ONE the oddest stories to appear in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Jose blowing itself out of Chelsea’s Cobham training complex, out of leafy, gated Surrey and surely out of English football for good, was the one concerning how to get Mourinho straight back into English football. He’d love the national team job, claimed the piece, and more than that he’d love the Manchester United job.
My first thought was: hasn’t he had enough and, more anxiously, haven’t we had enough? Of the fighting, the flouncing, the monstering, the extraordinarily long post-match interviews, the extraordinarily short ones, the referee baiting, the doctor baiting, the ball-boy baiting, the Champions League-grade sulking, the Beazer Homes League-grade contrition and all the bloody rest of it?
The Man U job isn’t even available. I mean, it might be soon and probably should be soon. Louis van Gaal spending £250 million to deliver sideways passing is the shoddy equal of Mourinho allowing champs to become chumps within a few short months.
Then I thought: Old Trafford is where he should have gone when he returned to England. A proper club with a proper history and a proper support. Never go back, they say. I don’t want to go to Chelsea, sang Elvis Costello. Well, Mourinho went back to Stamford Bridge and it was the same – the threat of total domination, at least domestically, as before – and then it wasn’t the same. Mourinho was the same – as charming, smart-suited and bonkers box-office as before – and then he wasn’t the same.
Mourinho seemed as if he was being fitted up for Man U before. Then – this was while at Real Madrid – he assaulted a member of Barcelona’s coaching staff and the Old Trafford hierarchy took as dim a view of that as the Barca man must have done, given he’d just been jabbed in the eye. No, they didn’t want any of that.
That was Man U, a great club, rejecting a controversialist, a bolter, a manager who didn’t believe in legacy, a coach who mistrusted youth. Maybe clubs like Real and Chelsea with their chaos and bling – great in terms of what they could win but generally unloved – were more Mourinho’s thing. But look at United now. Van Gaal has doused the Bovril in bromide. He’s killing the passion. You’d never think that this was once the playground of the fifth Beatle with his own-design Stylo Matchmakers and his twisted-blood dribbling, for all that the wings are ever used these days.
The Old Trafford vacancy doesn’t yet exist but judging by that panicky story, the chroniclers of “the Prem” don’t want Mourinho to leave England and are examining all other options on his behalf. This, after all, is a league dominated by foreign influence and its camp-followers are never anything other than goggle-eyed when the latest hot talent arrives from abroad and opens up his bag of tricks.
Show us your time-out, LVG! Or your goalie substitution just before the shoot-out! These two acts from last year’s World Cup – the water-break called by Van Gaal when in charge of Holland, which caused a winning Mexico to lose momentum, and the keeper change which unnerved Costa Rica – had normally hard-nosed observers drooling when the Dutchman appeared, clipboard at the ready.
Now, with the talent of Angel Di Maria having been mis-managed, some are saying that LVG is dourly old-fashioned and that, really, they suspected this, because apart from that early thrashing of Spain which was obviously freaky, Holland were pretty boring.
The new, exotic showman who everyone loves has pitched up at Liverpool. If the Prem was a circus – come on, I think you can visualise it as such – the billing on the board outside the tent would read: “Roll up, roll up! The amazing Jurgen Klopp re-invents Kop mythology! Watch him instruct the players to run towards it holding hands!”
Circus Prem will plonk a manager in the middle of the ring and give him a fancy whip to crack but if they don’t cut it – even just seven months after a title win – then they’ll be fired from a cannon. But if there’s the sense that Klopp and Pep Guardiola are in possession of the modern smarts that everyone likes, and that Van Gaal is past it while Mourinho’s mayhem has just become too exhausting, how should we remember the bold Jose? He announced himself to England while manager of Porto by sprinting along the Old Trafford touchline, coat flapping, and the crowd wondered: “What’s his hurry? Where’s he going?” They found out soon enough that it was Chelsea. Fans at rival clubs teased the self-anointed Special One with the chant, “That coat’s from Matalan!”, but they could see the man had style. The coat was big enough for him to gather his most trusted players under it, telling them: “You guys are with Jose and together we fight and fight!”
The team powered its way to domestic honours but not quite the Champions League before Mourinho fell out with Roman Abramovich, whose chequebook had been so readily available to him. For a second time after Porto, Europe’s crown would come to Mourinho with Inter Milan, where he demonstrated how Lionel Messi and those infernal flairists of Catalonia could be beaten, despite only 35 per cent possession.
When he returned to Chelsea, Abramovich hoped for style on the park, not just in the dugout, and Mourinho, re-christening himself the Happy One, seemed willing to try. He bought Cesc Fabregas from under the nose of Arsene Wenger, a man he never tired of trying to trump, and for a while Chelsea were pleasing on the eye. They couldn’t keep it up for the whole season, but no matter: their rivals all under-performed.
And then? This group – Mourinho started the fad for terming the team thus – showed themselves to be not as steely-strong as the previous one. The manager blasted and fumed. He threw looks which could turn those within range to stone (but not John Stones into a Chelsea player, a replacement for John Terry, allowed to carry on too long). The manager ranted and raved but it was no use. The coat – the amazing scheme-coat – had lost its potency and Mourinho had no magic left.
The Machiavellian One has become the Sacked One and the Stamford Bridge psycho-drama (in two acts) is over. His players will recover form and play for the new guy, until such time as they don’t – such is Chelsea tradition. Meanwhile, are Man U in need of a Pep-up? Or, if that coat was to be glimpsed again at Old Trafford, flapping flirtatiously, would the response really be: “No way, Jose?”