Monday 19 March 2018

Latest ugly counter-punch a dig below the belt

'Evidently, there is no charm school in Setubal. For this was Mourinho at his contemptuous worst'
'Evidently, there is no charm school in Setubal. For this was Mourinho at his contemptuous worst'

Oliver Brown

Throughout her 17 years of marriage to Rafael Benitez, 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 Region' newspaper, in her birthplace in north-west Spain.

It was a charming piece, in which she reflected on the eccentric tangents that her first date with Benitez 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 mistake 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-eminent football managers tend to eschew reference to a certain Portuguese gentleman lest they receive a sulphurous backlash.

Alas, the message seemed not to reach Senora Benitez, who prodded the hornet's nest by saying of Mourinho: "We tidy up his messes".

It was, at worst, lightly mischievous in spirit, but Mourinho 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 Setubal. For this was Mourinho at his contemptuous worst.

Quite apart from his patronising sneer at Seara, whom he implied was better off in the kitchen than in speaking out of turn, his derision of Benitez'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 learnt 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 Arsene 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 Benitez's blameless wife proves anything, it is that the unsavoury antics that disfigured his first 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 ban.

In the fevered aftermath of Petr Cech's serious head injury at Reading, Mourinho also perpetrated a casual slur against the paramedics. "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 hospital bed just 12 minutes later.

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.

However, 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 facade masks a streak of the purest unpleasantness. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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