independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

'Nothing Special about United title'

There is a tendency in Jose Mourinho to wrap up his most provocative statements with a compliment or a kind observation that confuses the target, and then other times he just lobs them in like a grenade.

It was to the latter category that yesterday's performance belonged.

Manchester United's Premier League triumph last season and that of City in the previous campaign were not, Mourinho said, the work of great teams. In fact, they were as much about the ineptitude of the competition.

Back in 2004, when he started, things were much tougher. The Premier League was better then. The champions, he said, be it Chelsea, or United or Arsenal had to be "phenomenal".

Yes, Mourinho's back in town and the courtesies extended to his rivals over the summer are starting to be pushed to the back of the cupboard like an old suit.

In their place are the blunt observations that Mourinho doubtless made in private as he watched English football from afar for almost six years, ruminating on his own legacy as a double title-winning Chelsea manager. He delivers them without apology.

"Do you think Manchester United won the Premier League last year because they were an unbelievable team?" he asked, rhetorically.

"I don't think so. The other contenders didn't have a very good season. It was the same when City won the title. Were they an extraordinary team? I don't think so. Others made so many mistakes that City eventually won the competition.

"In the previous few years you had a fantastic Arsenal, who were champions without a single defeat (2003-04). You had a Chelsea with a points record in the Premier League (95 in 2004-05).

"You had a United side who won the title (in 2007) after our double, and had an unbelievable season.

"I think the champions, in other seasons, were magnificent. In the last two seasons, I've felt 'no'. The champions were champions as a consequence of many things, not because they were phenomenal. The other big teams made too many mistakes.

"Sometimes you win because you are tremendous. Other times you win because you are the best. But you can be the best without being tremendous."

The level of managerial change, and the retirement of Alex Ferguson, make it feel like a new era, and yesterday Mourinho was already serving up his version of history.

Control the narrative. Lead the agenda. That is the Mourinho way. Over the weekend, the likes of Arsene Wenger and possibly Moyes too will doubtless be asked about Mourinho's take on the last two years and his point that this season there is no side that can "destroy the competition".

Even when he was asked the inevitable question about the state of Chelsea's pursuit of Wayne Rooney, Mourinho switched the line of inquiry from his club's failure to land their priority target to a point about the managerial fraternity en masse.

"I'm just a Chelsea manager, and every one of us (managers) are looking always to try and strengthen our squad.

"We all say 'no', but we lie to the last day, when the market is open, because we're all waiting for something to happen. Even if we say we're very happy with our squad, we lie, because we always want to make it better. We'll see what happens, not just with us but with Manchester United."

You see what he did there? Skilfully transposing the doubts he has about his own squad, sans Rooney, on to the Premier League as a whole.

There is a good chance he is right when one considers the lack of transfer activity at United and Arsenal – but City too?

The pressure is there in the betting odds, which have Chelsea as favourites in spite of the absence so far of a marquee signing this summer, and Mourinho will know that he is regarded as a key figure in that assessment.

It is one of the reasons why he is presenting his current squad as a young bunch who must be schooled and refined, rather than a group of proven winners.

There is also the careful guarding of his own reputation.

ENTERTAINERS

If the Chelsea that won the title twice under Mourinho were admired, they were not regarded as entertainers in the way that the last title-winning Arsenal team were, or the United side of Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo.

At the club's Cobham training ground yesterday, Mourinho said icily that criticism of his style "came often".

"The story is always the same," he said. "Record number of points in the Premier League? My Chelsea. Record points in La Liga? My Real Madrid. Record of goals? My Real Madrid. Record of consecutive victories in the Premier League? I don't know, but maybe it's our record still.

"We don't win by winning 1-0, by defending and not attacking. My teams are offensive teams. Sometimes they gamble more times than anyone else. Sometimes, when we're not winning in the last 20 minutes, we give it a go. We are never a defensive team."

Today, Mourinho will take his team to train at Stamford Bridge, especially for the benefit of the new arrivals like Marco van Ginkel, Andre Schurrle and Kevin de Bruyne who, the Chelsea manager said, have remarkably never been to the stadium and need to "work out where the dressing-rooms are, where the tunnel is, about the pitch".

Tomorrow, Mourinho will step on to the Stamford Bridge turf in front of a crowd for the first time since he returned with Internazionale in 2010. "My dugout, my stadium, my people," he said yesterday. He said he would have to "control it a bit" when it came to his emotions in respect of the fans' expected reaction. And then, as ever, it will be down to business. (© Independent News Service)

Chelsea v Hull,

Live, tomorrow, Sky Sports 1, 4.0

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