To all intents and purposes, it will be business as usual for Jose Mourinho. His players have a season-defining fixture at Manchester City, when the summer sand is still between their toes. He will seek to minimise the threat by projecting the forcefield of his personality.
He will plan forensically, manipulate shamelessly, and act decisively. He will be aware of the crowd behind his back, and of the unseen millions watching him work, through television camera lenses which emphasise every nuance of body language and subtle mood swing.
His aim, as ever, will be to set the tone, to impose his authority. Yet, at the end of a week in which he has been systematically diminished by sustained petulance and unseemly arrogance, he is uniquely vulnerable.
He has survived and thrived in controversial circumstances before, so it is natural to assume the storm generated by his questionable isolation of club doctor Eva Carneiro and Jon Fearn, Chelsea’s principal physiotherapist, will soon recede.
Yet, even allowing for the emotional excess of the Premier League, which creates a succession of soap-operatic diversions, this incident seems to have a different tone and texture. His wilful refusal to acknowledge an error of judgement in a delicate area of professional responsibility will return to haunt him.
His achievements demand deference. His status as the pre-eminent strategic coach of his generation is well merited and constantly renewed. Yet he has lost control of the agenda in a manner which hints at a fundamental weakness.
All football managers have their coping strategies which alleviate the loneliness of leadership in a game that magnifies human behaviour. Brendan Rodgers uses Shanklyesque soundbites as a shield in the way Sir Alex Ferguson derived protective perspective from the Govan shipyards.
A more reflective, introspective, character like Mark Hughes seeks self-improvement through online motivational films; Alan Pardew, often accused of excessive self-regard, draws quiet inspiration from his years as a part-time footballer, working on building sites in central London.
Self-awareness is not easy to find; Mick McCarthy has never forgotten the moment he realised his work-life balance had become dangerously skewed, when he vented his frustrations on his children during a Sunday morning drive to Mass.
Where, one wonders, does Mourinho find his solace? How can we reconcile the martinet of recent days with the socially aware father who was moved to the verge of tears during a visit to charity projects in Africa?
No man, however celebrated, is impervious to such concentrated stress that the League Managers Association are seeking reference points in other similarly exposed roles, such as air-traffic controllers, prison warders and heart surgeons.
The intensity of scrutiny is difficult enough without unnecessary focus on a manager’s duty of care. I know from personal experience that the politics of the medical community are febrile, and Mourinho has clearly underestimated the strength and substance of the opposition he faces.
He has been ill-served by apologists, all too ready to insinuate unease and provide florid character references. He has driven blindly into a public-relations car crash of such proportions that personal and professional loyalties are bound to be stretched.
A pattern emerges. Mourinho won the Champions League for Internazionale, but failed to resonate with the wider Italian public. He was loathed in Spain for his crass, confrontational manner and his unpleasant assault on the late Tito Vilanova.
Stamford Bridge had seemed his refuge. His peers concluded, instinctively, that the signing of a new four-year contract on the eve of the season signalled stability and devotion to the creation of a long-term legacy. That now seems premature, at the very least.
Kyrgios needs to wise up
Growing up in public is never easy, since stunted childhoods and warped perspectives are part and parcel of elite sport. Some athletes, like Paul Gascoigne, seem condemned to endure eternal adolescence. Others, like Ronnie O’ Sullivan, progress more comfortably from pantomime rebel to national treasure.
Tennis has, in John McEnroe, the ultimate case study of the brat who became an elder statesman without losing the twinkle in his eye.
I suspect I am not alone in wanting to like Nick Kyrgios, memorably dubbed a “toxic tosser” by one Sydney columnist following his infantile baiting of Stan Wawrinka. Watching him on an outside court at Wimbledon last year, prior to his defeat of Rafa Nadal, was one of those Eureka moments which signal the arrival of a special talent.
Tennis needs someone of his audacity and athleticism but can ill-afford the burden of his juvenile arrogance and sense of entitlement.
The signs he will be indulged because of his importance to Australia’s Davis Cup team in next month’s semi-final against Great Britain in Glasgow, are ominous.
Kyrgios needs to listen not to self-interested advocates like Wally Masur, his Davis Cup captain, but to achievers like Andy Murray, who is in the minority willing to offer him the benefit of the doubt, with significant reservations.
McCaw defines his nation
England go into the World Cup with an asinine social-media campaign imploring the rugby public to “Carry Them Home”. New Zealand will arrive on the broad shoulders of Richie McCaw.
You don’t have to be an expert to appreciate the best method of transport. One glimpse of the All Blacks captain, nose bloodied and hair matted with sweat, as he enjoyed a standing ovation of unprecedented intensity at Eden Park yesterday was enough.
McCaw’s record 142nd Test appearance was cut short when he was substituted to save Australia from further punishment. A 41-13 win ensured the odds on his career ending appropriately, with victory in the World Cup final at Twickenham in October, were slashed accordingly.
The purists understand his is a talent which transcends traditional boundaries. A newer, wider audience will respond to his humility and discipline. He is that rarity, a neutral’s favourite who defines his nation. More power to him.
- More about:
- Chelsea F.c.