LONDON – He had changed, he assured us. The self-styled “Special One” was now the Mild One and there was a collective nodding as the gullible ones bought into Jose Mourinho’s promise that he was Mr. Nice Guy.
The Portuguese has a style and charisma that makes him a media darling, but even his compliments have a jagged edge.
After Chelsea’s fortunate 2-1 win over an impressive and much-improved Aston Villa on Wednesday, Mourinho was full of praise for Paul Lambert’s team — on the surface.
He said: “This is what they do, they have a special player with special qualities, they use him. The goalkeeper has a great kick, (Christian) Benteke is fantastic on the first ball. He’s a great player for a certain style of football, but we tried to play a different style of football.”
In other words, Villa is a long-ball team which hoofs it down to Benteke, while Mourinho’s aside that Villa “don’t play a lot” was a minority opinion at odds with those in the press box and just about everyone who saw the game. The Special One can also be the Unique One.
Mourinho then said Chelsea would not be making another bid for Wayne Rooney until after the first blockbuster of the season against Manchester United at Old Trafford on Monday.
It would not be “ethical” he claimed, in all seriousness, and football nodded in approval, apparently unaware that by saying there would be no new bid until at least Tuesday it was giving notice of a third bid. Rest assured, David Moyes and United would not have been taken in by these ethics.
Against Villa, Chelsea had benefited hugely from two poor decisions by referee Kevin Friend. Branislav Ivanovic was fortunate not to be shown a red car for swinging an arm at Benteke, Villa’s frustration turning to anger when the Serb headed the winner a few minutes later.
To rub salt into their wounds, Friend seemed the only person who did not think John Terry was guilty of handball, which would have given Villa the chance of a late penalty equalizer.
Mourinho called Ivanovic’s offense, for which he was cautioned, “aggression” but would he have reacted in the same way had one of his players been on the end of a swinging elbow?
Would Mourinho have agreed that had a Villa player handled the ball as Terry did it wasn’t a penalty?
No and no.
Next stop for the Jose road show is Old Trafford, where United vs. Chelsea will be as much about Moyes vs. Mourinho as Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor prepares for his home debut, the backdrop of Rooney inevitably a dominant feature.
Moyes is no shy, retiring rose and the mind games will be in full swing as the kickoff approaches, not least because in Mourinho’s ideal world he would have been chosen as United’s next manager.
It is as predictable as the Zimbabwe election results that this question will be put to Mourinho in the coming 48 hours. Also on the press agenda will no doubt be: “Jose, do you think a club as successful as United should have appointed someone who has never won anything?”
Moyes inherited a title-winning squad, a luxury few managers experience, but an inability, so far at least, to make any meaningful signings during the summer has added to the ongoing Rooney saga. United was thwarted in its bid to sign Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona and Everton will want a lot more than £26 million if Leighton Baines and Maroune Fellaini are to join up with Moyes at Old Trafford.
Last season, United won the Premier League in a canter, but this time around, especially as United has not strengthened its squad, Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham will provide a far sterner test with Arsenal again on the periphery, even struggling to continue as masters of fourth place.
IN CONTRAST, Tottenham is preparing to reflect on possibly the best transfer business involving an English club, though AC Milan receiving £30.8 million from Chelsea in 2009 for Andriy Shevchenko, who was within touching distance of his 30th birthday and clearly past his best, runs it close.
Gareth Bale’s proposed £94 million transfer from Tottenham to Real Madrid moved a step closer when the London club’s technical director Franco Baldini flew to the Spanish capital this week.
The deal would represent a profit of £87 million for Spurs in six years since the Wales international’s arrival from Southampton. Nice work if you can get it. Very nice.
Bale is an outstanding player, but why Real would rate him quite so highly is probably a mystery even to the likeable 24-year-old who has never played at the business end of the Champions League or at an international finals and has had just one exceptional season in the Premier League.
It makes Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi worth £150 million, while Aston Villa striker Christian Benteke, whose 17 goals in 2013 is a strike-rate bettered only by the Real and Barcelona pair, must wonder why no big clubs were tearing a path to Villa Park when he was available earlier this summer.
With the Bale money, Spurs have financed the purchases of Roberto Soldado (Valencia, £26m), Paulinho (Corinthians, £17.5m), Etienne Capoue (Toulouse, £9m), Nacer Chadli (FC Twente, £7m) with Willian (Anzhi Mahkachkala, £30m) undergoing a medical yesterday. Roma striker Erik Lamela, valued at £25m, is also on Spurs’ wishlist.
These arrivals make Spurs serious contenders for the title, their summer transfers adding to the despair of Arsenal fans.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.