Monday, June 10, 2013

Happy Talk

It is by pure coincidence, I swear, that WWDBD?'s final blog post of the 2012-2013 football season and this one, which is, technically, the first of season 2013-14, should both feature as its headline a Captain Sensible song title. But blame José Mourinho. As, indeed, we'll be doing for most things by the end of the season.

With, precisely, the very first answer to the very first question posed today at Mourniho's official Stamford Bridge homecoming press conference, the Portuguese deadpanned, in that Jack Dee scowl way of his: "I am the Happy One."

Instantly, we made the assumption that José was being ironic, a little knowing in his answer. Which, in fairness, was a response to the predictable reminder from the floor that during his original unveiling to the press, in 2004, he'd declared himself "Special".

In, literally, a word, Mourninho marked his card as a property the media would never tire of poking with a stick to see what came out. And thus it has been ever since. And, yes, as everyone else has remarked, life is a little more fun with José around. Ron Manager he is not. Isn't it?

Much of today's presser, as journalists call them, dwelled on Mourinho's temperament. Was he calmer? "Calmer? I believe so," he responded, calmly, as if a) he was talking about emptying the dishwasher and b) he was expected to burst into a Basil Fawlty-style rage at the question.

We all know of the crazy, non-calm things Mourniho has done in the past: appearing to poke Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova in the eye, celebrating goals by knee-sliding across the technical area and, allegedly, being evacuated from Stamford Bridge in a laundry basket to avoid getting caught by UEFA's secret police.

This was a rock star performance without the rock star pretensions. Musicians, when they host press conferences, have a habit of disappearing up their own arses, talking about the need to reconnect with this and get to the essence of that. Mourinho is resolutely not in that camp, although he did end the press conference, answering a question about his weaknesses, with:

"If I speak of them, I have to say I'm trying to improve them. You don't speak about weaknesses with your enemy, and my enemy will read the papers and watch television. We hide our weaknesses. Every player, manager has weaknesses. You have to try to hide them. So I'm not giving that chance for the enemy... with respect because, in sports, an enemy is not really an enemy. I know my weaknesses, not much... not many... but I try to improve and hide them."

So he's not talking about his weaknesses, then. Still, he managed to crank the cool level up to 11, even when his speaking about "boys" sounded more like a disgraced priest than a Ron Atkinson giving it the full "boys done good" managerspeak.

If anything there was something muted about José today. Not quite caged animal, but restrained. Calm. He gave opaque reference to talking to John Terry about the future ("I know what he can give, so let's try to make him again the best player he can be"), gave nothing away about player acquisitions (beyond saying that it would be "normal" to bring in one or two) and spoke in somewhat glowing terms about how, since he departed British shores three of his "boys" - Steve Clarke, Brendan Rodgers and André Villas-Boas (later self-corrected to "not boys anymore") had moved on to take charge of the very teams that will be pushing Chelsea next year in their assault on Manchester.

That, is what makes next season such an intriguing proposition. One particular comment that stood out today is that when Mourinho first arrived at Chelsea in 2004, Arsène Wenger's Arsenal was the pace-setter. Nine years on, Wenger is the default elder statesman at the resident top end of the Premier League but with a reputation still struggling to maintain itself.

With the likes of Moyes and Pellegrini (himself due to be unveiled this week by Manchester City) settling in to their new clubs, and Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool champing at the bit, the competition around Mourinho will be far more intense than he's experienced in Italy or Spain. Not that he will be bothered. Because he'll be calm.

José's performance today was just like those Chelsea teams he nurtured to back-to-back league titles in his first two seasons at the Bridge: it was businesslike, a little boring and well defended. Unlike other managers - belligerent (Ferguson), mad (Strachan), paranoid (Warnock), indifferently Gallic (Wenger) - José projected his version of cool. Not cool in the Steve McQueen sense, but cool in sense.

Was he afraid of things coming unhinged again with Roman? "I hope I can go to the last day of the contract. If the club is happy and the club wants me to stay then I'll be more than happy to stay." You see? Calm.

But didn't it go spectacularly pear-shaped in 2007? "I read and keep reading that I was fired and we had a complete breakdown in relationship. At the time we thought it was the best for both of us [to go our separate ways]." Still calm.

And what about Andres Iniesta's claim that José "damaged" Spanish football while manager of Madrid? "I damaged Spanish football by being the manager that broke Barcelona dominance," he responded. Calmly.

It was a typical audience with the sports press, I suppose. Inane questions designed to goad the subject were dealt with without any noticeable signs of exuberance.

Have you changed? "Do I have a different personality? No, but for sure I have a different approach and perspective," without really saying what. Was he disappointed that neither Manchester United nor City had come in for him? "I am where I want to be - I wouldn't change it for anything." This was either glue-eyed rendering of the club Q&A or Mourinho's interpretation of Keith Richards' regular on-stage declaration: "It's great to be here. It's great to be anywhere."

Temperament aside, we learned very little today. Indeed, José did, very little. Throughout the entire 60-minute press conference his head hardly moved, his expression hardly changed. If he was happy to be there, it was impossible to tell. It wouldn't be unreasonable to suggest that the blue touch paper is being kept desert dry. Because while ice may have been coursing through José's veins this afternoon, it's not why we can't get enough of the guy.

Ever since his return to Chelsea was first mooted, he has been talked of like no other returnee to a football club I can ever think of. Before he'd even been announced, officially, as the new first team coach at Chelsea, column inches - from the front to the back pages, stopping off at the Women's section en route - had been devoted to him.

With David Beckham retiring to add Miami to his collection of exotic operational hubs, and Sir Alex Ferguson stepping upstairs to start a new chewing gum mountain in the Old Trafford boardroom, Mourinho's return to centre stage in the English sports media has injected some much-needed fairy dust into the line-up of somewhat dull technocrats that pervade the game.

Anyone who has ever met real stars - and I'm not talking about about reality show wannabees in a Mayfair nightclub, but proper, rock'n'roll, Hollywood celebrities - know that part of what makes them a star is their aura. Plenty have said that of Bill Clinton. No jokes please.

Mourinho has that aura. But rather than being a smug looking show pony (not sure why Simon Cowell comes to mind there), he has the record to back it up: two Champions League titles, a UEFA Cup, two league titles each in Portugal, England and Italy, the Spanish title, and domestic cup trophies in all four countries he's coached in. And, as he pointed out, "At 50, I think I am still very young as a manager and I think it is like the beginning of a new period." I can't wait.

Read the full transcript of José Mourinho's press conference on The Independent's website here.

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