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Thursday 17 April 2014

Aidan O'Hara: Jose Mourinho's change of face should fool nobody

Anti-diving crusade a cynical ploy to curry favour with officials

Jose Mourinho has railed against cheating players in recent weeks

AS any professional wrestling scriptwriter will tell you, the easiest way to turn from a bad guy to a good guy is to nail your colours to the mast of the masses about a subject which they can work themselves into a frenzy. If the story happens to have far-fetched redemptive qualities that's all the better.

Back in the era when Hulk Hogan was extolling the virtues of his "Three Commandments" – the training, the prayers and the, ahem, vitamins – there was a tag-team called the 'The Bolsheviks' whose waving of Russian flags in the era of the Cold War was so cliched that they could have been called 'The Stereotypes'.

After a few years of taunting the crowd, one of them, Nikolai Volkoff, apparently saw the error of his ways and sang 'Star-Spangled Banner' in front of a patriotic audience and became a flag-waving fans' favourite.

Given his antics over the years, Jose Mourinho must have watched plenty of WWE in his younger days but his recent attempts to turn himself into a good guy are even harder to swallow than a supposed Russian who can be word-perfect with the American national anthem.

Perhaps Mourinho modelled his managerial tendencies on Jake 'The Snake' Roberts, a man respected but never loved by the wrestling masses and whose shifty eyes and desire to win regardless of the consequences made his points listened to but never fully trusted. And the Chelsea manager's recent crusade against diving has the feel of Roberts coming to the ring with a poodle rather than a python.

Infamous

This is the character that Mourinho has created for himself through naming his and Barcelona's team on the day before a game; the infamous incident which saw referee Anders Frisk retire; throwing his Premier League winner's medal into the crowd; the alleged hiding in a laundry basket to circumvent a UEFA ban; running onto the Nou Camp pitch to celebrate Inter's win and a WWE-style raking of Tito Vilanova's eye from behind.

Even last week's pre-Champions League "furious press conference walk-out" (to give it its full, hyperbolic, and incorrect description), had the feel of a scripted promo about it.

All of which, much like wrestling, is entertaining enough but wears a bit thin after a while, which is what makes the new anti-cheating, anti-diving, referee-friendly Mourinho so intriguing.

As if to prove that his anger against Jan Vertonghen for his part in getting Fernando Torres sent off wasn't just the fury of a man with a vested interest, he was back in the sports sections ahead of yesterday's game against Norwich City with a message that was unambiguous.

"I tell my players I hate it (diving). I tell them many times I hate it and I think it is very bad," he insisted. "And players who try to get a red card for another player is, for me, also a disgrace."

Unsurprisingly, for a crusade that is about upholding the value of all things British, Mourinho's comments made the back page of the 'Sunday Express' who reckoned that Mourinho was "waging a war to drive out divers".

This is where he now wants to be, middle England, on the back page of a paper whose daily version modestly calls itself 'world's greatest newspaper' in its masthead and soon, perhaps even today, will lead with a story about Princess Diana on its front page.

Mourinho has never sought this kind of approval from the masses before because winning has always protected him from caring about what others thought.

As far back as 2003, Martin O'Neill bemoaned Porto's "poor sportsmanship, rolling over and time wasting" after losing the UEFA Cup final, to which Mourinho responded by asking "whether the behaviour of the Celtic players was normal in your country".

Winning trophies has always been Mourinho's calling card but being successful, egotistical and confrontational is only acceptable for as long as 'successful' remains part of your characteristics. At Real Madrid, that success dried up and left him isolated and vulnerable.

The perfect storm of his previous behaviour and recent failure in Spain was the primary reason for him being overlooked as a successor to Alex Ferguson – an event which, if a recent book by Spanish journalist Diego Torres is to be believed, saw Mourinho break down in tears on discovering Manchester United had chosen David Moyes.

If Mourinho is successful at Chelsea and does it while upholding righteousness of all things Britannia, he could perhaps manage England in a few years, safe in the knowledge that it won't just be Chelsea supporters who would be happy to see him.

Yet a greater indicator of what he feels about English football can be gleaned from the number of English players he has signed in his time at the club.

Ashley Cole is the one success story but the free transfers of Scott Sinclair and Steve Sidwell, as well as the £21m spent on Shaun Wright-Phillips might, understandably, have put him off for life.

Mourinho might love the values of the British as people, but even a wrestling scriptwriter might struggle to prove that he appreciates their value as players.

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