There is a piece of Chelsea TV footage from Jose Mourinho’s first spell at the club when he is being interviewed at the training ground and, behind him, his two loyal aides, Rui Faria and Andre Villas-Boas, walk past back and forth whispering conspiratorially. It gets to the point where Mourinho realises that there is a joke being played on him and he is not completely happy about it. “Look,” he says, “at these clowns I work with.”
That was those long ago days in the first Mourinho era when they still worked out of temporary cabins while the Cobham training ground was built and a fresh-faced Villas-Boas would earnestly compile dossier after dossier on the opposition. Yesterday at Cobham there was the sense that Villas-Boas, with his frankness about the deterioration of his relationship with Mourinho, had got under the skin of his old mentor.
To put his reaction in context, what needs first to be understood about Mourinho is that he will address any issue, however explosive. There might be a curl of the lip first, or a weary exhalation, but then he almost always wades in. There is none of the point-blank, nae-gettin-into-that, refusenik attitude of Sir Alex Ferguson. What made yesterday so unusual was that Mourinho just flat refused to talk about Villas-Boas.
Whatever it is that Villas-Boas has done to upset Mourinho – won the treble at Porto, taken the Chelsea job, claimed Sir Bobby Robson as his mentor, worn better suits, grown better stubble – it has really got his old boss’s goat.
A day earlier, Villas-Boas had been open about the fact that he and Mourinho, whose inner circle he once belonged to, are no longer on speaking terms. “We had a great personal and professional relationship before, but we don’t have that now,” Villas-Boas said, and then the sting. “I won’t lose any sleep over that.”
If anything sounded like the prelude to a Mourinho feud then it was that. But when it was put to the Chelsea manager, he would not engage. “I’m not keen to discuss relationships with the media,” Mourinho said. “It’s a personal thing, and I’m not here to discuss that. I don’t care about what he says. I’m not here to comment on what he says. I’m not interested.”
Had he been a mentor to Villas-Boas? “I have no idea. Ask him, not me. It’s not my problem. I had so many assistants in my career, I was always an open book to all of them.” Would he share a glass of red from the home country afterwards? “When people invite me, I always go. I never refuse. I never refused in the Premier League when an opposition manager invited me.”
And then, eventually, when the questions did not cease. “It’s enough, enough, enough. I’m not a kid to discuss these kinds of things with the media.” In fact the only time he changed his tune was when he was asked a clunky question by a foreign journalist as to whether the “spirit” of the late Bobby Robson would be at today’s game. “Why? Where has he worked with Andre?” Mourinho replied. “I don’t understand.”
Of course, Villas-Boas never worked with Robson in the same way that Mourinho did but the Spurs manager was effectively a protégé of the Englishman. He grew up in the same apartment block in Oporto where Robson lived and was later put forward for a place on the Lilleshall coaching scheme by the older man.
Later, when he was asked a broader question about his own public profile, Mourinho dropped one of those big hints to his thinking about Villas-Boas. “I would say 90 per cent of the people who speak about me don’t know me. The credibility I give to them, and that others should give, must be the minimum. The people who really know me, their opinion is respectful.
“If they shoot for a positive or a negative way, they should make it public. I have my doubts. If you ask me about some other managers, the ones I don’t know, I have no credibility to speak about. The ones I know, if I like them and have positive things to say, I say with happiness. If I have some reason that I don’t like, that I have something against them, I prefer not to say. It’s a question of personality.”
In other words, Mourinho’s approach to Villas-Boas is that if he cannot find anything nice to say then he will not say anything at all. The two of them are likely to put on a show of cordiality when they meet on the touchline before kick-off today, simply because doing anything else would just not be cool. In fact, it would be perceived as a weakness.
The enmity has long been an open secret but it is blooming into a new Premier League managerial feud. It might even have the fireworks that the great animosities of the past once had. Ferguson v Kenny Dalglish; Ferguson v Arsène Wenger; Mourinho v Wenger; Rafa Benitez v Ferguson have all now largely been ended by retirement or simply fizzled out. Mourinho v Villas-Boas looks like a long-burner.
There will be the added element of Willian’s presence in a Chelsea shirt at White Hart Lane today, a sign that when it comes to the big money and the international profile it is Mourinho’s club who still have the greater draw than their rivals. But the old days of his first spell, when Mourinho would accuse Tottenham of “parking the bus” and playing the underdog are long gone.
“They [Spurs] were the champions of the [summer transfer] market,” said Mourinho, returning to a regular theme of his. “They bought a lot of players, and all of them are international players and players with quality. The squad is very, very good.”
He knows that Villas-Boas will have studied the form of his club just as closely as he has Spurs. He will realise his opposite number will have worked through his tactics and preparation in equal detail. Beating Spurs these days is not like the first time around when he was up against the hapless Jacques Santini, who got a draw against Mourinho’s Chelsea in September 2004.
“They’re big contenders,” said Mourinho of Spurs. And, much to his annoyance, Spurs have a manager who has the benefit of knowing Mourinho’s methods better than any coach he has ever had to face.