Just a Translator…

Football fans across Europe and the world were introduced to the fickleness of football fandom when FC Internazionale Milano (Inter Milan) took on FC Barcelona in a UEFA Champions League match. Inter Milan registered an aggregate win of 3-2 over two legs to knock out the Champions League Cup holders Barcelona and reach the Champions League final but one of the major talking points was the abuse hurled at Inter manager José Mourinho by the fans of FC Barcelona.

Much to the surprise of football fans and translators alike, the Barça fans expressed their hate of Portuguese-born José Mourinho by calling him “El Traductor” (the translator). To them, he was no a nobody. Mourinho, after four years spent at the Catalan club, also found the term derogatory. By calling him “El Traductor”, the Barça fans were not only disparaging his talents, but they were also suggesting he was nothing more than a translator.

Obviously, this was a classic case of ‘sour grapes’ as José Mourinho has in the past masterminded several victories over his former employees and the fans of Barcelona had no other way of venting their frustration, however, it is particularly saddening for translators and interpreters around the world to witness the ignorance of so many. On the other hand, José Mourinho can be a wonderful example to translators, interpreters, linguists and also non-linguists.

The former Porto and Chelsea manager and the self-proclaimed “Special One” was in fact an interpreter and translator working under manager Bobby Robson at Sporting Club de Portugal, then Porto and later at Barcelona, and following Robson’s departure under Louis van Gaal. Through his remarkable linguistic skills he was able to learn from the best in the business which helped him later become the best in the business. José Mourinho is fluent in Portuguese, Spanish, Catalan, Italian, French and English.

His attitude to languages is fascinating. To him they are tools. He began learning new languages due to the fact that the knowledge he required as a student was only accessible in languages other than his native Portuguese. As a budding football manager under the wings of Bobby Robson at Barcelona he quickly learnt Catalan because, as he himself is quoted as saying, he would find it impossible to work in a country in which he did not know the language.

In many ways, Mourinho is a polymath of sorts: he is skilled in six languages (although, by his own admission he finds German difficult) and is one of the most successful football managers of his generation (having won over fourteen major prizes in world football). May the abuse hurled at José Mourinho be a shibboleth for all of us. If we could all accumulate languages in the manner that Mourinho has done and have even a fraction of the success he has had then may we all forever be called ‘just a translator’.


8 thoughts on “Just a Translator…

  1. As I once translated a newspaper article about José Mourinho, and some players when he was manager for Chelsea, my research did tot reveal that he was a linguist as well. But I do respect the man, because of his extensive knowledge of football, and his great way of dealing with the players, who naturally all think they are stars.
    To call him ‘the Translator’ is not an insult at all. The contrary is true, it is a compliment.
    To bring together up to 22 men, each one of them an individual with an excessively high self esteem, and shape those people into a winning team, if they call Mourinho a Translator, I am proud to be a translator too.

    1. What is your definition of being a linguist? He is a linguist inasmuch as he can speak six languages and he worked as a translator/interpreter.
      Pride is probably the most apposite word here. The Barca fans may think it’s an insult, but most translators would probably agree with your feeling of pride.

      1. A linguist is someone who studies languages, not just speaks them but gets to the roots of the history of one or more families of languages. Mourinho may not be a linguist, his profession involves translating though, as the members of his team come from all over Europe.
        Pope John Paul II was not a linguist but spoke 13 languages to a pretty high degree of fluency. If he had not become a priest, but had the same opportunity to study, he might have been. As the church provided the only way to study anything in his country and time, he would not have had that chance, I think. Both Mourinho and John Paul II used their language skills for the better of their profession/calling. I hope 20 percent of my students do the same. And if that calling is linguistics, great. If some other profession, great .

      2. I think you will find that the dictionary definition of ‘linguist’ is BOTH a ‘specialist in linguistics’ and a ‘person who speaks more than one language’.

        Mourinho WAS a translator/interpreter which qualifies him (by your definition) as a linguist. As for PJP II, I am not entirely sure that the church was his “only way to study anything in his country”. He would have been able to study in Poland but chose to follow his calling.

        I do concur with you about using languages to better one’s profession. Let us hope more people do so. 🙂

  2. I understood the ‘El Traductor’ rather as Barca fans trying to say that translators are not normally football coaches. The reaction would probably have been the same if Barca had lost to a team coached by a former accountant, physio, groundsman, marketing specialist, etc – all of which are fine professions too.

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