Warren Gatland’s success as Lions boss has seen the Kiwi-born coach win a series in Australia, and draw one with the greatest team in the world.
Although Gatland himself came under heavy media fire for some poor results in the build-up to the test matches against the All Blacks, he showed a trait every world-class coach does: get the result in the big games.
A master of this is Manchester United boss, Jose Mourinho. Often a scapegoat for media jibes, and regularly criticised for a perceived ‘boring/safe’ approach to a game; nonetheless, the tactics bring success, and it gets results on the biggest stage; a quality firmly on show for Gatland as well.
Such characteristics has led Ugo Monye to draw heavy comparisons between the two:
“Jose Mourinho is not far off a Warren Gatland type of character… often a villain, but loved by his own.” — Ugo Monye, speaking on the BBC
Monye continues to suggest that the comparisons are drawn from making big and unpopular decisions. The BBC pundit uses the most recent example of Mourinho axing Manchester United’s all-time leading goal scorer, Wayne Rooney.
Gatland made the big calls throughout the test series. Even when he was challenged and questioned, the big calls the coach made, all paid off; such as dropping Ben Te’o to play the Sexton-Farrell axis, and even retaining Mako Vunipola for his starting position in the final test – all gambles worked.
However, the first person to recognise such qualities between the two managers was Irish lock, Paul O’Connell, back in 2009.
Gatland in the build-up to the 2009 Six Nations clash between Ireland and Wales was criticising the Irish pschyee, suggesting they could not handle the pressure of a Grand Slam match, and went as far as saying:
“Out of all the teams in the Six Nations, the Welsh players dislike the Irish the most”
The controversial comments did not sit well with O’Connell who then made the comparison between Gatland and Mourinho as long as eight years ago:
“Jose Mourinho used to do a lot of it with Chelsea, taking the pressure off his players.
You need a big ego to do that which he [Gatland] seems to have form his recent success as a coach. Perhaps he needs to get his feet back on the ground now.” — Paul O’Connell, speaking to the Telegraph
However, although such comparisons are accurate and justified; Gatland has arguably an even bigger ego than Mourinho.
The Kiwi-born coach was in his native country, and was more than happy to go head-to-head with the New Zealand press; more than happy to take on Steve Hansen in a media battle, despite being under huge pressure that his side could experience a series whitewash.
For this, Scottish legend Gavin Hastings, is more astute in his assessment of the coaches. Speaking of the Gatland-Mourinho comparisons in 2016, Hastings goes one further by comparing the Kiwi to the king of mind games himself, Sir Alex Ferguson:
“There aren’t many Mourinhos in rugby and perhaps Eddie [Jones] has a bit of that. But the biggest wind-up merchant is Warren Gatland. He is the closest to Alex Ferguson that we have. He winds people up, and to hell with the consequences.
He says it deadpan, but is laughing his head off behind the mask.” — Gavin Hastings, speaking to the Daily Mail
Hastings could not be more accurate here, and Gatland walking into a New Zealand press room with a clown nose on proved this more than anything. Mourinho does make the big calls, and isn’t afraid to upset in the media; but, the United boss can still let others get under his skin.
Ferguson rarely broke rank, just like Gatland, and that’s why the Lions boss is more suited as a comparison to the former Manchester United coach, rather than the current one.
And, once again, it was the clown who had the last laugh.