Premier League preview week: Jose Mourinho's 'Second Season' phenomenon is in for its toughest challenge yet

Welcome to FC Yahoo’s Premier League preview week. We’ll take a look at each team in our aggregated predicted table, counting down from No. 20 to No. 1, and also reflect on some issues surrounding the league as kickoff approaches on Friday. Follow along with everything here.

Ever since he strode to a podium on July 2, 2004 and, with all the sincerity and pompousness in the world, declared himself “a special one,” Jose Mourinho has been defined as much by his personality and mind games as anything his teams have accomplished on the field. He is both instigator and inadvertent entertainer, a polarizing figure tailor-made for today’s 24/7 media frenzies.

Yet there is a brilliance to Mourinho that turned “a special one” into “the Special One,” and turned an arrogant Premier League newbie into one of the world’s great managers. It’s that brilliance that is responsible for a phenomenon that defines Mourinho far better than his nickname: the Portuguese boss has never failed to win a title in his second full season at a club.

Call it the Jose Mourinho Second Season phenomenon. Or come up with something more catchy. Call it whatever you want. Just know that it is real, and even more impressive than it sounds.

It was birthed in Porto, when a 41-year-old Mourinho, in his second full season in charge, led FC Porto to not only the domestic title but a Champions League crown. The success propelled him to London, where he lifted the Premier League trophy in his second season at Chelsea. In 2009-10, year two at Inter Milan, Mourinho won a Serie A-Copa Italia-Champions League treble. In 2011-12, year two in Madrid, he unseated Barcelona as La Liga champs, bringing Real its first title since 2008. And then finally, he reclaimed the Premier League title in 2014-15, the 15th season of his managerial career and year two of stint two at Chelsea.

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So in five second seasons, Mourinho has won five domestic titles, two Champions Leagues, and two domestic cups. It’s an imperious record that’s too strong to be considered mere coincidence.

That’s in part because it runs counter to “second season syndrome,” the commonly discussed trend that managers struggle in year two of a job. According to research carried out by Bwin, over the last decade, of the 191 managers hired at a club in Europe’s big five leagues and retained after year one, only 71 (37.2 percent) won more points per match in that second season.

There is some self-selection bias inherent here. The managers who earned a second go-around — who “selected” themselves for the study — likely fared well in year one, making year-two improvement more difficult. But that doesn’t damage the contrast between Mourinho and the norm. Mourinho has performed well enough to warrant a second year at all six of his managerial stops. On the first five, that second year has brought excellence.

Which brings us to his sixth stop, and his sixth second season. Since 2007, no manager in Europe’s big five has won a domestic title in his second season after finishing outside the top five in his first. That is what Mourinho will attempt at Manchester United in 2017-18. That is the size of the Special One’s task.

Piling on top of it is the level of competition, which could be higher than the Premier League has ever seen. Chelsea, the reigning champion, has fortified its ranks. Manchester City, the title favorite, has strengthened. Both have managers entering their second seasons as well. Pep Guardiola has had another summer to implement his vision, both on the field and in the transfer market. Antonio Conte, having had his first full offseason, should have his side even better prepared. And then there’s Tottenham, England’s best team over the past two seasons by a significant margin. And Liverpool, still building under a former title-winning boss in Jurgen Klopp.

Jose Mourinho has won big his second season at every stop, but this season will be a stiff challenge. (The Independent)
Jose Mourinho has won big his second season at every stop, but this season will be a stiff challenge. (The Independent)

Mourinho has had second-season success, but never up against anything like this.

And so 2017-18 presents him with his greatest test in over a decade. Mourinho’s past two seasons, one at Chelsea and one at United, have seen him take 1.56 points per game, well off his rest-of-career pace. Rumors of player mutiny ended his second Stamford Bridge stay after less than two-and-a-half seasons. Thirty-eight games of relatively dull soccer tarnished his first at Old Trafford. It even invited questions: Has Mourinho lost his touch? Has the rest of Europe caught up? Has his brilliance dulled?

As ever, we will find out in year two. Mourinho, like his superstar managerial brethren, has had another offseason to mold his club to his liking; to bring in his players; to ingrain his training methods; to drill home his system; to stamp his authority on everything. When he has had that chance in the past, results have followed. And so have trophies. Always.

It is the picture-perfect opportunity to shrug off the doubters. The ideal proving ground for a man who considers himself peerless and exceptional in his profession.

It is also the very type of circumstances and pressure under which the Jose Mourinho Second Season phenomenon could crack.

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