Since the restoration to the Chelsea throne of Jose Mourinho offers a comic element to go with the distaste he engenders in godly folk, we begin with the gag of which it reminds me. It is Christmas night in the home of a poor but fecund couple, and the father has given each of the seven sons who sleep at the other end of the marital bed a tin helmet for their present. He’s had a few, and with every drunken toss and turn, the kids are shaken from side to side so that the helmets fall off. They are finally dropping off when the old man declares: “Bridget, you are as lovely today as the day I first married you.” And from the end of the bed, a little voice pipes up: “Hang on to your bleeding helmets, lads, here we go again.”
This is where we are with Mourinho. Just when you’re drifting off, with the Premier League sunken drowsily into mediocrity and Sir Alex Ferguson away to spend more time with his race horses, his wedlock to Roman Abramovich is reborn. From the understandably joyous media reaction – whatever you think of him, he doesn’t half give good copy – one might mistake this for the second coming of the Burton-Taylor rematch. For all the Portuguese’s insistence that he has matured since his last stint at Stamford Bridge, the psychodrama will surely resume after its five year hiatus.
In September 2007, after a protracted bout of marital sniping, Abramovich posed himself the Dionne Warwick question, and concluded that, in fact, he did know the way to can Jose. He fired him, and a wounded Mourinho departed first to Inter Milan, and then Real Madrid, to confirm himself as among the greatest football coaches who ever lived.
Now we find the star-crossed lovers conjoined again, though it may not be quite the romance they would have us believe. The one Abramovich really wanted was Pep Guardiola, but Pep preferred the calmer atmosphere at Bayern Munich to the One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest charms of Chelsea. And the one Mourinho truly coveted was Manchester United, but that club decided that it could do without the madness, and went, in the staid form of David Moyes, for the anti-Mourinho instead.
The middle aged must often learn to live with romantic disappointment and settle for second best, and we wish Abramovich and Mourinho only happiness as they retie the knot. How long it will be before one attempts to fashion it into a noose around the other’s neck, time will tell. But anyone who takes the 4-1 odds against Mourinho seeing out all four years of his lavish contract would require urgent psychiatric attention.
It is a stark fact of life that the massively successful, whatever their field, tend to suffer an undiagnosed personality disorder. Mourinho’s is the uber-narcissism that led him, on arriving in Milan, to remind an interviewer that “even Jesus isn’t loved by everybody”.
Although even Christ had his strops, as when cursing the fig tree, the comparison is difficult to sustain. The Son of God would neither have circumvented a Uefa ban by entering the Chelsea dressing room hidden in a laundry basket, you feel, nor forced a Swedish referee, Anders Frisk, to retire by falsely accusing him of collusion with Barcelona and inciting death threats from less genteel elements among the Chelsea faithful. Nor would He have channelled the disgusting chants aimed at Arsene Wenger by calling him “a voyeur”, and then feigned little boy innocence to deny the obvious intent.
A more familiar point of reference is Brian Clough, another strikingly good-looking, clever, delusional, occasionally amusing and endlessly brilliant coach (primarily, like Mourinho, in the defensive arts) before the vodka bottle took its toll. Yet the distinction goes beyond alcohol consumption. Cloughie was an absolute football purist who would not tolerate his players cheating. The ultimate cynic, Mourinho’s first Premier League-winning Chelsea side contained two men, Arjen Robben and Didier Drogba, whose incessant and bemusing collapses to the turf would, in any context not involving the conning of referees, have alerted a decent GP to the possibility of labyrinthitis or other balance-compromising condition of the inner ear.
Whether Mourinho’s paranoia is real or a means of creating the bunker mentality beloved of football coaches, his screeching complaints about refs being in league with his opponents became as wearing as the win-at-any-price mentality. The Spanish media came to loathe him with the mirror image of the adoration felt for him in English football, where the intellect bar is not set high. Simply for being reliably quotable, he is celebrated as quite the Mark Twain in much the way the smartest Big Brother contestant is lionised as Isaiah Berlin reincarnate for being able to fill in a passport application form.
If he has matured “as a coach”, as he claims, there was no need. He was astonishingly good, both technically and as a motivator, when he left Chelsea in 2007. If he has matured “as a man”, it came recently. Some 18 months ago, he was caught on camera gouging the eye of a Barcelona assistant coach at the end of an El Classico game, and then calling him not by his first name of Tito, but “Pito”, the Spanish slang for penis.
Perhaps his trophy-less final season in Madrid has made him grow up, or perhaps the modesty with which he portrays himself as just another Chelsea fan is the transient, affected humility of one who needs time to regain the definite article and upper case letters that promoted him from his own estimation as “a special one” to “The Special One” of the media’s. On the Gordon-Brown-entering-Downing-Street principle that no one can transform their personality in middle age, it would be optimistic to trust in the prince of petulance’s metamorphosis into a wise statesman. But he will throw the droning verities and regurgitated semi-clichés of his rivals into sharpest relief for as long as he avoids the pay-off that is Abramovich’s cushioned version of exile to his native Siberia.
On the basis that post-match analyses will be less soporific with the madman back in town – and with the rider that the return of Charles II was not an unqualified success – one reluctantly welcomes the Mourinho Restoration. But the noise will be deafening, so best pad out the tin helmets with earplugs, and hold on tight, boys and girls, because here we go again.
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