Thursday 23 November 2017

Happiness and other pursuits

Jose Mourinho is back but his air of permanence might end up a fleeting one, writes Dion Fanning

Jose Mourinho
Jose Mourinho

Dion Fanning

Jose Mourinho was home. When journalists left the main press conference on Monday, we were guided down corridors into Chelsea's Dolce & Gabbana suite. Mourinho's assistants Rui Faria and Silvino Louro were inside relaxing in an ante-room, along with a few younger, unidentifiable types who gave the impression they knew how money could be made.

Outside the sun was shining but Dolce & Gabbana don't care about that. In here it was dark, a darkness designed to suggest a separation from the outside world with its universal light. In here, there was privacy. The dimness seemed to represent this powerful seclusion making it less likely that someone would suggest that maybe we could turn up the lights. In this suite, the powerful can meet and relax. But it's also hard to see.

As the journalists walked past Mourinho's happy men into the more formal part of the suite, furnished with a boardroom table, but which retained the general theme of darkness, it was easy to miss a slight man welcoming us.

He was camouflaged by the velvet Dolce & Gabbana curtain he stood in front of. He was camouflaged too by the absence of light in the Dolce & Gabbana suite and the fact that he may have also been dressed in Dolce & Gabbana (they make Chelsea's club suits).

Jose Mourinho stood to one side as we walked by, greeting the journalists, shaking hands with his peculiarly soft hands before he expanded on his theme that there was nowhere he would rather be.

Over the next couple of seasons, Chelsea will benefit from Mourinho's insistence that he is home. "I would have turned down every job in the world, not the Man United job, every one in the world. For Chelsea, I would turn down everyone in the world."

It may be that the clubs he wanted to turn down didn't give him an opportunity to turn them down. No matter how much Mourinho talked about Chelsea, stability and happiness last week, it was hard not to think that he was also motivated by Manchester United. He had known for a long time that Alex Ferguson was going to retire and he was pleased simply to keep the secret.

"I know that Ferguson was retiring many months ago. I know many months ago and I'm so happy with his trust because it was big news for the world. I can imagine that just a very close circle knew and it was a big responsibility for me to know that. And I know that because we are friends."

Mourinho was part of the circle of trust and if everything was muted last Monday, there may be a time when he expands on some of these themes. He had already said that David Moyes' appointment was a "good decision". Moyes was at the right club to be given time, a club which promotes, as Mourinho does himself these days, stability. In the middle of this he pointed out that David Moyes had never managed in the Champions League so would need time to adapt.

Mourinho has usually adapted to new surroundings by winning and Chelsea can be sure of what they are going to get. Their knowledge of each other was, he insisted, "a plus not a minus". There are other ways of looking at that but right now every weakness was a strength, even if there comes a time when all strengths turn to weaknesses.

Last week, he was happy with everything. He praised the club's advances in scouting since he left and looked forward to working with Michael Emenalo. "There are many things in a manager's job you cannot do. It is important to have some structures around you that can deliver the best of information. It is a very difficult area for a person like me. I cannot travel because I have more important things to do but also I cannot travel because if I travel everybody knows where I am and the player I'm looking for."

Professionally, he was happy but obviously there was more. "From an emotional point of view, I feel like I'm coming back. It's my dugout, it's the dugout where I never lost a match. It's my stadium, it's my dressing room. It's Cobham, it's my office. It's the same table of my office. Emotionally you get it. But by the pure professional point of view, it's no different."

Mourinho had reciprocated Ferguson's confidence by telling him that he wanted to manage Chelsea, although, of course, he would have gone elsewhere if Chelsea hadn't wanted him.

"If I go back to Italy, I have to go back to Inter. Is it the best choice? I don't know but I don't see myself in Milan against thousands and thousands of fans who die for me to be back one day. To come to England and not go back to Chelsea? Only if Chelsea doesn't want me."

In the end they did want him. He returns to a club that is familiar in many ways but has survived without him, winning trophies most years no matter who the manager is.

