Jose Mourinho, rather typically, has a unique description for what is a unique quality.
The Chelsea boss is talking about when he first started managing Didier Drogba in 2004, a point in the forward’s career when he hadn’t yet won a single medal.
“I gave Didier as an example. When I put real pressure on him, the animal was always coming from the dark... when I put real pressure on him, I knew that the answer was coming.”
The entire theme of individuals knowing how to handle the tension of a title race is one Mourinho has been warming to over the past week. After his team’s 3-1 win over Southampton, the Chelsea manager said his new squad “have to cope with the responsibility” of properly challenging.
It is clearly something he is now thinking about a lot; perhaps because it may prove crucial if he can instil the same mindset in his players throughout a season as open as this — and one where he remarkably thinks there are still six contenders: his own team, Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool.
“In this moment, some teams like Arsenal are a lot more comfortable because they can slide one match and nothing happens to them. Some other teams know the next night can be crucial. But the six teams are very equal in their potential. Different teams in the way they play, in their profiles, but potentially all six are very good teams. Other teams are doing very well — Everton, Southampton, Newcastle — but in the end, these six are the real title contenders.
“Many times, more than two lost points. If this is a tendency, and it looks like it is, there’s also a tendency that the smaller teams get results against the big teams. If one of us loses points, it’s not a big surprise. It’s just a consequence of what the Premier League is like at this moment.
“I don’t remember — and I’ve followed the Premier League for years — a situation like this.”
That sense of unpredictability is even more pronounced because, unlike any point in the last 20 years, there are far fewer long-term truths to fall back on. No one can point to Alex Ferguson’s famous resilience as a baseline, or question Arsene Wenger’s ability to keep up in that context. It’s a brave new world and there’s an element of the unknown about every team.
United, for example, have the trophy-winning players but not a trophy-winning manager; Arsenal have the excellent form but not the group experience. There is a contradiction with each one of the six. Even those who know how to win a title have to deal with some significant new challenge — not least Mourinho. It is extremely difficult to argue what will tell most.
Mourinho, however, has no problems saying who he thinks should feel the most pressure. In what has already been construed as the first ‘mind game’ of this race, the Portuguese believes Manchester City should feel “more responsibilities” due to the “unique” quality of their squad.
“They don’t have old or very young players,” he later elaborated. “You see all of them, players with big maturity and experience.
“The squad is absolutely amazing. They have solutions and solutions and solutions. If you ask me which team has more ammunition, I have to try and be honest. I have to apologise to the other four in case they’re not happy with what I say, but City are the team with more ammunition.”
Mourinho, of course, could be accused of loading a distinctive weapon of his own. Unlike City manager Manuel Pellegrini, he knows what it takes to win an English title, as well as the manner in which such statements are used to crank up the pressure even more.
Mourinho is initially self-deprecating when asked whether it is important that only he and Wenger have won the Premier League.
“We’ve forgotten now. It was so long ago... I don’t think that can make a big difference. We don’t play. The players play.”
As Mourinho expands on that, however, an element of what he really thinks is revealed. Even if a group of players have no knowledge of winning a league, a manager imparting his own can be hugely important.
“It’s a good part of our job, these human factors. Football management is not just about 4-4-2, 4-3-3, high block, low block. We have a human side of the job, too, and probably this is more important.
“Some react in a very good way. Some don’t. I have also players who have told me not to criticise them in front of the other guys because ‘it’s not good for my self-esteem’. I’ve had everything. You accumulate experiences in your career and everything becomes like déjà vu.”
There also remains the fact that no other manager in the division has accumulated as many titles as Mourinho. In that, he is the closest thing to Ferguson, to a ‘known’. If not an ‘animal coming from the dark’, it could end up putting Chelsea in that unique position.
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