You can be sure of one thing with Jose Mourinho; you can never be sure what he is going to do or say next.
His pre-match press conferences are unpredictable affairs.
Whereas some managers appear to be reading from a script or through gritted teeth as they do their weekly media duties, Mourinho usually sees it as an opportunity to make a point or express himself, his press calls fast becoming the performance art of the Premier League.
One week he is playful, laughing and joking with journalists, another he is stern, feigning mock outrage at the perceived injustices raining down on his group of multi-millionaire players. On his birthday he poured everyone in the room a glass of champagne; on another occasion he took time out to welcome back a journalist who had battled against cancer.
And so it was yesterday morning at Chelsea’s futuristic training ground where the media centre was heavy with expectancy, the press pack waiting for their regular audience with the Special One. Would he deliver the latest salvo in his war of words with Arsene Wenger or Manuel Pellegrini, or would the pearls of wisdom be aimed in another direction?
Surely he would not try to rubbish Roberto Martinez, one of football’s true gentlemen, diplomatic and correct in both words and deed. Martinez may be Mourinho’s next opponent, as Chelsea and Everton lock horns at Stamford Bridge today, but would the Portuguese master try his mind games on his Spanish counterpart? There is no love lost between their two countries, after all, and Mourinho’s sense of persecution by the Spanish was only increased by his time at Real Madrid.
But this time there was nothing from Mourinho. No escalation in the bad blood between him and Wenger, or Pellegrini, or any other manager who has been in his line of fire. There was no railing at referees, the fixture compiler, Fifa, Uefa or the FA’s disciplinary process, which have all been objects of his opprobrium this season.
Not a peep. One word answers to leading questions. It was short, sweet and staccato. Whatever bait was cast his way, he was not biting.
‘How do you feel about Arsenal and Manchester City’s fortunes in midweek?’ he was asked. “The Champions League for me starts on Wednesday,” he responded with a shrug.
‘What about Rooney’s five-year deal, he was a player you were interested in?’ drew another dry response: “You said it — we were interested in him.”
‘What about the job Martinez has done at Everton?’ brought another “no comment” with the rider: “I don’t like to talk about other managers.”
Really, Jose? You are playing with us now, surely? We all know the truth, which is that Mourinho likes nothing more than a verbal joust with his counterparts, such as last week’s broadside at Wenger as a “specialist in failure” or his mockery of Pellegrini’s maths skills.
So unresponsive was he to questions this week, however, that one reporter asked him if he was all right? “Yes, I am fine. Nothing is wrong.”
It was only afterwards that we learned what we had suspected; he was tired of playing verbal ping-pong, trading insults with his peers in the media, and wanted a quick press conference and a quiet weekend.
He chose the right time. If Mourinho had wanted to stir up a war of words with Martinez he would have had his work cut out. Think of the number of times the Spaniard has been pulled up for something he has said or done, in or out of the technical area. His only moment of controversy in recent memory was his ill-judged defence of an indefensible tackle from Calum McManaman last year, but no one saw Martinez’s comments as condoning foul play.
Since he first arrived in England when he was just 22, as one of the ‘Three Amigos’ who left Spain for fourth division Wigan, Martinez has always shown the utmost respect for the traditions of the English game.
He condemns diving, hates simulation and loves the magic of the FA Cup, not surprising since he won it with Wigan last season. He is so likeable that, when working as a TV pundit, he even manages to get away with the sort of sitting-on-the-fence banalities for which Messrs Shearer and Hansen are criticised for on a regular basis.
Always smiling, always courteous, he is charm personified, as opposed to the darker side of Mourinho, who was roundly condemned as charmless and lacking class for his words against Wenger, and is still remembered less than fondly for gouging the eye of Tito Vilanova in Spain.
So when asked about Mourinho this week, Martinez was typically diplomatic.
“From the outside, clearly, Chelsea look like a team that are capable of competing for the title — in the same way I can see Arsenal and Manchester City, with the same arguments to win this title.
“It’s the final third of the season. I think now is the time that the teams can speak about the aims of the season. When you see the way the teams are showing the points tally that they have in the table, it’s clear that those three clubs will have clear ambitions of winning the title and rightly so.”
So nothing startling there. What about the criticism Mourinho has received for his recent attacks on his rivals?
“That doesn’t affect us at all. The only thing affecting us is that we face a very good Chelsea side. As I always say, football is not about managers — football is about the players, and making sure that as a team you can develop and perform well.”
Everton have been knocking on the door of the top four all season, and are still in with a shout of making a Champions League spot, but Martinez is not getting carried away.
“I think we’re in a position now where we’re going to approach every game in the same manner. We want to win every game that we go in to. If we can get, at the end of the season, a points tally that grants a top-four position we’ll welcome that. We need to aim high, and the way to do that is trying to win every single game that we’ve got in front of us.”
Mourinho said almost exactly the same thing, except that he was asked about winning the title. But the song remains the same — ’one game at a time, then we’ll see where it takes us’. In fact you could boil down most press conferences to that simple mantra, however, different managers dress it up. Some rant and rave, some deflect attention from their own deficiencies, some try to put pressure on referees, and some simply like to engage in a bit of banter.
But at the end of the day, it’s all a bit of a cliché.
Funny old game, football.
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