The quietest man in football
If anyone was in any doubt who the ladies and gentlemen of the fourth estate’s favourite football manager is, doubt thee no longer. Suffice to say it’s not Harry Redknapp, not any more. Suffice it also to say that the manager in question is all too aware of his illustrious standing among the nation’s sport scribblers and doesn’t so much shy away from the limelight as pour some paraffin on his head, stick a fuse in his ear and run towards it making rude comments about its mother.
Eager scribes are falling over themselves to point out that this is a supposedly a much mellower version of Jose Mourinho. Oh, ok lads, sure it is. Never mind the fact that the season hasn’t started yet and Mourinho is warming up in a manner not dissimilar to Manchester United on Sunday, strolling round the park against opponents quite willingly sitting exactly where he wants them. Conversely, we hear about how Mourinho’s ‘mojo’ is back, invoking a particularly unedifying situation in which perhaps the only man in the universe not to speak ill of the British media in recent years is being rewarded with the kind of affection usually reserved for Kate Middleton.
We can’t deny, however, that Mourinho presents an endlessly fascinating case study, though we've effectively given up on hearing what he actually thinks about anything while he’s employed in England. And, if I’m being honest, in football. Which is a shame, because there are some pertinent lines of inquiry that would be good to explore, were those in attendance at his press conferences not camped somewhere warm-and-dark-and-I-don’t-mean-Bangkok.
One is his seemingly unashamed ability to forget anything that ever happened; the other why he has decided to go back to Chelsea – the two clearly linked. Both represent a clear departure from the Mourinho who has been blazing round Europe with a head the size of… well, Europe, since he managed Porto to a European Cup in 2004. That Mourinho was strictly onwards and upwards, aggressively ambitious, blowing into city after city and then blowing out, leaving a trail of destruction and sobbing players (in some cases) and silverware behind him.
A particularly sycophantic article by Jeremy Wilson in the Telegraph today explained that:
“Mourinho has also been very happy to repeatedly remind journalists of all the money that Manchester City have spent and how Chelsea, by comparison, are inexperienced and still in a developmental phase”
Which is such a staggering piece of nonsense* that Lewis Carroll would have been proud and probably tacked it on the end of the Walrus and the Carpenter:
‘We haven’t spent’, Mourinho said,
‘As much as City have’
‘We used our youth to win those cups;
You guys ignore the maths’. ‘
We will of course’, the journos said,
‘Come join us for a bath’.
But blocking out the recent past is presumably helping Mourinho, the arch-narcissist, repress some pretty painful experiences. The self-same journalists delighted in telling us how he was nailed on for the Manchester United job, not least in his own head.
He had one of the best squads in world football at Real Madrid, but couldn’t take them to a Champion’s League final – while Roberto di Matteo did so with his beloved Chelsea. But for Mourinho, it never happened. He didn’t deliver European triumph to the most powerful club he had managed. And in the end, it wasn’t even Barcelona, the impish ideologues of the late 2000s, that got the better of him.
Could it be that the ego has landed? Or at very least been dented? Chelsea seems a retreat for a man with – deservedly, to be fair, for the most part – unshakeable belief in his own ability. But seeing him turn up at an old club, preaching stability and responsibility, is a bit like seeing your dog, post-neutering. You know it’s killing him and you know he’ll be back humping the lamp or your leg when it gets to business time.
However, seeing him return to a club where, despite a messy separation, he is guaranteed hero worship, is a bit discomfiting – this is supposedly a man who cares not a jot for the thoughts or opinions of anyone else. He’s won the European Cup with Porto and Inter. Chelsea have won the European Cup without him. What’s he going to do?** NOT fall out with anyone?
We’ll never know for sure as the media Mourinho filter is already kicking in and almost every utterance becomes imbued with some kind of meaning, or mischief, or mind game. But, and we haven’t said this for a while, his return adds to what has the making of a very interesting season at the top of the Premier League. Mainly it’s interesting for being the first year AF (After Fergie). Partly it’s interesting because City have bought incredibly well. And partly it’s interesting because Mourinho has returned. It remains to be seen if a supporting actor role is enough. And the smart money certainly wouldn’t decamp on that.
* He spent £70 million in his first summer at Chelsea, money fans.
** Some may argue with justification that restoring Fernando Torres would eclipse all feats so far, of course.