Wednesday 25 April 2018

Dion Fanning: Mourinho reminded the world there is no such thing as long-term when he's around

The world according to Jose

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho in pensive mood
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho in pensive mood

Dion Fanning

There was a time towards the end of Jose Mourinho's hour with the media on Friday afternoon when he may have given a glimpse of the reality as Jose Mourinho at his most rational believes it to be.

When he was asked if the events of the past week had been a distraction for his players, he smiled. "Have you ever met a football player in your life? Top players? They are distracted by what? They will play as normal."

The stories about ethical medical practice and sexism were just noise. The removal of Eva Carneiro and Jon Fearn from the bench for today's game against Manchester City would have no impact. Nothing would disrupt the team, certainly nothing like this and Mourinho seemed to believe it.

There were those who cared about other things. There were some who cared about who would be sitting on the bench today. There were even those unnamed people for whom "the bench is very important". They didn't matter. The people who mattered for Mourinho were those who knew that what you do is important, not what people think you do.

Creating a team that wanted to fight for each other and for the manager has usually been within Mourinho's grasp. Few managers can claim to know footballers as well as Jose Mourinho knows footballers. Sometimes, however, you could wonder how well Jose Mourinho knows himself.

Read more: 'Some clubs are disappointed for 15 years and the manager is the same' - Mourinho takes aim at Wenger again

Media conferences at Chelsea, like at most clubs, are divided into three parts. First, Mourinho talks to the broadcast media. This is the packed bit which gets shown on TV and on Friday it was especially crowded. There were people in the room who, Mourinho suggested, "probably don't even like football".

Once the TV and radio stations are done, the room clears of cameramen and the journalists from the daily newspapers have a go. On Friday, plenty of questions were asked about the matters that had caused concern but Mourinho didn't answer too many of them and at one point he threatened to walk out if there were any more, lingering at the door in a way which suggested he wasn't fully committed to this walkout.

Eva Carneiro and head physio Jon Fearn leave the bench to treat Chelsea's Belgian midfielder Eden Hazard late in the game
Eva Carneiro and head physio Jon Fearn leave the bench to treat Chelsea's Belgian midfielder Eden Hazard late in the game

The final section is when Mourinho talks to the Sunday papers and by this time on Friday, it was clear that Chelsea weren't in the mood for any more questions about the week. Instead Mourinho talked about Manchester City, he found time for what sounded like another pop at Arsene Wenger and he returned to his favourite pre-season subject: signings.

Read more: Comment: Chelsea have become the Millwall of the Premier League

Chelsea, he said, have "the moral right" to spend £50 million on a player as City have done. He pointed out that Chelsea and its board have "worked so well, over the years, in making money with sales". This was Mourinho as conventional wisdom says he is: turning everything to his own advantage. Last week it didn't really matter.

When Mourinho was asked if the week had been a distraction for him, if not for his players, he replied, again with some incredulity, "A distraction?" He wasn't allowed to elaborate.

Maybe Mourinho did wonder how it had all happened. The conventional wisdom claims he is always in control, it claims his brain is always whirring with permutations no matter how egregious his behaviour.

The idea that he is a cunning mastermind doesn't always add up. When, for example, Mourinho poked Tito Vilanova in the eye, it wasn't hard to distinguish between him and, say, Professor Moriarty.

Last week conventional wisdom insisted once again that Mourinho had used the media to distract from the result of a game. That analysis has never been more flawed. Chelsea had drawn at home to Swansea on the opening day. It wasn't a crisis. By the end of the week, it was. If Mourinho had distracted from any poor performance last week, it was Arsenal's.

Chelsea team doctor Eva Carneiro has received plenty of support on social media following Jose Mourinho's criticism of her
Chelsea team doctor Eva Carneiro has received plenty of support on social media following Jose Mourinho's criticism of her

But Mourinho will absorb the condemnation of FIFA, the Premier League Doctors' Group and various respected medical professionals who wondered how he could have done this. Maybe he will believe that he is bringing the group of players closer together by creating a media storm over a medic. People will say he is fostering a siege mentality. But why the siege over this and what is the mentality?

It was said of the former England cricketer Trevor Bailey that he didn't necessarily bat as if there was a crisis but as if there was certainly one around the corner.

A man as prone to paranoia and as susceptible to conspiracy theories as Mourinho is always in danger of lurching towards a crisis but a man like that is also always in danger of losing control. Last week, events went beyond his control and the Mourinho who appeared in front of the media on Friday looked like he knew it.

The media were entitled to ask questions, he said, but he was entitled not to answer them. They shouldn't ask those questions, he then added. He stressed how a player's welfare was the most important thing and made a desultory attempt to leave the room when the next question was asked.

Read more: John Giles: Jose Mourinho is turning admirers into enemies by behaving like a clown

At Real Madrid, he was paranoid but people were out to get him. He wanted Barcelona to be the enemy of everyone at the club, but it turned out the enemy for many was Mourinho.

But Chelsea is not Real Madrid, they feel differently about him there. Last season, Chelsea appeared to be at peace as they regained the Premier League. Roman Abramovich was happy and had finally recognised that not every club could play like Pep's Barcelona, not even every club managed by Pep.

Last season Mourinho was controlled and relaxed, even as he talked of conspiracies outside the club.

The day before this season began, Mourinho signed a new four-year contract at Stamford Bridge. There was talk of his special bond with a club that is "closest to my heart". The seven days that followed were a reminder that Jose Mourinho's heart is a lonely hunter.

There had already been talk of Mourinho's unhappiness with the club's failure to sign the players to refresh his team. In another week, he may have made even more of those issues but there may not be the appetite to hear them at Chelsea right now.

Read more: Eva Carneiro is the centre of attention because she's a woman and she spoke out

Mourinho's complaints about Eva Carneiro and Jon Fearn that began after the draw with Swansea and which escalated into a debate about the right of medical professionals to intervene on the pitch, sexism and the chances of women making their way in a world like football may not be distracting to Chelsea's footballers.

These were serious and important issues but that doesn't mean they will have any bearing on how Chelsea play at the Etihad this afternoon. Chelsea may even be more likely to win today and provide Mourinho with the only rebuttal he really cares about: victory.

But the players may have been unsettled by something else. They may have been reminded that they are led by a man of great gifts but one of equal volatility too. Some may have realised that the man who has within him the ability to lead teams like no other manager in football today is also a man who can be a psychic drain. They have seen again that this is a man who will do anything for his team but who, when he runs out of enemies, ends up poking himself in the eye.

Mourinho was wrong to undermine his medical team last week. He was caught out in an everyday act of gamesmanship that was undermined by the professionalism of his medics. The code he believes in, as much as he believes in any code, was breached when Carneiro posted her message on Facebook and because of that, there was a week of disruption and debate. Mourinho and his players might not have been bothered by all that this time but that doesn't mean the events won't have an impact.

Read more: Jose Mourinho: Eva Carneiro may return to bench in the future

His actions restated something else as well. They demonstrated once again that for all his talk of special bonds, he is a man as capricious as he is gifted. He is a man who is always running out of road because of the grenades he lobs in front of himself. Last week, Jose Mourinho reminded the world that there is no such thing as the long-term when he's around. He may have reminded himself too. His players will surely have noticed.

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