Jose Mourinho's season has been defined by disputes and measured out in confrontations, but as he stood at the brink of a historic Premiership title yesterday, the Chelsea manager conceded that he had made mistakes and vowed to let his players take the spotlight from now on.
In his most frank discussion yet of a remarkable season at Stamford Bridge, Mourinho said that the time had come for him to temporarily withdraw from the public gaze and allow his team to take the plaudits. But as Chelsea face Fulham today knowing that victory could see them crowned champions as early as Monday, Mourinho's chief executive, Peter Kenyon, refused to end speculation surrounding his club's controversial pursuit of Ashley Cole.
Asked whether his club could rule out signing Manchester United's Rio Ferdinand after he was photographed with the defender in restaurant, Kenyon said that he could "guarantee" that Chelsea were not interested in signing him. When he was asked to give the same guarantee about Cole, over whom Chelsea have been charged by the Premier League for making an illegal approach, Kenyon refused to comment.
However, it was the misgivings from Mourinho, speaking at the launch of Chelsea's partnership with the children's cancer charity CLIC Sargent, about his confrontational approach to life in the Premiership which stole the show. The Chelsea manager said that after disputes with Uefa, Barcelona, Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsenal and even his own club, he would now be trying to keep a lower profile.
"When people say something about my team, or my players or my club, sometimes I feel I don't have to fight back," he said. "I don't have to be involved in fights every day or every week. I am not saying that I don't like a fight sometimes that's my nature but I think I have learned I must be in control of the situation and not react.
"For example this morning I was preparing myself to speak to the press and I was expecting a question about Sir Alex and now I am prepared to say I don't want to comment. Sometimes I feel I don't have to be involved every day. I was involved almost every day in the press, I was criticised by other managers, players
and institutions but at the end of the day what matters is the club and my image is not important."
Chelsea's 11-point lead in the Premiership will mean that if they beat Fulham and Arsenal fail to beat Tottenham on Monday, Stamford Bridge will have its first title in 50 years. Arjen Robben, who has made one substitute's appearance since 2 February, will play against Fulham.
"At the end of the season I hope we will be champions and that will be the time for me to disappear because I want the players to enjoy themselves," Mourinho said. "I want them to be the faces of the success. I have made mistakes. I can analyse the situation from the wrong point of view but I have always tried to do the best for my team. I look forward to the day when we are mathematically champions because I want to see the happiness of the team they deserve that happiness."
Although Mourinho conceded that he came to England last summer with a fearsome reputation after consecutive Uefa Cup and Champions' League triumphs with Porto, he admitted that the first few months were tough. As a new manager up against the established might of Ferguson and Arsène Wenger he said there was pressure on his team as they tried to adapt to his style of play.
"It was a psychological fight for my players to understand that was the way I wanted them to play," he said. "I told them not to be scared and not to be influenced by what people say or that Chelsea were being called 'boring'. And 'boring Chelsea' are not boring any more. We went on a run [mid-November into December] where we scored a lot of goals and that was a beautiful period for us."
Mourinho confirmed that he had two years left on his contract, and he also hinted that his agent, Jorge Mendes, "might have had" discussions with the club. "There are no reasons for me to want to go," he said. "I'm sure the club want me to stay and they have no reason to sack me. I am very happy with everything around me especially the players."
He repeated his chief executive's insistence that the club did not want to sign Ferdinand because Chelsea had the "best central defenders in England". Should Arsenal hand his club the title on Monday night, Mourinho said it would be similar to his last championship with Porto, when the team were told the news in their hotel and celebrated "with champagne in the swimming pool".Reuse content