Belfast Telegraph

Sports Awards

Jose Mourinho faces the third great test of his managerial career... and he's in danger of losing the plot again

In the first rush of his fame and astonishing career momentum Jose Mourinho announced to an impudent interrogator that he was both writing the script and starring in his own movie.

Naturally enough, this brought waves of sycophantic laughter. He had, after all, just launched himself on Chelsea after driving Porto to the European title.

Ten years on, though, any self-respecting director would surely be causing much litter on the cutting room floor.

The trouble, it seems, is that the Special One is still utterly impervious to the need for a little self-editing.

There is no off-button, no pause to consider the possibility that sometimes it is better to take cover behind the old reality that sometimes you are your own worst advocate.

No doubt Mourinho still looks askance at such a proposition but then there may be a point quite soon when even he is obliged to concede that for the moment at least he may be in danger of losing his way for the second time in a few years.

That's what happened to him at Real Madrid after drawing Barcelona blood with a La Liga title.

Not only did he appear to headbutt a Barca coach; he mocked the traditions of his great club, disparaged some of their iconic players and witheringly dismissed Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini as a football lightweight willing to re-shape his career at lightweight Malaga.

The big and mostly amiable Chilean no doubt felt much soothing of that particular wound when his team near obliterated Mourinho's Chelsea last weekend - and then read Mourinho's parody of football analysis in a claim that the champions had been the victims of a "fake result''.

Two games in, the fact that Chelsea are now five points adrift of City would surely carry its own strong warning that the football script is not as easily manipulated as Mourinho sometimes appears to imagine.

He should also know, from his previous existence with Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich that success, even a title success, can be not so much a victory banquet as a survival snack.

He discovered that shockingly enough first time round - and increasingly there are signs that last season's stroll to the title is proving something less than an iron-clad insurance policy.

Even this week's success in the transfer market, when Barcelona's Pedro was, we were told, prised away from under the noses of Manchester United, was hardly the unqualified personal triumph suggested by reports that Mourinho made a telling personal intervention.

Some considerable credit was handed out to Cesc Fabregas's advocacy of the joys of London life over that of Manchester but perhaps most perturbing of all from the coach's perspective was the widespread belief in the growing influence of Abramovich's Russian-Canadian protégée Marina Grandvskaia.

She was said to have been the prime mover in the swift negotiations - a theory surely calculated to apply salt to the wounds sustained by the coach in his bad day at the Etihad Stadium and his utterly miscalculated diatribe against the deposed doctor Eva Carneiro.

When Mourinho lambasted her for football naivety, he surely displayed a worrying inability to understand that a football club does not occupy entirely its own planet. Unlike, perhaps, the coach himself.

What was assumed of him these last few weeks was a seamless extension of last season's domination of the Premier League and the clearest indication that a return to serious contention in the Champions League was a natural consequence.

Instead, almost every image presented by Chelsea thus far is of a recently assured team at war with itself.

Mourinho prides himself on his ability to pounce on any hint of complacency, to create a tension that is ultimately productive but the current evidence of cause and effect is that it is another occasion on which he may have overplayed his hand, to the point of the grotesque.

His substitution of John Terry in mid-debacle at City was hardly a tactical tweak as it replaced with the speedier Kurt Zouma Chelsea's soldier of all seasons and situations.

Terry had hardly been embarrassed by the tide of City attack but his morose expression in the second half was both a reproach and a promise of turbulent days ahead.

When you make your own movie, you have to be very sure about the strength of your plot lines and just now it is hard not to believe the whole production is in danger of unravelling.

Some believed that happened, substantially, at the Bernabeu Stadium where Mourinho seemed to alienate almost everyone and everything he touched.

Now, surely, he faces the third great test of his career.

The first came in 2007 when two title wins at Chelsea provide insufficient buoyancy for him in his increasingly fractious relationship with Abramovich.

He had the owner's friend Andriy Shevchenko imposed on a system which relied so heavily on the power and the energy of Didier Drogba and the coach's influence and authority was eroded from within.

So he left and re-made himself, brilliantly, in Milan with Internazionale and a Champions League triumph which spoke eloquently of his pragmatic self-belief.

Inter players wept when he left for Madrid but of course the movie had taken another turn.

At Real he worked himself, quite relentlessly, into a position of isolation, and one price he paid was the decision of Manchester United to look elsewhere when they were suddenly required to replace Alex Ferguson.

Mourinho was said to be devastated by United's rejection, one which would have seemed inconceivable at Old Trafford just months earlier when it was the worst-kept secret that he was the inevitable choice to succeed.

By the end of last season Mourinho's re-instatement as a natural born winner seemed bankable again. He had smoothed the surface of a powerful squad.

He celebrated Eden Hazard, rejoiced in the cover he had for the brilliant but often problematic Diego Costa. Now, the spool of film wobbles again.

He has to produce new impetus in the drama and Sunday brings its own challenge as he takes his buffeted charges to West Brom, where his scorned rival Pellegrini celebrated an imperious opener and now seeks a similar impact at Everton a few hours after Chelsea are done.

Of course the drama remains compelling but the concern of Mourinho must that he can no longer claim to be in charge of his own movie, certainly not one with an Oscar in mind.

James Lawton, Irish Independent

Irish Independent

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