Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Happy Jose Mourinho is no less special despite low-key performance at Chelsea press conference

Chelsea's new manager Jose Mourinho during the press conference at Stamford Bridge, London, Monday June 10, 2013
Chelsea's new manager Jose Mourinho during the press conference at Stamford Bridge, London, Monday June 10, 2013
Jose Mourinho has been officially unveiled as the new Chelsea manager
Jose Mourinho has been officially unveiled as the new Chelsea manager

Jose Mourinho has had better reviews. Some are even theorising that on the evidence of the unveiling of his Second Coming he has lost a certain snap.

Sky's theatre critic for the day, Tony Cascarino, an old player of impressively independent mind and many shrewd insights, said the previously unsayable, declaring that Mourinho had put in a bland performance and that he was clearly scarred from his experiences in Madrid.

This was after a withering preview delivered by the sublime midfielder Andres Iniesta, who was terse but damning. If he had to comment on someone who had never struck him as particularly special it was only to say that he had done more harm than good during his three years in Spain.

This set the tone of the examination of what you might have been persuaded to believe was the remnant of a once major football figure. But only if you had forgotten the meaning of one of the most remarkable careers football is ever likely to see.

Mourinho, it is true, played a part yesterday, as he has done at so many pivotal stages of his 50-year existence. Yesterday he was the wounded warrior, subdued, reflective, and this to the extreme of even brushing against the odd hint of modesty.

Yes, he had weaknesses, he knew better than ever before, but they were almost too few to mention and the last thing he was going to do was reveal them to the enemy. In fact the more he acted up, the more he sounded like a buffeted old mariner who had come in from a storm, the greater was the sense of an immutable fact.

This was the one underlined by the retirement of his old adversary Sir Alex Ferguson. By Arsène Wenger's despairing search for the lost chord, Andres Villas-Boas's difficulty in choking back the disappointment of failing to qualify for the Champions League and Manuel Pellegrini's challenge of turning Manchester City into a coherent football team in his first experience of Premier League action. It was that a giant was back in the land, someone who in his presence, knowledge of how it is while competing successfully for the major prizes, not to mention sheer street-level smartness, towers above all his rivals.

He may have had a gruelling time at Real Madrid but then so did Jupp Heynckes, Vicente del Bosque and Fabio Capello. You do not manage Real Madrid, you attempt to survive it, and if it is said Mourinho failed there it is a verdict based on the fact that he experienced his first season without winning a major trophy. Such a blemish is astonishing in its uniqueness in one manager's career and it should not obscure the fact that no one did more to challenge, and then break, the myth that Barcelona had become the game's unstoppable force.

He did not, it is true, always behave impeccably in the fruitless season which had promised so much more when he ejected Barça from the Spanish Cup and came within a late goal against the magnificent Borussia Dortmund of reaching a Champions League final which, if won, would have left him the only manager to win the greatest prize with three separate clubs. This does not wipe away the excesses of some of his behaviour but then it should not be forgotten in an absurd rush to suggest that Mourinho returns to London not only bruised but perhaps even broken.

You do not achieve as much as Mourinho and then give way at the first taste of serious disappointment. You seek to redouble your commitment and it is impossible to believe that Mourinho sees Stamford Bridge as a bolt-hole rather than an entirely suitable relaunching pad for the old aura.

If the great Iniesta is scathing about Mourinho, it may just have something to do with the fact that the object of his contempt did so much to undermine the belief that Barça had indeed achieved an unbreakable hold on the Spanish and European game.

He beat them in the Champions League after telling his Internazionale players to give them the ball and play through some seriously organised defence. He broke their run in La Liga with counter-attacking football of breathtaking boldness.

Of course, he had his battles and his lapses but, as he conceded yesterday, you do not get to the age of 50 without learning some vital lessons. He fashioned a few elegant sentences but maybe he was, at least for some, a little passive, a little reluctant to make the usual blaze of headlines.

He reminded his audience that if his arrival at Chelsea, the young lion of the game with the Champions League victory of his driving Porto still fresh in everyone's memory, seemed like a few weeks ago it was all of nine years.

You learn a lot, you reflect even more, in six years and Mourinho showed some of the effects when he said that he valued hugely the presence of his old stalwarts, his boys Lampard and Terry and Cech, but not to the point where they could expect any privileges. They, like him, still had to prove the strength of their work.

Mourinho may not have come back shouting the odds but for some it was no doubt enough that he returned through the front door. He had a wound or two, perhaps, but that's what happens when you compete so ferociously, when you believe that your destiny will always be to win.

Do we have a new and bland Mourinho? Do not believe it. It will not happen.

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