For all of the soundbites to come out of Jose Mourinho’s inaugural press conference, I was not expecting his first words to be ‘I am the happy one’. Perhaps ‘the savoured one’, ‘the wise one’ or ‘the matured one’, but I did not anticipate that the former ‘special one’s’ new persona would be of a man who has finally found peace in his life – especially at a club with such a turbulent nature as Chelsea FC.
By the first few weeks of the season, the Portuguese’s act could easily start to wear thin, yet for now, he is sticking to his approach as a manager who is simply glad to be back at his favoured destination, in his favoured top European division and surrounded by his favoured foes, including Arsene Wenger.
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The new Blues boss told reporters during his inaugural press conference at Stamford Bridge: “I am happy that Wenger is there. If he’s there, it’s because he wants to be there and the club, fans and players want him there. They stick together and that’s fantastic. By not winning a trophy in the last eight years, it shows even more how connected they are. I think they’re a great example for a football club, so I’m more than happy.”
However, the backhanded compliment undoubtedly has more devious undertones. Once again we are pushed into accepting the concept of a happy Mourinho, but furthermore, the former Real Madrid manager was eager to mention Arsenal’s disturbing eight-year trophy drought.
More than anything else, it was clearly a subliminal diplomatic effort to get the Gunners gaffer hot under the collar. While Arsenal have been devoid of silverware for the best part of a decade, and in that time shifted slowly but surely away from the Premier League title race, Wenger’s experience, being the longest serving manager in the English top flight in addition to claiming three domestic titles and four FA Cups during his tenure in North London, could well be the biggest barrier to Chelsea’s planned title bid next season.
Arsenal are the only club in the top four to have not changed managers this summer, and despite lacking that star quality in comparison to Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs, the continuity that Wenger provides will undoubtedly be of benefit in the coming campaign, while the Gunners’ divisional rivals are struggling with the teething pains of new head coaches, new players, new staff and new philosophies.
Should the North Londoners land transfer target Gonzalo Higuain, in addition to making a few other key purchases that strike the equilibrium between talent and excessive spending, they will be in good stead for next season and could easily become dark horses in the Premier League title race, or at least create a greater resistance to the rest of the top four.
Despite it being his first press conference since returning to England, Mourinho’s psychological nature has clearly kicked in. The Chelsea boss was not gunning for a war of words; it is far too early for that. Yet he is undoubtedly sowing the seeds for future spats via the British press, who are more often than not on his side due to his rather likeable nature, and outlining Wenger and Arsenal’s weaknesses, despite cushioning it in compliments, will be taken as an act of aggression at the Emirates.
Just in case you needed further evidence that Mourinho’s affection for the Gunners lacked sincerity, there are plenty of examples over the years where the Portuguese has not seen eye-to-eye with his Arsenal counterpart. The notable voyeur comment in 2005 epitomised the rift between the two, with Mourinho liking Wenger to “guys who, when they are at home, have a big telescope to see what happens in other families. He speaks, speaks, speaks about Chelsea.“
You’d argue that the two should have been able to bury the hatchet over a comment made nearly a decade ago, and if anything Mourinho’s recent analysis of the Gunners’ situation makes him guilty of his own accusations, yet even as recent as 2010, the managerial pair have been in conflict, with the former Madrid boss telling reporters; “He should especially explain to Arsenal supporters how he can’t win one single little trophy since 2005. Instead of speaking about Real Madrid, Mr Wenger should speak about Arsenal and explain how he lost 2-0 against a team in the Champions League for the first time. The history about the young kids is getting old now.”
Out of the two, Mourinho has the upper hand and would like to keep it that way. Although Wenger may don more Premier League titles, during the Portuguese’s absence the Gunners have dwindled, while the Special One has conquered Serie A, La Liga and the Champions League. Furthermore, Mourinho’s initial arrival at Stamford Bridge instigated the North Londoners’ malaise.
A year before, Arsenal were hailed as ‘The Invincibles’, unbeatable domestically and winning the Premier League title in style – many claimed they were the best top flight team England had ever seen. Yet Mourinho’s appointment in 2004 quickly brought about the end of an era that could have spanned much longer had the Chelsea boss not turned up in West London with his new approach to management and defensive philosophy, not to mention the power of Abramovich’s purse. Wenger is yet to get the better of Mourinho in a domestic fixture, which will undoubtedly play on the Frenchman’s mind in the coming season.
While David Moyes and Manuel Pellegrini will already be feeling the pressure during their first seasons in charge of an elite Premier League club, Mourinho is keen to ensure Wenger receives his fair share of the critical limelight. Anything that equates to improvement from the year previous will do at the Emirates, yet the Arsenal faithful will see the coming campaign as a season wasted if their manager cannot take advantage of inexperience at the top, while the British media are unlikely to get off the Arsenal gaffer’s back.
Chelsea’s fixtures against Arsenal may well decide the fate of their season – securing results will push them towards the title, while coming away with nothing against the Gunners will undoubtedly cut their ambitions of domestic domination short. More emphasis will be placed upon their clashes with the two Manchester titans, yet Mourinho will be keen to ensure that the rifts and weaknesses at the Emirates are still very much the focus of attention, if not to maintain a psychological edge, but rather relieve pressure on himself to get results in his returning year at Stamford Bridge.
The ‘happy one’ may well have a smile on his face and come across with a calmer, less arrogant demeanor, but he is still the master of the mind games.
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