James Lawton: Mourinho may never get over Red Devils rejection
Could it really be that if you cut Jose Mourinho, or slight him in any significant way, he not only bleeds, but is aghast and even sleepless?
Is Mourinho in danger of, if not hitting the rocks, colliding with the shocking possibility that his best days may have come and gone? Is his great formula on too heavily borrowed time?
We will know a little better at high noon at White Hart Lane tomorrow when he seeks to cut down the growing confidence of his former apprentice Andre Villas-Boas.
However, certainly there were such dire hints in reports from Madrid this week that the Special One felt deeply betrayed when his 'friend' Alex Ferguson dismissed him on the way to anointing David Moyes as his successor at Manchester United.
It is a theory some have branded as the mischievous work of one of Mourinho's enemies in the Bernabeu press box, but it has a degree of circumstantial evidence.
His appearance at Old Trafford in the second week of the new season was almost as passive as the performance of his team. Amid the scowls, there was also a mournful expression that might just have been attached to his lingering disbelief that he had been ignored by United for a man without a single major trophy to his name.
When he returned to Chelsea he spoke of reunion with an old love at a new and more mature phase of their lives, but his eyes did not have the sparkle of an eager groom. Rejected by Real, overlooked by United, and second in the queue for Chelsea behind Pep Guardiola, was this the angst of a man who may just have come, at the age of 50, to doubt himself?
Certainly it means that against joint Premier League leaders Spurs, the old Mourinho mystique is in need of an injection or two. But of what? Most pressingly, perhaps, it is of that old sense of a man bounded only by his own expectations, the one who only half-jocularly declared that not only was he the star of his own movie, but he was also director and producer.
First, though, it seems that Mourinho must expel at least some of those demons which accelerated at such an alarming rate when his frustrations in Spain rushed so swiftly to a head.
On his return to Stamford Bridge, it seemed that maybe for the first time since his dramatic success at Porto he was at a loss to strike a posture of his own.
First he was subdued, almost weirdly so, then he was angry, at quite what no one could be truly sure – and certainly not Juan Mata, who after so brilliantly underpinning the regime of Rafa Benitez found himself on the fringes of a distinctly underwhelming team.
Now it seems Mata is on the road to rehabilitation and nothing would be better guaranteed to sweeten Mourinho's mood than a convincing performance against Tottenham. Mourinho has said that he doesn't like the philosophy of the team he has inherited. Not so long ago, that wouldn't have been a complaint, but the most basic challenge.
Today the most biting one is the out-thinking, and maybe out-psyching, of the young rival who once yearned to be Mourinho's recognised No 2.
But it seems that Villas-Boas couldn't wait that long and Mourinho could hardly have cared less. Says the 35-year-old who has led Spurs to eight wins in nine games in all competitions: "I was never his No 2, I was part of his staff, but never his assistant and that was one of the reasons we went our separate ways.
"I thought I could give him a lot more, but he didn't seem to feel the need to have someone next to him. So I decided to give myself freedom and think about my career. Of course Jose has been very important in my career; he's enabled me to step back and look at things and give me experience that I would not have been able to have with anyone else.
"We had a super working relationship, we won, but as soon as we parted I started to do things differently. The first difference was our personalities."
Certainly the one belonging to Villas-Boas appears to have been tempered quite strikingly by his bad months at Stamford Bridge. He suggests that the collapse of his 'project,' his catastrophic failure to achieve any kind of rapport with such influential players as Frank Lampard and John Terry, brought rather more than a breath of humility.
He said: "I learned at school that the team was most important and I have my own principles and values and about them I am very stubborn. I will always defend the team over any individual. But today I am more flexible, I perhaps handle things better with key players."
Meanwhile, Mourinho wrestles with the movie that has shown signs of running off its spool. He needs new players, new impetus, he says, and this is not to mention a philosophy that he clearly believes he has to remake.
It's a daunting task, no doubt, but necessity is supposed to be the mother of invention and at White Hart Lane tomorrow it may also tell us whether Jose Mourinho still has the energy to do all of it at least once again.