Who is Jose Mourinho, if, as he stated last summer, he is no longer The Special One? Football’s most famous epithet has come back to haunt the Portuguese coach, who announced on his return to Stamford Bridge last summer that he was now The Happy One.
Since then we have had Jose the Angry One, when he was sent to the stands against West Brom, The Paranoid One when he claimed a fixture list conspiracy against Chelsea, and most recently The Scary One, according to his Belgian midfielder Eden Hazard in an interview at the weekend.
The truth is that Mourinho is a complex character, different in many ways to the force of nature who breezed into English football almost ten years ago, full of self-fulfilling prophecies. Back then, he had the confidence — some say arrogance — of youth allied to the experience of winning the Champions League with an unfancied Porto side.
He made his infamous proclamation at a formal press conference to unveil him in July 2004, when he said: “Please don’t call me arrogant, but I’m European champion and I think I’m a special one.”
Some of us already knew that. A few days earlier he had spoken to a handful of reporters at Chelsea’s decrepit training ground under Heathrow Airport’s flightpath and outlined his plans.
It was the first day of pre-season training, and we noticed Hernan Crespo was absent. “He’s finished here,” said Mourinho who lived up to his word. Frank Lampard was also late back, but Mourinho had given him extended leave after the European Championship. “Lampard will be the best midfielder in the world and will score the goals to help win us the title,” predicted Mourinho with confidence. He even named the date when Chelsea would lift their first title in 50 years but was a few days out as Lampard’s double at Bolton confirmed them as Champions and led to his awards as Footballer of the Year and runner-up in the FIFA world player of the year.
We left that first meeting with Mourinho convinced we had indeed been in the presence of someone special, which was no great surprise to those of us who had been at Old Trafford a few months earlier. We had seen him try his mind-games on Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford as Porto beat Manchester United in the Champions League, with Mourinho’s extravagant celebrations.
So he established an aura from the start of his first era at Chelsea, which was still apparent when he returned with Inter Milan in the Champions League in 2010. Football reporters are usually a cynical bunch, but the returning Mourinho had some of the English press pack eating out of his hand — and could have tickled their tummies like compliant puppies if he’d wanted to.
So imagine the anticipation and expectation when he returned as Chelsea manager last summer. Initially Mourinho did not disappoint, with soundbites and smiles, soon to be followed by promising results. Perfunctory victories over Hull and Aston Villa were followed by a creditable draws at Old Trafford and defeat by Bayern Munich only on penalties in the Super Cup.
But then successive defeats by Everton and Basel suggested everything was not quite right at the Bridge, and Mourinho started to face awkward questions. He has answered them with a combination of charm, prickliness and at times disarming honesty, one of the qualities that Hazard said the players admired so much.
More recently, as Chelsea have struggled to live up to their pre-season billing as front-runners for the title, Mourinho has tried hard to play down expectations, talking about a season of transition and asking for patience, which is one of the virtues least associated with Roman Abramovich.
As Chelsea prepare to face Arsenal tonight, knowing victory would take them from fourth above the Gunners and Manchester City but still behind leaders Liverpool, Mourinho spoke of next season being the one to watch for Chelsea supporters. “Next season Chelsea will have a phenomenal side,” he said, pointing to City as the clear favourites to win the title.
He admires the way his old adversary Arsene Wenger has built a side that blends outstanding youngsters with established stars, citing the arrival of Mesut Ozil to complement Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott, as the key to Arsenal’s success this season.
Interestingly, he would like us to believe he has buried the hatchet with Wenger, whom he described as a ‘voyeur’ a decade ago. The remark, based on Wenger’s constant references to Chelsea and Mourinho at the time, incensed the Frenchman, who has never beaten a Mourinho side in nine attempts.
But when Mourinho was asked this week if Wenger had stopped “peering into his neighbour’s house”, he said: “Yes. Yes. Yes. He was speaking about Chelsea all the time, always making creatives and Xs, and the money and this and that... it was too much. At this moment he’s totally focused on his team and his club. He’s not looking to us. Peacefully, we are living without any kind of problems.”
But he has no regrets about his choice of words. “No, I don’t regret. These are football fallouts, not personal fallouts. You have them today and forget them tomorrow. I’m not friends with him because, to be friends, you need to be close and develop a relationship, but we have a lot of respect.”
Indeed Mourinho would like to emulate the Frenchman’s longevity in English football. Wenger has spent 17 seasons at Arsenal, which is 14 years longer than any other Premier League manager since Ferguson retired after 26 years at Old Trafford.
Mourinho loves the traditions and the ways of English football, and bemoans the growing trend for hiring and firing managers willy-nilly.
“It’s sad because I think a league gets better if we keep the good things and we improve the bad things. It doesn’t get better if we kill the good things, such as that sense of stability, to let people work without pressure. That’s something that’s going to finish, and is bad for this league. I hope some of us, we can show good work that keeps us for many years in the same club. This is something that, culturally, was a brand for the Premier League. We should influence other countries, not let them influence us in the wrong way.”
What troubles him is not so much that experience is becoming undervalued, but the sense of selflessness being lost. “It’s not about experience. It’s this sense of club work. One thing is you go to a club and you have a job to do for yourself. You have to succeed, so you can get the next job, in a difficult working market.
“Also, if you want to help players grow up, you do that much better with stability. Stability in ideas, philosophy, model of play, style of leadership. This all comes from stability at the highest level. If the club is stable at the highest level, the owners and boards, then it is up to the manager, who is the second line of hierarchy. That stability is very important. You look for example to Manchester United and everybody feels David (Moyes) will have his time to do his work in a calm way. I think that’s fantastic.”
So is Mourinho back for the short-term or long-term? “If I was here for me I wouldn’t be here. I had Real Madrid. I left them because I wanted to, not because they wanted me to. I had other clubs in other countries where it would be easier to go and find an ‘easy’ job immediately. If I was here for financial reasons, I wouldn’t be here, getting a lot less money than I had at Real Madrid, where I had three more years on my contract.”
It is thought Mourinho is earning significantly less than the €14m he earned at Madrid, and maintains he returned because of love for the club and English football.
“I didn’t come here because the job was easy, or because I had a team ready to attack the title, or because I was coming here for the best contract of my life. I’m here because I love the club, I love the project.”
Cynical observers suggest he will not get much time if he cannot deliver the trophies Abramovich craves, but Mourinho dares to dream. “I have a four-year contract remaining. Realistically, I hope at the end of those four years we sit, analyse the situation and that will be the point where both the club and me are happy to carry on or happy to separate.”
And beyond that? Now we are really deep in dreamland. “I’m 51 next month. I’d say 12 years, 10 here and two to go to a World Cup with a national team. I would prefer the Portuguese national team.”
But the charmer in him cannot resist adding: “England second!”
Tonight’s clash will not determine who wins the league, but the festive period can sort the front-runners from the also-rans.
“After the Christmas period of four matches we’ll have a feeling. Maybe some gaps will be open, some gaps will be closed. I don’t think it will make a big difference for Arsenal, though. I think they will feel they are strong contenders, and I respect them as that.”
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