Since English football first made Jose Mourinho's acquaintance more than a year ago he has humbled Manchester United in the Champions' League, he has taken Arsenal's Premiership title and he has established a third dominant force in the country. The prospect of encountering Mourinho in the wake of Chelsea's shattering defeat on Tuesday felt like a meeting with a man to whom one had not yet been introduced.
He came to Anfield's Trophy room within 20 minutes of the final whistle, he waited patiently for someone to find the switch that turned off the piped music and when, after a few gentle enquiries, he was gracelessly asked whether he was still "the special one", Mourinho pounced. "Of course," he replied. "You want to try to succeed in your job like I have in mine? In three years? You have no chance."
If there had been any fears over whether Mourinho's great ambition and self-conviction might survive the first major defeat of a stellar managerial career, then they were stylishly, and ruthlessly, ended there. In truth, Mourinho in defeat resembled very closely Mourinho in victory. A challenging, forceful character who pushed the limits of his criticism of officials as far as he legitimately could and at the same time fought a tenacious rearguard battle in defence of his players.
It has taken European football nine months to rein in Chelsea but it has taken more than three years for the same forces to end the personal winning streak of Mourinho. So while Tuesday night was a chance to celebrate the glory of the underdogs, it should also not be forgotten that it was from exactly the same inauspicious circumstances that Mourinho himself rose. He is a coach who has, undoubtedly, earned his place among the new élite but there can be no denying that both he, and his Chelsea team, will be due some degree of re-invention after this latest defeat.
The announcement that Mourinho has extended his original three-year contract by a further three years to last until 2010 will begin that process by taking the edge off the tension that has existed at times between the coach and the club's hierarchy during a hectic year. The struggle to define influence within the club has reached some form of impasse now that Mourinho has temporarily relinquished his most potent bargaining tool: the threat to quit.
Asked to describe his feelings on the dawn of his first defeat Mourinho was serene. "I feel good," he said. "I cannot complain about the success I have had. I cannot complain about my players, my career or to God because I believe in him and he is always there with me. I am just sad. But tomorrow is another day and I will be preparing for next season."
Those close to him in Portugal said yesterday that the Chelsea coach would have nursed many regrets, not least the chance that he believed he might get to avenge another rare defeat in his career. At the very start of last season his Porto team lost the Supercup final - contested by the winners of the European and Uefa Cups - to Milan. For Mourinho there is still the question of unfinished business with that other European coach of great reputation, Carlo Ancleotti.
That will have to wait. Defeat to Liverpool laid bare a few truths that have been slowly dawning at Stamford Bridge over the last few weeks and they started with the performance of Didier Drogba in attack that has become Chelsea's most obvious deficiency. The £24m striker is a goalscorer of a certain standard, but whether that standard is equivalent to the humbling levels which Mourinho's Chelsea now demand is a question that is raised every time Drogba faces a defence that includes a player as good as Jamie Carragher.
By comparison with his team-mates, Drogba suffers. But of the 16 goals he has scored this season, only three have come when both Damien Duff and Arjen Robben have not been in the team. Mourinho did not hesitate to point out on Tuesday night that a team configured to play with wingers is set at a great disadvantage if it does not have any fit wingers at its disposal - as was the case against Liverpool. Whether Chelsea should have a striker who can score goals in whatever formation he finds himself in is another question that will require Mourinho's attention this summer.
The obvious candidate will be Adriano, 23, the Internazionle striker who even conservative estimates have rated at a price in excess of the record £45m Real Madrid paid for Zinedine Zidane four years ago. As a transfer undertaking it would rate as the most protracted, not to mention expensive, that Roman Abramovich's Chelsea have ever undertaken and the sheer size of the price they would be forced to pay might just discourage Mourinho.
He is acutely aware that all that he hope to achieve with Chelsea could be undermined if the club's capacity for buying success is allowed to run away with itself. As the home fans just yards from Abramovich in the Anfield directors' box were at pains to express, Chelsea's recent success has been built primarily on their ability to pay rather than a long and glorious history of achievement. The unqualified success of the homegrown John Terry, and the pre-Abramovich signing Frank Lampard have taken the edge off that criticism.
There is no doubt that Mourinho could request his club's billionaire owner to make Internazionale's president Massimo Morratti an offer he could not possibly refuse for Adriano but would he want to do so? It would mean the discarding of a player for whom he had already broken the club transfer record and, for a coach who has built his success on the nurturing of talent, that could prove a bitter compromise to make.
Mourinho wounded by defeat will no doubt prove a daunting opponent, but he is still unlikely to abandon the principles that made Tuesday's outcome such a rare experience.Reuse content