AN OLD Harry Hill gag saw him impersonating an irrepressible Italian waiter and I can’t get the catchphrase out of my head.
This is because I’m imagining the pasta-joint meeting between Roman Abramovich and Jose Mourinho which is supposed to have clinched the latter’s return to Chelsea. The newspaper account of it carried a “world exclusive” tag and the byline of one of Mourinho’s principal cheerleaders in the English football meeja.
This journo, an entertaining chap for his turns on Sky Sports’ Sunday Supplement, often regales us with stories about the late-night meals he and “Jose” share. This time I’m presuming he left the Special One and the Chelski supremo to it. But how would he get such a story? Only one thing to do – don a starched white shirt and bow-tie and fuss around their table, which is where the Harry Hill catchphrase would come in useful.
“Black pepper? Parmesan? Red rose for the lady?” Oh, and stick a microphone on the end of the giant pepperpot to record every momentous word.
Fair play to the scribbler, even if he didn’t quite go to such lengths, and I’ve no reason to doubt that he’s on good terms with Mourinho. At Chelsea the first time around, the hack-pack loved him. He gave great quotes, and wore a great coat. He was a controversialist but he also delivered. Five trophies in three seasons. Last week brought a third successive failure with Real Madrid at the semi-final stage of the Champions League, the competition which defines that club. “Here some people hate me,” he said during the post-match press conference, “and many of you are in this room.” So why wouldn’t a manager go where he’s loved?
Now, I’m sure that the memory of some knockabout Friday morning briefings in London won’t be the sole reason he might be about to get reacquainted with Stamford Bridge. And no matter how seductive Abramovich’s company was the other night – no matter how memorable the Marsala and how attentive the “staff” – there are surely other considerations for Mourinho before he commits to going back.
Most importantly, you should never go back. It doesn’t work, in football or in that other dimension, yes, life. Kenny Dalglish tried it at Liverpool and ended up getting the sack. Dalglish won a trophy and was runner-up in another domestic competition, which is a whole lot more than his successor has achieved this season, a man who says he needs time to put right past mistakes – but that’s a whole other column. Suffice to say, second acts are far more complicated than the returnee thinks. You assume you can pick up where you left off, but you’re chasing a memory, a feeling, which is no longer as you remember it. Second time around John Terry doesn’t look quite so comely, even in a restaurant’s cleverly subdued lighting. You end up tainting your legacy, or someone else comes along and does the tainting.
There are other issues. Mourinho likes to spend, buying proven talent rather than bringing through his own, but Abramovich no longer has the deepest pockets in the land, or is no longer prepared to fish right down to the bottom of them. And don’t forget financial fair play.
Then there’s the matter of what Abramovich likes.
He’s a difficult man to read, for sure, but hasn’t he got rid of some of Mourinho’s successors because they didn’t adhere to the beautiful game? Abramovich got bored with simply winning. Winning with style was the thing. Mourinho’s teams, while not without verve, always come with massive physical clout. He’s the kind of manager who’ll criticise his players for not fouling Borussia Dortmund’s four-goal Robert Lewandowski, knowing this will goad grinning enforcer Sergio Ramos – an Iberian version of film-noir granny-mugger Richard Wydmark – into sustained thuggery in the return. Maybe Abramovich, with his ball-dinking Three Amigos, doesn’t want that kind of thing anymore. After all, he tried desperately to woo Pep Guardiola.
He was desperate to win the Champions League as well but now that’s been done, albeit with zero flair. Mourinho will want to lift it again, too, but Chelsea Mk II doesn’t seem like the style of a man who needs to always be making a bigger splash, in a brand new town.
Unless. . . unless he’s trying to rewrite the rules. If you’re Special enough, you can go back. Waiter, another bottle please!