Saturday 26 May 2018

Canned laughter at the ready for Special One's nervy sequel

Dion Fanning

Tomorrow we will all be laughing. When José Mourinho takes his first press conference on his return as Chelsea's manager, the expectation alone will probably produce a few nervous guffaws. There will be questions delivered with a solemnity that suggest Mourinho is being asked, "Mr President, what did you know and when did you know it?" rather than "José, are you still the special one?"

Hell, that won't stop us. We'll laugh and we'll laugh again as if Sid Caesar's Show of Shows has been revived. It'll be better than that. It will be as if Cliff Richard has just pitched up at Centre Court.

Unusually in these situations where everybody is laughing with a mixture of relief and sycophancy, there may even be moments of genuine wit.

But we will mainly be entering the arena of undeserved laughter, not unknown at press conferences, but most familiar from Wimbledon, snooker and, of course, anything at the theatre.

At the theatre, they get easy laughs with the audience impressed by the fact that this is happening at all and they are there to see it.

As a consequence, they'll pretty much collapse at anything which only becomes apparent when a show like Vicious with Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi – essentially a play – appears on television and people realise that this is a lot worse than the stuff they normally watch on tv.

Mourinho is different, Mourinho is a funny guy. He can be a cruel and self-destructive and manipulative guy as well but, right now, we just want the funny guy.

At the height of his fame, Steve Martin lamented that he could ask "what time does the movie start?" and everyone around him would collapse with laughter. "My act was like an overly plumed bird whose next evolutionary step was extinction," Martin recalled in his autobiography.

This had devastating consequences which involved him becoming a massive global star who was rarely funny again.

Mourinho, forced back to Chelsea by the absence of alternatives and reduced to talking about love, is at the same point. He remains bewitched by his own plumage, even if those he most wanted to bewitch now say they are allergic to feathers.

He returns to a league worrying that with the departure of Alex Ferguson there is no central character in the drama. Like most producers when they are desperate for a hit, they have decided to make a sequel. Mourinho's return to Chelsea may yet be Father of the Bride II.

Mourinho says he has returned for love even if the world knows he pined for Manchester United only to be rejected, reportedly because he was too incendiary.

Mourinho might have been baffled by this. He wanted to succeed Alex Ferguson, the great incendiary figure of the age, who went on to become, quite deliberately, among the most belligerent men in public life. And most other forms of life as well.

But they rejected Mourinho, with mutterings about the disruption he would bring to a club which, under Ferguson, had as its mission statement a determination to bring discord where there was harmony.

Chelsea wanted Guardiola before they turned to Mourinho and he had to make the right noises about love and marriage.

The truth may be that he doesn't care. Perhaps he is at Chelsea because he has to be somewhere and there was nowhere else to go.

Some wondered why he didn't take a sabbatical after Real Madrid. Wise men have pointed out that he wore himself down as much as he wore down Pep as he pursued his policy of mutually assured destruction.

Pep, a brilliant neurotic obsessive, will, like all brilliant neurotic obsessives, always find a way to be brilliant and to wear himself down.

Without Pep, Mourinho has even less reason to stop and more reason to assert his continued relevance. So there is no sabbatical and he has abandoned the frivolity of a summer holiday to start work at Chelsea.

Perhaps he is frightened by what he could discover in the silence, frightened by what would happen if he stopped. Like most great men, he doesn't have an easy personality and in time he would probably see the school run as a conspiracy designed to bring him down.

He must have fantasised about rejecting Chelsea but he can't have imagined that he would come back, returning like Willy Loman due to failures on the road.

Mourinho must insist that feelings this deep have to be obeyed. Their relationship is not what we would consider romantic love or obsessive love.

Chelsea and Mourinho don't seem like Burton and Taylor, resembling instead an ageing banker who is pictured sucking in his gut with his arm wrapped round, say, Miss Venezuela while the caption below declares that the pair have finally found love.

If Mourinho hasn't lost his sense of irony, there will be a voice saying this is not love, this is not love.

He might well have lost this too, diminished by his relentlessly self-destructive pursuit of power in Madrid where, having exhausted his reserve of enemies, he ended up essentially poking himself in the eye.

He returns to a land which relishes his desire to pick a fight. With Mourinho, the clichéd arc has been abandoned: he isn't built up so they can knock him down. He is built up as he is simultaneously knocked down while he destroys everything around him and ultimately it all collapses, released too late from the manic death-grip, from the strain of love.

When he was funny, Steve Martin used to close his show with the words, "We've had a great time tonight . . . considering we're all going to die some day."

Mourinho will enjoy it all tomorrow. He'll enjoy the tough questions and the easy laughs. Tomorrow we'll be reminded of his magnificence as an actor and his supreme gift for concealing the truth: the sense, stronger than ever, that he is fleeing the inescapable signs of his own mortality.

dfanning@independent.ie

Irish Independent

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