Mourinho the charming contradiction

As reunion with his old Porto heroes beckons, football's New Big 'Ead deflates his detractors
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Whatever happened to Jose Mourinho? It was impossible not to ask yourself the question as you arrived at Chelsea's Harlington training base./p>

Whatever happened to Jose Mourinho? It was impossible not to ask yourself the question as you arrived at Chelsea's Harlington training base. What had become of the Mourinho who, in early summer, had arrived at Stamford Bridge in a whirlwind of Portuguese urbanity, all designer suits, hair gelled just so, and complexion so clear the Chelsea manager could have just undergone a makeover by Trinny and Susannah? That character who had been so smug, and witheringly disparaging about Chelsea's rivals, his predecessor, you name it? Could this be the same New Big 'Ead on the block?

He was regarded as possessing the mightiest ego since Brian Clough, and there were other similarities with the former Nottingham Forest, Derby County and Leeds United manager, who died on Monday. Both had managed less vaunted clubs to hoist the "European Cup", even if today's Champions' League, won by Mourinho's Porto last season, is a decidedly different animal to the original competition Clough's Nottingham Forest claimed in 1979 and 1980.

"If I had wanted to be protected in a quiet job, I could have stayed at Porto," Mourinho had declared imperiously on his arrival. He had added, in a manner Clough would have approved: "I would have been second, after God, in the eyes of the fans even if I had never won another thing." He arrived, frankly, like a gift from the gods for us media speculators: charming, opinionated, with a humour so dry it required a barometer to detect it. Few doubted it would be an entertaining ride, just as being alongside Clough had been, whatever the destination.

But already there has been a metamorphosis. To those of us who have been distracted by what may be considered weightier matters, such as as the Olympics and the Ryder Cup, than the early weeks of the Premiership, it was a relief to discover that it has been largely physical. On Friday his features were drawn, the stubble looking anything but designed; though it evidently hasn't taken Mourinho long to acquire a degree of the peevishness required to satisfy the demands of classic Premiership management demeanour. At times, he can make Sir Alex Ferguson look like a man overflowing with generosity of spirit. But then, with Chelsea's initial record, you talk on your own terms.

"In the Champions' League, we have one away victory. We are in a good position to go through [the group stage]," Mourinho said in that dark tone of his which discourages contradiction. "We are second in the League, we are unbeaten. And [he gives a little smile], we are still in the Carling Cup, because, at the moment, West Ham haven't beaten us."

Though Chelsea should ease into the Champions' League knockout phase, their fixtures against Porto will bring into play all the elements present when a manager faces his old club. Despite Porto usurping Benfica as Portugal's leading club, there has been significant asset-stripping since their Champions' League victory in May. Not just the immediate loss of the manager, Mourinho having been inveigled by Roman Abramovich. The departure of Deco, Ricardo Carvalho, Paulo Ferreira - the latter pair of defenders to Chelsea for £33m - have accumulated £45m. But less than half has been spent on the team.

That said, the Spaniard Victor Fernandez, formerly at Zaragoza, Betis and Celta Vigo, who succeeded the Italian Luigi Del Neri, dismissed after two months, suffers no dearth of attacking talent. Mourinho's strategy will have to negate an array of talented personnel, including the Brazilian acquisitions Diego, the former Santos midfielder, and Luis Fabiano. Porto also possess within their armoury Helder Postiga (John Terry will require no reminding of him) and Ricardo Quaresma, Benni McCarthy and Brazilian teenager Carlos Alberto, who scored against Monaco in the Champions' League final. In goalkeeper Vitor Baia, they boast a player, one of only 11, who has won winners' medals in all three European competitions (including the now-defunct Cup-Winners' Cup).

However, Mourinho was almost contemptuous when asked whether the Porto game had already played on his mind. "Not yet," he retorted. "Because I know the opponents, I know the players. I don't have to spend much time studying them. And we have three days to rest."

A rare phenomenon, that. One worth recording for posterity: a managernot complaining about his players being too jaded by Premiership endeavours to do themselves justice in Europe. "We still have three days [after yesterday's win at Middlesbrough] to prepare the players for the Champions' League match," he said. "We don't need to make many changes. Normally, I make one or two every match, and normally I keep the structure, and I will do the same."

However, he stressed that this was no time to dwell on glories past at Porto, where he won two championships and a Uefa Cup as well as that Champions' League trophy. "In football, you have to try to be professional and forget these kind of emotional links." Mourinho dismissed all feelings for his former club. "I will go home after our game at Middlesbrough, and watch Porto on TV. Only then will I start thinking about them.

"I will remember them and my time there before and after the game, but not during. I will not have time. In the same way, they will forget that I am on the opposite bench. There are no friends in football - not for 90 minutes. It's just one more match, no more than that. If we win, it means we have one foot in the next round of the Champions' League."

What we have already learned is that Mourinho will not countenance what he deems irrelevant, or unnecessary, questions. Even the club's own reporter discovered that. It appeared such an inoffensive enquiry, too. After two nil-nils (before yesterday), had the manager thought about how to turn them into victories? "I don't want to be angry with you, because you are a nice guy," Mourinho replied. "So, I have to think about the answer. I just ask you: did you see the games?" The questioner concurred. Mourinho shrugged, as though any further observation was superfluous. "So, you don't need an answer."

And so it continued, the remainder of his press conference in similar tenor. All somehow reminiscent of Clough, who could inflict indignity on those who crossed him as much as he could inspire his personnel. "We just play, do our work, and accept the criticism," concluded Mourinho. "We have to live with it. We don't wait for flowers coming from you. Maybe at the end of the season?"

Whether they will be a bouquet in celebration or to accompany a solemn occasion remains to be seen.