Never underestimate Jose Mourinho’s ability to insert himself into the middle of the story.
On Friday we were treated to the Manchester United manager’s tribute to Claudio Ranieri – sacked by Leicester City the previous evening. What should have been a straightforward press conference ahead of the EFL Cup final was instead hijacked as a piece of high theatre.
“Probably the season started with the typical selfishness of others,” he said in reference to Leicester’s players and their distinct level of under-performance. “People thinking about new contracts, people thinking about leaving, people thinking about more money, people forgetting who helped them reach a certain level.
“If some of the stories I’m reading are true, or have just a little bit of truth, it’s difficult to find words to justify that.”
There are legitimate gripes within that perspective. Since winning the title, Leicester players have dined out on autobiographies, clothing lines, limited edition rums and even a Hollywood blockbuster in the pipeline. There have been £100,000+ contracts dished out left, right and centre.
What has not been matched this season is the level of desire from that historic year. Leicester’s players simply could not cope with winning and their manager could not cope with training a winning team.
We will never know for sure to what extent Leicester’s players “downed tools” or if indeed Ranieri “lost the dressing room” but, certainly, Ranieri lost the spark. His players carried out his instructions to a tee to win the league title but were left bemused by his changes the season after.
There is no doubt though that Mourinho looked at the situation from the outside and deduced that the same thing was happening to Ranieri as what happened to him at Chelsea.
And that speech on Friday was the speech Mourinho wishes he could have made back when he was sacked by Chelsea – pointing fingers at selfish, traitorous players who undermined their title-winning manager through a lack of effort and desire. It was a speech less about Ranieri and Leicester than it was about Mourinho and his players at Chelsea.
Mourinho is championing the cause of Ranieri in order to express disgust at his own treatment in 2015-16 at Stamford Bridge.
Don't forget, this is the same Ranieri that Mourinho has shown little professional courtesy too. Ranieri was a “loser”, he has said, and "too old to change his ideas". The Italian was a winner of “a Super Cup and other small trophies,” according to Jose.
Since his first spell at Chelsea, Mourinho differentiated himself from Ranieri in terms of winners and losers. Anything Ranieri achieved as Chelsea coach, or in Italy, or Spain, was demeaned. By running his predecessor’s legacy into the ground he was simultaneously talking up his own.
Ranieri was Mourinho’s punch bag for long enough and there was poetic justice that Mourinho faced his Waterloo at Chelsea against Ranieri’s Leicester last season. Ranieri’s revenge culminated in the feel-good football story of the century.
Maybe the title win with Leicester did force Ranieri up a notch in Mourinho’s estimations. Many managers have sympathised with Ranieri since his dismissal but none seemed to have taken the cause as personally as Mourinho - and it's obvious why.
Both coached a team to the league title only to be jettisoned before the following season was out.
The rumours of dressing room unrest in regard to Ranieri’s decision-making echo what happened with Mourinho.
The Special One lost his special powers and players – including the reigning PFA Player of the Year Eden Hazard– were unwilling or unable to match their output from the season before. Ditto Ranieri and his squad including Riyad Mahrez.
Where the consensus on Mourinho was that his time was up and he had to go, Ranieri is being afforded decidedly more sympathy. In the public eye, Mourinho was at fault for failing to defend the league title with Chelsea, while the blame has fallen at the Leicester players' feet. That's because Claudio's perceived as a nice guy, Jose isn't.
Ranieri has borne his suffering with a stoic dignity. Last season Mourinho didn’t. From Ranieri, there was no railing against “weak and naïve” referees. There were no incidents which led to a tribunal against his own medical staff. There were no rants against those who schedule matches, ball boys or his own players like there were with Jose.
Ranieri was so likeable and warm in public that it is difficult to comprehend that he had another side. Aside from the limitations to his tactical thought – which, it is reported, played a key part in his players’ increasing distrust of his stewardship – there were also accusations of fall-outs behind the scenes. There are two sides to every story.
That employees can have disagreements behind the scenes is nothing new. And in the structure at many clubs now the manager is no longer the boss he is just another employee. Mourinho, too, found that out the hard way with Michael Emenalo pointing to the “palpable discord” he left in his wake at Stamford Bridge.
Mourinho is using his platform to demonstrate his own credentials – not necessarily to show the contrast to Ranieri’s anymore, but to show the similarity in both their fates.
It’s all over now and Ranieri finds himself in the position Mourinho was in last year. The players wouldn’t go with him, connived behind his back, overthrew him. But if Ranieri feels that way you can be sure you’ll never hear it in public. That's not his style.
Maybe Jose now realises he, the 'winner', and Ranieri, the 'loser', aren’t so different after all. But he needs everyone to know it.