FIRST rule of journalism – know your readers. But there’s someone even more important than you lot and that’s the Sports Editor’s mother, which explains why this week’s column is all about Jose Mourinho.
She’s very taken with the Special One, his good looks, charm, wit and the cut of his suits. “That coat’s from Ma-ta-lan!” Manchester City fans once sang at him, to the tune of the “Jose Mour-een-eeoh!” But they were just jealous.
It’s good for England’s top league that he’s back, not least because the “Prem” doesn’t quite seem like the “best league in the world” (© Clive Tyldesley, although other cheerleaders could also lay claim) at the moment and being able to attract football’s greatest controversialist a second time will make everyone feel better about themselves.
The man is Portuguese, obviously, but you could say England is where he belongs.
This is a league which is a lot about bluster, hype, controversy, excess, aggro, pouting, swanking, boasting, ludicrous allegations, ludicrous expense, club-before-country, foreign-before-native, short-termism, bigshot-ism, big-man-up-front-ism, fast-car-waiting-round-the-back. . .
What is Mourinho if not reasonably familiar with all of these distinguishing features? They didn’t really like them in Spain but they love ’em in England. The man is a drama. No, he’s an opera. And what is “Jose Mour-een-eeoh” if not from an opera (Rigoletto)?
All season long the newspaper journos on Sky Sports’ Sunday Supplement have been pining for the return of the biggest headline-maker they’ve ever had. Then, when they were exclusively revealing he would be back for 2013/14, the only issue remaining was where in the top three he’d land – Manchester United, Manchester City or Chelsea?
Some were confidently predicting he’d succeed Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford, especially after the big, fat love-in which replaced the usual preliminaries before Man U and Real Madrid’s Champions League clashes. But they seemed to forget that Man U had already considered Mourinho too mercurial, maybe even too mad – and not sufficiently interested in developing young players. And they seemed to forget it was after that assessment when he stuck a finger in the eye of a Barcelona assistant coach.
Chelsea are the kind of club where you can hound a referee (Anders Frisk) out of football by falsely accusing him of collusion with Barça and inciting death threats from the support’s moronic element. A better fit? It seems that way when you think of how morose Mourinho looked in the Bernabeu’s sunken dugouts. This wasn’t just standard Jose sulking, it was more than that, and how the sun always seemed to shine on him first time round at Stamford Bridge (even though it shines on all their coaches, however briefly they linger, because of the angle on the stands).
But, don’t forget, he doesn’t want to be there. That stuff about coach and club snuggling up again being like a reunion of old lovers with a special amour that simply won’t die? Just a good line. He wanted Man U and, what’s more, Roman Abramovich wanted Pep Guardiola. Jennifer Aniston has made an entire career out of less clunky romcom scenarios involving fewer forced smiles than the one which has hustled Mourinho back to SW3.
What’s Jose up to? I know he says he wants to be where he’s loved and that this Chelsea love is real but were the club really the only show in town? Maybe – and whisper this if you’re anywhere near an old Shed skinhead – Chelsea will merely do for now. Perhaps he still dreams of getting to Old Trafford one day and this is why he didn’t opt for Man City because that would have really ruined his chances.
He talks of having “matured”, with the inference that he won’t be beautifully bored after a couple of seasons and is determined to see out the contract’s full four. However long he stays, it probably won’t be dull. He’s inheriting a team with a pulsating midfield of artistic little guys that was meant for Guardiola and no force-of-nature, made-of-teak, simulation freak of a striker up front. The old guard are even older now, and Abramovich has made it clear he won’t be able to walk into the transfer market as if Harrods had been closed for him and buy what he wants.
And yet he’ll probably win the league, pretty straight-forwardly, to the delight of the makers of his classy coat and my boss’s mum.