"Last year we won the trophy I don't want to win," he says of the Europa League triumph. He will pursue the trophies he believes are important, the League and the Champions League, but Mourinho has always believed in victory.

He insisted too that the stories surrounding his departure were exaggerated. Andriy Shevchenko was not imposed on him, he said but only arrived after the club, Abramovich included, had spent a long time in frustrating pursuit of Samuel Eto'o. "The owner was more than ready to do everything to bring Samuel Eto'o here." Mourinho wanted Eto'o because he could play alongside Drogba or, as he would at Inter, out wide in a 4-3-3. "Barcelona said forget it. No money would do it."

Only then did Shevchenko arrive but Mourinho says that if a transfer doesn't work, it doesn't necessarily make it a mistake. Fernando Torres was the inevitable follow-up and he was asked how he'd done. "So-so. Some people could expect more because of his potential and what he's done before but not so bad as people sometimes try to sell. There is a balance."

These were not mistakes, these were an inevitable consequence of speculating in the transfer market, he said.

Abramovich had speculated in that market but Mourinho praised him and insisted he had always been free to work as he wanted.

"The owner never in my time tried to interfere in the basic things of the manager. And the basic things are – training sessions, team selection, profile of the player you want to bring. Never. Never interfere."

Mourinho believes Abramovich had learned lessons too. "He must be a very intelligent person to be so successful in his life. He buys the club in 2003 and you cannot expect that after two clicks he knows everything. Ten years is a long time and he has gone through a lot of experience. And like every intelligent person does, he uses the intelligence in his favour and not against him."

Mourinho has had his own experiences in the meantime. He has won the Champions League again but his time at Madrid may have also marked him.

When he meets the players for the first time on July 8, he will address them as he has addressed his players at every club.

"I have a sentence I always say, 'If you are a top professional, if you are not a selfish person, if you put the club in front of yourself and if you are here to work one hundred per cent for me, for your fellow players and for the club, we will have a wonderful relationship. If you are selfish, if you think about yourself, if you don't care about the club, if you don't care with the image, if you don't care about the fans, blah, blah, blah, we are in big trouble. It depends on you if the relationship is fantastic or not fantastic.'

"Sometimes you have groups who adapt in a very easy way, sometimes you have groups that it becomes like a doctrine and everything is easy. Sometimes you have a couple of guys who are not so keen to accept these kind of rules and this is where you have some problematic relationships."

At this point, he says it is a small thing – "you and one player . . . you and two players." But his time warring at Madrid has informed him that it is not always a small problem.

"After that, you have the club. The club in that moment either supports the problematic player or supports the manager. If the club supports the manager, the two little guys . . ." And he makes a series of squishing noises, perhaps thinking of individuals, perhaps not.

In his absence, Chelsea seems to have become a club successfully driven by individuals. Alex Ferguson had said that players end up with too much power when a club constantly sacks its manager and Mourinho agreed, in part because they were Ferguson's words.

"What Sir Alex says in relation to English football and management is doctrine. It's the bible. If he says that, with the many years of experience he has, then that is correct. If that is adapted to this club, I don't know."

It won't make his job more difficult, he says. He is expecting it to be difficult, a tougher challenge in the same place. Of course, his return had made him happy. It must have done as he said it so many times. He may well be happy. As Philip Roth wrote, happy people exist.

Yet Mourinho had always seemed driven by something other than the desire for happiness, something more complex but less abstract. Last week, he accommodated those motivations alongside the wholesome story of his return.

Last week, he wanted to promote grander ideas: happiness and stability. Chelsea, he said, had achieved a lot in a short time. "Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich are clubs with a different history. This club had a history before Mr Abramovich arrived and a history since 2004."

He recalled his first pre-season US tour when the players walked the streets unnoticed and the same tour two years later with "three or four thousand" people watching training. "This club has a recent history. You cannot compare the history of this club with the history of these other clubs. It is a history of ten years but the reality is that in that time Chelsea has won more trophies than almost anyone."

Mourinho shaped that history. Last week he returned home to embrace the philosophy of permanence. Even if, like happiness, it's only fleeting.

Irish Independent

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