Einsteins and looks that kill all in a day's work for Mourinho
There was one of those long hop warm-up questions at the start of Jose Mourinho's press conference, though he had clearly arrived with more personal concerns on his mind than what kind of a fist Leicester City were making of defending the title. "First of all, good morning to my friends from the media…" he said, ignoring the question and offering a greeting laced with sarcasm, as he looked at those who chronicle the life and times of Manchester United.
He was setting the tone for what supporters will be pleased to know was a half hour of evidence that Jose the fighter is back: a journey through his mindset which was replete with the box-office wit and simmering inscrutability missing in the past few weeks.
The last time a heavyweight scientist formed part of a Carrington pre-match occasion like this was seven years ago, when Alex Ferguson suggested that an appreciation of Sigmund Freud was required to read Rafael Benitez's state of mind. But Mourinho has this week seized on 'Einsteins' as a term of derision for his critics. His development of the theme yesterday was so effortlessly fine that we can feel confident that he has added a new word to the lexicon.
"The Einsteins need money to live," he said. "They can't coach, they can't sit on the bench, they can't win matches. They can speak, they can write, they can criticise the work of other people, but I am a good man. I am good man of goodwill. I do lots of charity, I help so many people, so why not also feed the Einsteins? That's fine…" He laughed and those of us who have questioned him laughed. That's Mourinho for you: compelling and irresistible, even when he's actually trying to kill you.
There was something significant in those words "that's fine," though. He used the term five times throughout, in the style of a man shouting "I'm not angry" in a very loud voice.
He's not fine at all. Recent criticism has cut him in a way that makes you see that the disastrous end to his second spell at Chelsea is not something he has not been able to brush off with alacrity. There is a vulnerability about him in these early weeks, as he seeks to demonstrate that Stamford Bridge last winter was no more than a blip.
It doesn't help that the slings and arrows seem unceasing. Mourinho's appearance here had been preceded by the publication in one tabloid newspaper of the salacious details of a book written by Rob Beasley, a former Chelsea correspondent at another. They included Beasley's revelation that Mourinho said if he found Arsene Wenger away from football he would "break his face." There are no further bodies buried beyond the first published extracts, but Mourinho unwisely made his observations in emails to Beasley, allowing him no room to refute them.
"I am happy. He made his money. That's fine for me," Mourinho said of this. He then attempted to magic the humiliation away with more of his gold dust. "Well, I met Arsene Wenger a couple of weeks ago and like civilised people we shook hands. We sat on the same table, we have dinner together with other people, we exchanged ideas, we were speaking because we are civilised people and again I don't think the book will be in the gallery of the Shakespeares and so on. It is my last word about it and again I repeat: he is making his money. That's fine by me…"
A look in his eyes told more than his words though, when Mourinho when he was asked if he felt let down by the journalist, with whom he is thought to have had a rapport. There was slightest inflection of emotion when he replied: "You can see how close he was."
Shortly after this exchange, Mourinho's press secretary tried to move the conversation on to Leicester City, though the manager's mind seemed to be other things. His answers were long and rich in meaning, not least the problem of Wayne Rooney which is clearly a source of agony just now.
Mourinho's mental landscape of his first autumn at Old Trafford must have included a burgeoning relationship with the player he was so desperate to sign to Chelsea three years ago. But forwards, more than any other type of footballer, have a capacity to sink so shockingly fast. There is no better proof of the fact that Robin van Persie, gladiatorial in Alex Ferguson's last season and then gone.
Mourinho seemed to be rehearsing the arguments for committing such a fulcrum of the club as Rooney to the bench. "Wayne is the captain of the club, the manager and the players. He is trusted by the players, he is trusted by myself and he represents the club in a fantastic way as a player and person. Football is a different story. Football, every one is the same, and if he has to go on the bench, he goes on the bench, if he has to stay at home, he stays at home, but that doesn't mean that you don't trust him…"
He had more ground to cover after that. The 'English disease' of negativity, the psychological toll that criticism can take and the need to live with it all the same. And somewhere amidst all this, Leicester - part of a division in which "every team is good, every team plays to win every game, anyone can beat anyone, so it's difficult."
Mourinho departed with a"good afternoon," satisfied to have fulfilled his objective of making his points while keeping things civil, and yet wondering which bullets he will be needing to dodge next. (© Independent News Service)