Belfast Telegraph

Mourinho merely a muted guest in place he once called home

By Mark Critchley

Here he was again. The dressing room he alienated. The owner that was "never his friend".

'The Return', as the broadcasters were calling it. And to make matters worse, Stamford Bridge's press box, packed with the 'Einsteins' he has derided for the past month, was hanging over his away dugout.

Jose Mourinho has often been accused of manufacturing a 'siege mentality' at the clubs which he manages but he had no need to do so this time. He was surrounded.

Sir Alex Ferguson claimed, most famously in his address to Europe's Ryder Cup team at Gleneagles two years ago, that the key to getting the best of sportsmen was making them feel 'comfortable'. Mourinho's career to date, his entire modus operandi, has been a refutation of that. The willingness to play on the back foot, the public dressing-downs in press conferences, the intense personal relationships, both good and bad. He forces his players onto the same edge that he lives on.

Coming into this match, amid reports of a 'mole' leaking team news to supporters and disgruntled summer signings, it was hard not to believe that Mourinho was dragging his Manchester United players into the cauldron with him, hoping their shared adversity would stir them to victory.

Yet as soon as Chelsea scored the quickest goal of this Premier League season so far - a mere 30 seconds after Martin Atkinson's first whistle - he and his team wilted.

There had not been time to start the engine, let alone park the bus.

It is often forgotten that Mourinho himself coined that phrase, 'parking the bus'. It was a slight on Jacques Santini's Tottenham Hotspur side after they eked out a point at Stamford Bridge in 2004. Santini's response after the game, that it was merely "possible" that Mourinho would employ the same tactics when visiting a fellow title contender, now seems almost endearingly naïve.

Back then, however, the Portuguese was a cavalier figure. The idea that he would travel to Old Trafford, Highbury or Anfield and attack did not seem so outlandish. Now, his style is characterised by fear and that same fear was cast across the faces of his defence in almost every minute of this 4-0 thrashing, Mourinho's heaviest ever defeat in an English top-flight fixture.

If Chris Smalling, who had a torrid afternoon at centre-back, ever looked to the touchline for inspiration, he would have only found a strangely muted manager. Mourinho was always within his technical area, appearing neutered by the occasion. He saw his goalkeeper David de Gea beaten for a second, third and fourth time and still remained largely unmoved.

Such a manner contrasted with Antonio Conte's, whose gesticulations to the home crowd for more noise in the dying moments eventually tested Mourinho's temper. According to Italian lipreaders, he deemed it a "humiliation".

And yet even so, he waited until the final whistle, pulled his host to one side and politely, if firmly, whispered the complaint in his ear.

At the ground he used to call home, Mourinho was the perfect house guest.

Belfast Telegraph


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