Nine years older, wiser and seemingly more reserved, the Portuguese boss insists he is ready to create stability and a legacy at Stamford Bridge - but how long will it go on for?
By Liam Twomey
The scene was set. Some 250 journalists, photographers and other miscellaneous bodies packed out the Harris Suite of Stamford Bridge, many of them a good hour before the “main event” was due to begin, all awaiting with baited breath the return of ‘the Special One’. He never showed.
Instead, the latest media incarnation of Jose Mourinho we were greeted with was ‘the Happy One’ – nine years older, wiser and, if his words are to be believed, remarkably more reserved.
“Time flies,” he reflected. “It looks like it was a couple of days ago but it was nine years ago, and since then lots of things happened in my professional life.
“I have the same nature. I’m the same person, with the same heart, same kind of emotions relating to football and my job, but I’m also a different person. In this moment I describe myself as a very happy person. It’s the first time I arrive in a club I already love. It’s a new kind of feeling.”
It was not the biggest surprise. Mourinho, after all, has gone to great lengths to lay the foundations for his new persona in recent weeks, both in his final media commitments with Real Madrid and the brief mission statement included in the press release circulated on his appointment.
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There was also a sense of history being rewritten, as Mourinho insisted that his relationship with Roman Abramovich never reached breaking point, even in those fractious last few weeks in September 2007. “It was a mutual agreement which we thought was best for both of us,” he insisted. “It was difficult for both, but if there was a break of relationship I wouldn’t be here today.”
In self-analysis Mourinho gave off mixed messages, insisting that the fire which has made him one of the most coveted and successful managers in the world still burns bright, while actively trying to avoid the kind of self-aggrandisement and slick soundbites which stunned and charmed the British press in equal measure nine years ago.
Yet the spikiness still simmered just below the serene veneer, emerging whenever he was required to defend his less than perfect record at Real Madrid, or brush off Andres Iniesta’s claim he had “damaged Spanish football” during his turbulent time at Santiago Bernabeu. “I damaged Spanish football by being the manager to break Barcelona’s dominance,” he replied with an icy stare.
Mostly though, Mourinho projected exactly the image he wanted. There were the expected words of respect for the recently retired Sir Alex Ferguson and former colleagues Steve Clarke and Brendan Rodgers, but also more surprisingly for prodigal protege Andre Villas-Boas, as well as long-time enemies Arsene Wenger, Manuel Pellegrini and Rafa Benitez.
Abramovich himself, of course, was not present, but Bruce Buck and Ron Gourlay eagerly watched the compliments and niceties flow from a shadowy end of the room.
That they monitored events from the sidelines rather than sharing the limelight was the first of what will have to be many delicate compromises necessary to ensure this uneasy reunion of dysfunctional club and combustible coach is to last.
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There was no mention of Michael Emenalo, or of the complex and imposing management structure that has undermined a succession of Chelsea coaches. Instead, Mourinho spoke only of shared goals, a shared philosophy and a shared happiness with his former club. We have seen too many times, however, that the word of the manager is far from gospel at Stamford Bridge.
Mourinho knows he has work to do, in every area and at every level, if he is to survive, and he did not shirk an invitation to talk of his responsibilities, even to a fanbase which already idolises him. “I didn’t choose a comfortable position for my career,” he added. “I’m coming with the opposite perspective. Expectations are higher because people know what I can deliver.
“I know we have special fans and a special club. I want to be respected for what I did before, but I want to be loved for what I do now.”
The media, meanwhile, will watch with considerable interest in the coming weeks and months to see if the man they once knew really has changed. Mourinho was certainly not ‘the Happy One’ in Spain, perhaps because he was fundamentally unhappy. Managers, players and referees will all test his cool over the course of what promises to be an enthralling season.
For now, though, both Mourinho and Chelsea are happy again. For now.
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