Mourinho's bark muted as Chelsea lack old bite
Portuguese reining in provocateur antics as he rebuilds for next season and beyond, writes Dion Fanning
Towards the end of the television people's time with Jose Mourinho on Friday, he was asked by a French reporter if he would give some advice to Pascal Dupraz. Dupraz is the coach of Evian who, in response to criticism from another coach, said he would only take advice from Jose Mourinho. Mourinho, as he often does, turned it into a story about himself. There were always critics in the world, he replied, sometimes they might even have a valid point or two. If things got really bad, a coach could stop talking to the media, like he had in Madrid, but it was important that a manager knows his own mind and he must learn how to live with the criticism. "The dog barks and you keep walking."
No manager has generated more man-bites-dog stories than Jose Mourinho. If the dog has barked, he has engaged with it, fought with it and wrestled it to the ground. Then, and only then, has he kept walking.
At the moment, things are different. Mourinho has seemed weary this season. There is a reason that so much time is given to debating Mourinho psychology and it is that he is always thinking about it. He is a "born provocateur" as the Barcelona paper Sport once described him. This season, he seems unwilling for too much provocation or perhaps he feels his team cannot match his fighting words. This is a team Mourinho feels will be "phenomenal", but not yet.
Tomorrow night, he returns to the Emirates and another meeting with Arsene Wenger. It may be that Mourinho is more mature now but there is nothing of his old attitude in his comments about Arsenal. "It's not me against Wenger. It is my Chelsea against his Arsenal."
Last week, he talked to Andre Villas-Boas as well, a discussion that might have surprised those who spent some time analysing the details of their friendship earlier in the season.
"I don't speak about the case. I say, 'Come on, the world didn't finish. Tomorrow is another day and another job will come so Happy Christmas'."
He wouldn't talk about the details of AVB's sacking but nothing would surprise him and every club was different, every club was unhappy in its own way.
Mourinho's Chelsea may be more similar to Wenger's Arsenal than some imagine. On Friday, Mourinho stressed that Chelsea will be an outstanding team one day.
"I think next year Chelsea will have a phenomenal team. I think between the work we are doing and the evolution of the players and a couple of clinical signings to complete the puzzle you are building . . . I think that Chelsea next season will have a very good team."
This season they can go level on points with leaders Liverpool with victory tomorrow but Mourinho will stress transition while insisting that his teams must always win.
"If this was another club with a different profile, everybody would say 'Ok, let's wait and work calmly, the results will come in the near future'," he said last week. "We are not like that. We don't want to be like that. We want to build, but at the same time we want to fight for titles."
On Friday, he explained why Chelsea could still challenge for the title. It was Manchester City's fault.
"It is a consequence of what the Premier League is at the moment. I hope people understand me in the right way because I want to be positive and not negative. In normal conditions, Man City should be far from the others. Because the squad, the maturity, the stability of the players, the potential of the striking force, the experience of the players. There is a difference. But the Premier League is difficult for everyone and also for them. So in this moment, everybody's there, good fun."
On his return to England, Mourinho praised English football for many things, one of which was Arsenal's patience in going so long without a trophy, which was a Mourinho compliment as it wasn't much of a compliment at all.
Last week, Chelsea were knocked out of the Capital One Cup by Sunderland, the week before they lost to Stoke and in between they have struggled to beat Crystal Palace. Over Christmas they play Arsenal and Liverpool before meeting Manchester United in January. If Arsenal need to make a statement, Chelsea could do with one as well. They have beaten Manchester City at home but have lost to Everton and drawn with Spurs and United away.
Mourinho has wondered about his strikers but his team can't keep clean sheets and they show a weakness at set-pieces which is not common in a Mourinho side. This may not yet be a Mourinho side.
Nobody can wonder if Arsenal is Arsene Wenger's side. There may have been a notable change in the summer when they signed Mesut Özil. Mourinho worked with him at Madrid and says he is a player you buy to "complete the puzzle".
Arsenal face their toughest tests over the coming weeks to remain at the top of the table but Mourinho has seen a change.
"There are many ways to improve your team. One of the ways is to work in people and give them time to grow up and improve. Another way is to go directly to the market and to buy one of these end-product players. For me, the correct one is to have both. If you are just building, building, building, probably you never get there. He bought an important player who changed his team. Eight years developing these players and turning Walcott, Gibbs and Ramsey from boys to men and at the same time buying people like Mesut."
Mourinho sees Özil as a "phenomenal" player and if Arsenal could beat Chelsea they would silence some of the criticism following away defeat at both Manchester clubs.
Those doubts will accompany them until they claim a trophy. Mourinho has left Chelsea, gone to Italy, Spain and returned to England to find that Arsenal haven't won a trophy in that time.
Arsenal are in a position this season and Mourinho was more inclined to see them as title contenders than Wenger. "Perhaps that is a strategy but deep in their souls they think they can and they believe they have the conditions to do it."
What Mourinho believes is harder to figure out and what Roman Abramovich wants is even harder to judge. "In football, nothing surprises me," he said in another context but saw no reason to worry when asked if he would be anxious if Chelsea were to lose tomorrow.
"In football nobody is untouchable but I would not be looking over my shoulder. Because I know why I came and I know what kind of job I was asked to do. To prepare this Chelsea new team that we expect is Chelsea's new team for a decade, the way the other team was the Chelsea team for a decade. I don't think Chelsea can have a better manager than me. I think I am the right person to do the job and a bad result doesn't change that perspective."
Mourinho was asked if victory would send a message. "We can win," he said. What message would that send, the questioner persisted.
"Message to who?"
"Well, to Arsenal."
"To Arsenal, I don't have to give messages. To Arsenal I just have to give my respect for the quality team they are. I have no messages to give to Arsenal. The messages I send is to my dressing-room and we are working to be prepared to win the match."
Jose Mourinho keeps walking.