During an astonishingly self-congratulatory assessment of the Chelsea dream team - Jose Mourinho, Roman Abramovich, and, well, himself - the Stamford Bridge chief executive Peter Kenyon was invited to explain the difference between his workmate Mourinho and Sir Alex Ferguson.
He said: "Jose's preparation. Jose's use of technology. Probably, he's the next generation." Kenyon didn't come up with a name for this new breed of football men but after what happened at the Nou Camp on Tuesday night, when Chelsea's ambitions for European domination were again turned into rubble, he is unlikely to suffer from a shortage of suggestions. What about the Doomsday Boys?
If that sounds like another cheap jibe in the rush to put down a man who has set the agenda for English football for two seasons now, it is just too bad. It was Mourinho, after all, who declared himself the Special One, and that surely implied quick success beyond the borders of a Premiership which can currently pit against the confluence of wealth and ego at Chelsea no more than three contenders. Nor could anyone seriously argue with Kenyon when he announced so charmlessly that the domestic race was between a "bunch of one".
So who within Stamford Bridge can really complain if judgement has been harsh on the failure of Chelsea this week to match the scale and the beauty of Barcelona's football? Not Mourinho, certainly, and not Kenyon, who in his time at Old Trafford was put in charge of negotiations for Ronaldinho, the world's supreme player and the most vital factor in Chelsea's second successive premature elimination from the Champions' League - and failed to deliver.
That was one of the pivotal moments in the recent history of European club football and the mere mention of it is guaranteed to enrage Ferguson, the man who was so brusquely relegated to the pre-Mourinho generation.
This brings us to the nub of Mourinho's latest failure in Europe. Yes, he won with Porto two years ago, but the more his aura as a man of fierce motivation and tactical acumen at the highest level of European club football has declined over the past two years, the more inevitable has become the examination of his approach to the job.
That it worked dramatically with Porto, a modestly financed team of players who owed everything to the faith of their coach, is not in dispute. But what is happening now shows the problem on the other side of that technique, when the personality of a driven coach - Kenyon's phrase - becomes the most dominant motif of the football club.
The comparison with Barcelona could hardly be more profound. Barça, led by Frank Rijkaard, a coach of outstanding achievement as a player, seem happy to let their players breathe, to express themselves as vital elements in the success of the club.
From Mourinho we get a version of control freakery. We get his preposterous behaviour, his insistence that he will carry "pressure" for the players. Perhaps if he had played to a certain level he might understand that the true pressure of football descends only when the referee first blows the whistle.
Then it is the pressure to perform, to shape the action, and ultimately that can only be lifted at the highest level by players of perfectly honed confidence, players who have been allowed to grow in terms other than those claimed exclusively by the coach.
Mourinho's statement in Barcelona that the only difference between the teams was that at one point Chelsea had to operate with 10 men was quite staggering. It ignored the quality of Ronaldinho and Messi, and the fact that Chelsea's shortage of manpower was a direct result of the terror and defensive inadequacy that the young Argentinian produced in their hearts whenever he got on the ball.
On Tuesday night Barcelona, on the standards they have set for themselves, were disappointing. Ronaldinho had his moment of magnificent execution, but much of what he had done before, for all its technical brilliance and artistic flourish, was essentially flippant.
Messi was out of the game with only a quarter of it done. Overall there seemed to be a reluctance to drive home the advantage that was gloriously implicit almost every time the likes of Deco and Motta settled on the ball. Yet, still Chelsea, faced with their greatest challenge under Mourinho, were impotent. The coach's panicky team changes dissipated their huge, routine strength in midfield, and there was little compensation, beyond the wit and optimism of Joe Cole, for such a debilitating a loss.
Under Mourinho Chelsea had become a unit of tremendous force and consistency in English football, but in the wide, lush acres of the Nou Camp suddenly that meant much less than ever before.
Abramovich, self-effacing but zealous about his club's reputation, is surely less than pleased by the sudden announcement of a class division in European football and that, after the expenditure of a huge slice of the profits of Russia's mineral wealth, it is his team residing on the wrong side of the rail tracks.
What does he do? There is increasing speculation that he will sooner than later step on to the stage of the Mourinho show and say that he wants something more. He wants true excitement at the Bridge, the kind he saw and felt and the Nou Camp whenever Ronaldinho touched the ball. It cannot indefinitely be about developing a cult around an egotistical football coach. The thrill of Chelsea has to be generated by the deeds of great footballers - and whatever the challenge to Mourinho's power, and Kenyon's negotiating skill, they have to be acquired.
This may not be the instinct of Mourinho's "generation". But it still happens to be the lifeblood of football.Reuse content