On June 2, 2004, Chelsea unveiled José Mourinho to the English Press. In his first press conference, Mourinho was sharp in wit and lavish in self-praise. He was unapologetic in his confidence over his ability and what he expected for the club he was joining. It was here he provided his most infamous sound bite: “Please don’t call me arrogant… I’m European champion… I think I’m a special one.” The English media were immediately captivated.
Fast forward to September 30 of this year at a press conference before a Champions League tie against Steaua Bucharest. A much grayer Mourinho snaps sarcastically at a fairly innocuous query about Kevin De Bruyne, responding how the media has been questioning his continued decision not to start star midfielder Juan Mata. He becomes defensive of his own potential for fallibility.
A lot has been written comparing Mourinho’s humble beginnings in management as Bobby Robson’s interpreter at Sporting Lisbon and the great manager he is today. Domestically, he has won almost everything possible coaching in Portugal, England, Italy and Spain. He also has two Champions League trophies and a UEFA Cup to his credit at Porto and Inter.
This week, though, a new contrast is being made visible to everyone. The young ambitious foreigner immediately imbedding his image as the Special One is being replaced by the older much more beleaguered man who is still recovering from what he admitted was the worst season of his career.
The Special One’s return to Chelsea follows a hostile final season at Real Madrid. He fell out with the Spanish members of his side, led by club captain Iker Casillas and club president Florentino Perez. The fans and media were divided into two camps in support and opposition of Mourinho, who became unable to unify the side to the one common goal of proving the media and rivals wrong. In the end, he left by mutual agreement, one year into his new four-year contract extension.
A José Mourinho team tends to thrive on a “them against us” mentality. Rivalries and bad press are converted into obstacles that stand in the team’s path to success and Mourinho can then effectively rile his team up enough to face them.
It used to be hard to see turmoil going on inside the club because of Mourinho’s larger-than-life personality served as a distraction. He was also able to win over the team-leaders and, through them, control the dressing room. At Chelsea, Lampard and John Terry were so empowered by Mourinho that future managers were unable to succeed if their plans did not align with the pair’s expectations.
Spanish journalist Diego Torres recently revealed in his book that Mourinho cried when David Moyes was chosen over him for the Manchester United post vacated by Alex Ferguson, the only manager he seemed to show genuine respect and admiration for. The claims are denied by the manager’s representatives, as they should be if he wants to keep the faith of the Chelsea supporters he had assured that Stamford Bridge is his one English home.
It would be unfair to say that Chelsea is struggling so far this season. Following the press conference in Romania, Chelsea thrashed Steaua 4-0. This was their first three points and a good recovery from their unexpected 1-2 defeat to Basel.
In the Premier League, Chelsea is currently in fifth place with their only defeat coming at the hands of Everton. As one of the three projected favorites at the beginning of the season, Chelsea is one point ahead of Manchester City and four points ahead of Manchester United. If Mourinho was originally hoping for the United job, then the Red Devils’ worst start in the Premier League era will probably offer some satisfaction to him.
With a star-packed squad, questions of team selection were always going to be raised. Mourinho’s decision not to prominently feature Spanish players Mata, Cesar Azpilicueta and Fernando Torres has suggested he still harbors resentment for Spanish players, which seems a little sensationalist. The other argument that the patient and slower pace Mata plays at doesn’t suit the managers favored counter-attacking style also seems like it’s not the true reason. Mourinho has defended his decisions but has clearly shown that he does not have the same level of patience for constant questioning.
If Abramovich and Chelsea fans are hoping for the same man they hired in 2004 to shake up the Premier League as he did last spell, then they are set to be disappointed. It is clear that José Mourinho has been slightly humbled by his experiences abroad. However, in a season where so many big teams are in transition and new teams are stepping up to challenge, they can be sure they have the manager with the best track-record in charge. What he loses in confidence and bravado he makes up for in experience.