Just as in 2004, Jose Mourinho walked into a packed room of expectant journalists at Stamford Bridge; and although this time there were twice as many to greet him and the atmosphere was more of excitement than suspicion, it didn’t look like an awful lot had changed — at least on the surface.
Roman Abramovich was still the unseen elephant in the room, chairman Bruce Buck watched cross-armed from the sidelines, just as he done nine years earlier, and Mourinho looked forward to working with Frank Lampard and John Terry, just as he had on arriving from Porto. But then he opened his mouth and it became clear that this was, in fact, a new era with different challenges ahead.
The old Jose, the self-assigned Special One, was brash, ultra-confident and hired to drag a club from obscurity into the winner’s enclosure — in that first press conference he even raised his hand high above his head to indicate how big his ego was, smiling knowingly as he did it.
But the new Jose wanted to come across as experienced, calm, serious and rational and seemed to understand the new Chelsea needed a different direction.
“I like it, no problem,” he said when asked about his infamous monicker. “There are so many bad nicknames in life and in football. That one was fine, no problem. But you pushed me for that. I came here in 2004. Two days previously I was winning a Champions League. I came here thinking ‘I’m going to have a good reception’, and you pushed me, asking me if I was good enough for England. That story of the Special One came in the moment. It was only a nickname, nothing else. Is my ego still up there? Of course. I’m very confident. But, at the same time I’m more stable, more mature.”
Despite the perennial controversies, sackings and big money transfers that have continued to define life at Stamford Bridge in the post-Mourinho years, there is evidence too that Chelsea have changed since the Portuguese departed for sunnier climes in 2007. It’s easy to forget that when Mourinho first arrived in England, for instance, that the team were still based at a potato-pitch training ground in Harlington, which they couldn’t use on Thursday afternoons because it was booked out by a local school.
They hadn’t won a league title for 50 years and, under previous owner Ken Bates, had gone within 24 hours of going out of business.
They were, as Liverpool fans enjoyed reminding us, a club with no history, who weren’t even on the radar of Real Madrid, Barcelona or Bayern Munich; and Mourinho’s first press conference highlighted that despite its newsworthy-ness. A journalist for BBC Radio London, for instance, remembers being granted a three-minute one-on-one with the new manager — but that it didn’t make top billing in his bulletin because of a story of Tottenham turning down a chance to hire Claudio Ranieri.
These days Mourinho is 100% headline news and any hope of being granted a one-on-one when 250 journalists turn up just to hear him speak is frankly, pure fantasy.
The rhetoric was different this time too; whereas in 2004 he talked about turning the team into winners, this time it was all about developing a club, growing it, taking it to another level.
“I think I came in two different periods,” Mourinho remarked. “When I first came, Chelsea needed that. Chelsea needed the last push in the direction of the trophies, in the direction of success.
“This time I arrive and victory and silverware is nothing new in the club. The club is a Champions League winner. The club won the Premier League again after my time, won more FA Cups too.
“In this moment, it’s a moment for a different approach. I think we are all prepared for a different era with a different profile of team.”
Only time will tell just how different. There are fears — not too far below the surface to be honest — that the new Mourinho, who was dogged by controversy and discord as usual during his time at Real Madrid, hasn’t changed enough to survive a second spell in London; and that his latest persona is as much of a tactical facade as his ‘Special One’ performance was nine years ago.
But when asked if he really had matured, the old Mourinho finally cracked a smile and held aloft a pair of reading glasses.
“Of course,” he said. “I have these!” All Chelsea fans will be hoping he won’t need them; after all, the small print in a Chelsea manager’s contract normally makes for unpleasant reading.
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