the first leg of the Champions League semi final the following year was too big a deficit to plug at home, with the final for his Madrid team now taking on the form of some distant Oasis mirage that fools those in search of water.
The post-match press conference was one which more than summed up Mourinho’s tenure in Spain, reflecting as it did the often fraught relationship he had with the Spanish footballing press, one which he felt were as much to blame for his exit his side’s results. “I know in England love me, and that the press treat me fairly,” he told the congregated media. “In Spain there’s a lot of people that hate me, many of whom are in this very room,” he concluded.
But, bizarrely, maybe Mourinho has had the last laugh. For his tenure in Spain at the helm of Madrid is still ever present,, not in the style of play of the team, nor the methodology used by his successors, but rather it exists in the words and lines spoken by those who hated him most, the Spanish sporting press.
And not just the sporting press, the entire Spanish media.
And not just the entire Spanish media.
The entire Spanish public.
The reason? A linguistic one, a word that Mourinho ‘introduced’ to the Spanish linguistic landscape during his time there, and one, slowly but surely, moved from that of a little used noun in sports like basketball and tennis to an adjective that slips off the tongue of every Spanish person worth their salt; top.
Its genesis can be traced back to a press conference Mourinho gave on the 9th August 2010, while his Real Madrid side found themselves in Los Angeles on a pre season tour. In speaking about his sharpshooting Argentinian forward Gonzalo Higuaín, Mou referred to him simply as, ‘un jugador top’ (a top player). Perhaps an adjective he had learned while serving as manager at Chelsea, who knows.
And although it seemed a simple enough phrase, the reaction wasn’t. The football media went ‘top’ mad, with news reports taking the mick out of Mourinho’s use as a then noun – one used until then in in reference to Top 10 NBA or tennis lists – as an adjective. Top top top, cried the newsreels, repeating the Mou soundbite as much as possible.
‘Cuatro’ channel summed the whole linguistic circus with their video post press conference. “In the 80’s we had the TOP models, while Tom Cruise had everyone loved up thanks to his portrayal as Maverick in TOP Gun. We can find the ‘TOP ten’ in tennis, but now, what we can add to that is the TOP Pipita (Higuain’s nickname)”…followed by ten more TOPs before the video finishes.
One of many sly digs at Mourinho from all corners of the footballing press as TV reports, newspaper headlines and discussion pieces all tore into the Portuguese for his (new) addition to the world of footballing phraseology, one that not only made fun of his use of the word, but also his (heavily accented) way of saying that one, three letter word. Indeed, everyone seemed to be impersonating Mourinho with the word, alongside the heavy Portuguese accent, be it child on the street, old geezer in the bar or TV presenter on the tele.
But yet a word that worked perfectly for the Spanish sports journalist, a simple word that spoke of many more. A good, hard working, motivated, well liked, fast, deadly, aggressive, adaptable, calm, experienced player can be bottled up as a ‘top’ player and you get the jist. And soon what was the form of ridicule for Mou was one that would translate into the first word off a journalist’s pen. A word that had I personally, living in the country while working as an English teacher, had never before seen being written or said as an adjective.
What started with Mourinho would trickle down to other players, those in a Madrid jersey or not. Barca’s Eric Abidal and Madrid’s Ozil (albeit a translated interview) among the few who would throw the word in to recorded conversations. And then we had Ronaldo himself, once his Spanish got up to speed (Mou was already fluent thanks to his Barca days).
And then it wasnt just football. Soon the mimicking accent would be lost and everything would be ‘Muy top’, especially among the younger generations. Whether it was the ice cream they’d ate, the film they’d just saw, the jacket their friend was wearing or even their best pal. It was everywhere. On a personal level, teaching a class of 15-17 year olds, I felt like I was living in some sort of Jose Mourinho surreal driven nightmare, the visual landscape filled with Dali-esque melting TOP lettering as opposed to clocks.
Sooner rather than later, the new cool adjective was now the normal, so ingrained it had become in the fabric of Spanish phraseology, as if it had been there all along. Open any magazine, listen to any radio programme, overhear any table conversation and the bests are TOP will make an appearance.
And, by my reckoning at least, its all thanks to Mourinho.
Once slagged to high heaven, now copied to f*ck.