Ian Herbert: Good as Jose Mourinho is, respect ebbs away the longer his sulk goes on

Some of Mourinho’s victims on Saturday, like the ballboy, were away from the cameras

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The Independent Football

Is it really a year since the event at which we arrived to pay deferential respect to Jose Mourinho, an event which deconstructs the Chelsea manager’s self-serving notion – as preposterous as it is pathetic – that the media are building a campaign against him and his players?

“Here we go,” you’ll say, “a defence of the fourth estate” – and any venture on to such territory should certainly be resisted because, heaven knows, there are imperfections about the way we approach football. We search for the conflict in the game and sometimes try to construct it.

Our attempts late on Saturday to get Manuel Pellegrini to articulate what he quite plainly thinks – that his side are creative and Mourinho’s are not – had entered the realms of the absurd when he resisted what, by my count, was the 10th way of posing the question. “I don’t think nothing. If you want to say something, say it – don’t try to get me to say it,” Pellegrini said before departing the press room.

But that event last winter – a Football Writers’ Association tribute night to Mourinho – underlined the reservoir of respect and fascination for his achievements and methods. You had to be there to witness the best of it: Mourinho, his wife Matilde and their children basking in the glow of the tributes to him, Mourinho actually wiping away tears from his eyes, Louis van Gaal doing the same, and eventually the two men falling into each other’s arms in a miasma of emotion.

David Moyes was descending towards some of his most desperate Manchester United days at the time and chroniclers of these scenes observed tartly how adored Mourinho would have been at Old Trafford.

And now, because Diego Costa buried his foot into two individual Liverpool players in a League Cup semi-final on Tuesday night – and because writers and broadcasters had the temerity to recognise that fact – we are being asked to believe that there is a conspiracy.

It is a notion which even tests football’s limits for ridiculous pronouncements. At the core of the siege mentality Mourinho always seeks to manufacture when things get tense is a behaviour which is looking increasingly despicable.

 

Let’s examine Saturday as an example, because some of the victims were beyond the view of the Sky cameras. The ballboy who Mourinho demanded throw a ball to him, after it went out of play in Manchester City’s favour, and who was royally bollocked when he tossed it to City’s Bacary Sagna. The Chelsea supporters he took against after a collective sigh followed Gary Cahill’s concession of possession, which threatened the team’s late defensive resistance.

Or the fourth official, Jonathan Moss, enduring a barrage of Mourinho finger-jabbing and abuse – some of that pointing being up to the stands. “Send me off then,” Mourinho seemed to be saying, which would have served to pump up the sense of victimhood all the more.

It would have been gratifying to see Moss call over Mark Clattenburg and demand a stop to all this. It was gratifying to see James Milner – prone on the floor when a ball Mourinho kicked back into play struck him – refuse the hand the manager subsequently extended to him. As it was to know that Sky had turned down the offer of assistant manager Steve Holland when Mourinho refused to speak.

His bashing of the broadcaster (whose money means Chelsea can afford to pay Fiorentina £27m for Juan Cuadrado today) meant that the first Chelsea chorus of Saturday evening for the returning Frank Lampard – whose speech in Mourinho’s honour at that writers’ dinner was so powerful that it brought on Van Gaal’s tears – came in reference to Jamie Redknapp, his uncle’s son. “Frankie Lampard, your cousin’s a cunt,” went that particular line in articulacy.

This ruse of Mourinho’s – beating the media with their own team’s lack of self-control – is as old as the hills. It’s a decade since Sir Alex Ferguson gave us the mother of all eruptions, after someone had the temerity to ask about Wayne Rooney transparently slapping Tal Ben Haim, then of Bolton Wanderers, in a Premier League game. Ben Haim certainly went in for some “pretend agony” as Daniel Taylor describes it in his book This Is The One, which memorably retells the story of that press conference clash and many others.

A newspaper is not the place to relate the full power of Ferguson’s nuclear explosion, but by the end of it he was so angry he swung an arm at the tape recorders in front of him and sent them flying into a wall 10 feet away. “It’s over, right?” he shouted. “You can get out. Press conference finished. You’ve got me to lose my temper now. Wonderful.” Ferguson could be unnerving and deeply unpleasant – but you know what? That outburst was less unedifying than the Chelsea manager’s incredible sulk.

The list of other managers who have employed the same strategy is long. Oscar Tabarez said last summer that English journalists had done for Luis Suarez after he had bitten Giorgio Chiellini. It is a decade since Mourinho blamed continuous TV replays for Michael Essien’s ban when he had stepped on Dietmar Hamann in 2005, as if the Uefa panel was finally persuaded by a 30th viewing.

It would be easier to rationalise Mourinho’s mores if he were not the best manager in the Premier League by a distance – blessed with more tactical acuity than all the rest and more capable than any of delivering players to a level that even they had thought unattainable.

Unambitious though his team were as Saturday drew on, they got their point, maintained their five-point lead at the top of English football. Lampard’s talk at that tribute night was of a manager who could “make the hairs on your arms stand up” during his team talks and who single-handedly “drags every individual up a level”. He shook his head in disbelief as he cited Eden Hazard’s sudden enthusiasm for chasing down the opposition’s right-back. “I might be biased, because I love the man, but he does it instantly,” Lampard said. “He brings instant success.”

The received wisdom in football’s  puffed-up, introspective bubble is that success is everything, that the bastards are winners and that being perceived as a weird, intense and deeply unpleasant individual while delivering trophies is of no consequence. Don’t believe a word of it. No one wants to be loathed and, though Mourinho will tell you his unpopularity belongs to the media conspiracy, it is no one’s fault but his own.

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