By Liam Twomey
For a man of usually impeccable timing, Jose Mourinho appears to be slipping. The only surprise about his long-awaited return to Stamford Bridge is that neither he nor Chelsea announced it on Sunday – nine years to the day since his first coming.
In the end, Real Madrid president Florentino Perez pre-empted the Blues' official Monday announcement, saying on Sunday evening: “Mourinho is going to Chelsea. Probably on Monday he will be their new manager. We wish him good luck.”
Not the most overwhelming revelation of perhaps the most eagerly anticipated appointment in Premier League history, but few will care.
After all, at long last, Mourinho – and all that entails – is back. Not simply to English football, but to the club where he once ruled it. When he first swaggered into west London as a fresh-faced 41-year-old in June 2004 and proclaimed himself ‘the Special One’, the sheer force of personality took everyone by surprise. This time it is the minimum expected.
What we may find, however, is a slightly more low-key entrance – at least from the man himself. Mourinho, by his own admission, is returning to Chelsea off the back of the worst season of his career. That his phenomenally successful career to date has set an absurdly high standard is beside the point. At Madrid, in his eyes and those of many others, he failed.
Yet for Roman Abramovich, Mourinho's struggles in the Spanish capital may only have made him a stronger candidate to succeed the unpopular Rafa Benitez. Having gone out of his way to make his position at the Santiago Bernabeu untenable, the Portuguese was guaranteed to be available this summer. His messianic status among Chelsea fans also offered a quick route to redemption for a Blues hierarchy which had dared to replace a club legend with a hate figure.
Most compellingly of all, perhaps the only idea more attractive to a ruthlessly ambitious owner than appointing Jose Mourinho is appointing a Jose Mourinho who feels he has a point to prove.
It is a reunion long in the making, and one many thought would never happen. For all the stories of regular text conversations and gratis supercars, few expected Abramovich would ever be willing again to cede the kind of control a man like Mourinho demands. Mourinho, for his part, was believed to have eyes only for Sir Alex Ferguson’s job at Manchester United.
But it also feels like a move which suits all parties. Chelsea have continued to collect trophies for the past seven years – and even reached the pinnacle in Munich last May – but have never projected the same aura of invincibility as under Mourinho, even in Carlo Ancelotti’s double-winning season.
Mourinho, meanwhile, laid his cards on the table last month when he revealed, rather tamely, that he wanted to return to place where he is loved. He is adored at Inter and revered in his homeland, but Chelsea represents the perfect combination of affection and ambition.
He also arrives in time to witness a changing of the guard of ground-trembling proportions at Old Trafford. Ferguson, the man who, as commentator Jonathan Pearce so eloquently put it, “defined the Premier League era by dominating it”, has finally gone.
Succeeding him, David Moyes enjoys a huge opportunity, but also shoulders a monumental burden. Mourinho, along with Manuel Pellegrini at Manchester City, will look to exploit any sign of weakness.
It is a confrontation the media will relish, just as they did when Chelsea’s brash young wondercoach went toe-to-toe with Arsene Wenger, Rafa Benitez and anyone else who crossed his path.
The jokes, the metaphors, the soundbites and the controversies all add up to make Mourinho a journalist’s dream. Even if his relationship with the English press was not always quite as rosy as is sometimes made out, he was – and is – pure box office, and his presence will be ever more greatly appreciated at a time when so many enduring characters are leaving the Premier League.
Whether Abramovich will welcome the return of this side to Mourinho is questionable. A propensity for conflict underpins his legend while preventing him from being able to survive anywhere for long. It is an open secret that Chelsea tired of the Special One’s confrontational demeanour very quickly once results began to dip, and he does not appear to have mellowed in the past nine years.
Compromise, then, must prevail at Stamford Bridge if the relationship between manager and owner is to last. Abramovich must allow Mourinho a louder voice than Ancelotti or Roberto Di Matteo. Mourinho, in turn, must accept that he will not be allowed to build a team entirely in his image, and with no expense spared. This time around the core of Chelsea’s future is already in place, in the form of Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar, and will be so regardless of the manager.
Even Chelsea fans, who have spent the best part of two years trying to serenade Mourinho back to Stamford Bridge, must concede that the realisation of their dream poses a thousand questions.
The only thing for certain is that the man himself will have an answer for every one of them. He always does.
Welcome back, Jose.
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