Jose Mourinho's classless attack on Rafael Benitez and his wife was Chelsea manager returning to his old, bad ways
Throughout her 17 years of marriage to Rafael Benítez, Montserrat Seara has deftly sidestepped even the faintest publicity.
A lawyer from Galicia, she has acted as the dutiful consort at everything from her husband’s Real Madrid presentation to Liverpool’s annual memorial service for Hillsborough, but otherwise remained scrupulously reticent. Until, that is, she agreed to an innocuous-looking interview last week with La Región newspaper, in her birthplace in northwest Spain. It was a charming piece, in which she reflected on the eccentric tangents that her first date with Benítez took. “Rafa finds it hard to stay away from the game,” she said. “He explained to me what 4-4-2 was.”
In this rarest of confessionals, Seara’s one crucial misstep was to invoke the name of Jose Mourinho. In the same way thespians traditionally avoid mentioning Macbeth, for fear of the visitation of some dreadful curse, Europe’s pre-emiment football managers tend to eschew reference to a certain Portuguese gentleman lest they receive a sulphurous backlash. Alas, the message seemed not to reach Señora Benítez, who prodded the hornet’s nest by saying of Mourinho, her spouse’s predecessor at the Bernabéu: “We tidy up his messes.”
It was, at worst, lightly mischievous in spirit. And yet Mourinho, unfathomably lionised by his disciples as a raconteur of grace and nuance, responded in terms of outright malevolence. “I think the lady needs to occupy her time,” he said. “If she takes care of her husband’s diet she will have less time to speak about me.”
Evidently, there is no charm school in Setúbal. For this was Mourinho at his contemptuous worst. Quite apart from his patronising sneer at Seara, a woman more than his match academically, but whom he implied was better off in the kitchen than in speaking out of turn, his derision of Benítez’s weight was a spiteful wound below the waistline. The Spaniard was perfectly at liberty to strike back by mocking Mourinho’s diminutive stature, for example, but has long since learned that the most eloquent riposte to his toxic grenades is silence.
Mourinho has proved again that he is capable, when riled, of profound vindictiveness. We too easily forget his cowardice at Real in poking Tito Vilanova, then Pep Guardiola’s assistant at Barcelona, in the eye. We readily absolve him of baiting Cristiano Ronaldo, raised in Madeiran poverty that stood in glaring contrast to his own comfortable middle-class upbringing in the Lisbon suburbs, for having a “difficult childhood”, with “no education”. And we tend to trivialise his crassly defamatory attack on Arsène Wenger as a “voyeur – with a big telescope to watch what happens in other families”.
Time has not curbed Mourinho’s capacity for such offhand slander. If his calculated jibe at Benítez’s blameless wife proves anything, it is that the unsavoury antics that disfigured his figured spell at Chelsea are starting to creep into the second coming. At times in those tumultuous early years, he was out of control, effectively alleging that referee Anders Frisk had received a bribe from Barcelona’s Frank Rijkaard during a Champions League match in 2005. The ensuing death threats forced the Swedish official into early retirement, while Mourinho escaped with a two-match touchline ban.
In the fevered aftermath of Petr Cech’s serious head injury at Reading, Mourinho also perpetrated a casual slur against paramedics at the South Central Ambulance Service. “Thirty minutes in the dressing room, waiting for an ambulance,” he fulminated. “If my goalkeeper dies in that dressing room, it is something English football has to think about.” It transpired that he was gravely mistaken: Cech was attended to within seven minutes of the incident, and was lying in a bed at the Royal Berkshire Hospital just 12 minutes later. Mourinho’s broadsides are unpalatable enough even when fired at his fellow multimillionaires, but barely forgiveable when they traduce medical workers who struggle to earn in a year what he amasses in a day.
This is by no means a plea to muzzle Mourinho. On happier days, he can be quite the pseudo-philosopher, ranging across bizarre extended metaphors about eggs and omelettes, wars and haircuts, Porsches and Aston Martins. Whenever he mounts the dais in front of journalists, he feels an almost actorly compulsion to keep his audience happy. He acknowledged as much himself in an interview last year, when it was put to him that he could be quite the provocateur. “Too many press conferences,” he shrugged. “Six times a week, it is too much. Sometimes I think they should be tired of me.”
For Benítez, Mourinho fatigue has reached pathological levels. And for the rest of us, the entertainment that he never fails to provide is in danger of shading into ennui. His fusillade against poor Seara was one of his ugliest yet, a reminder that his playful façade masks a streak of the purest unpleasantness.