When it comes to press conference performances, Jose Mourinho has unquestionably been showing his Premier League counter-parts how it’s done this season.
From analogies of tiny horses, baby Chihuahuas and sports cars, to condemnation of ‘dodgy FFP’ and Yaya Toure’s unpunished swipe at Norwich’s Ricky Van Wolfswinkel, the Chelsea gaffer has left no stone unturned in his efforts to psychologically debase his closest rivals.
But last week, the Portuguese produced a press conference soiree that blurred the line between mind-game mastery and sheer lack of class. He’s been known to break the taboo of showing blatant disrespect to fellow professionals before – his voyeur jibe at Arsene Wenger back in 2005 particularly comes to mind – but Mourinho’s recent dubbing of the Arsenal manager as a ‘specialist in failure’ is arguably his most ill-mannered claim yet.
Reeling from Arsene Wenger’s prior analysis that Arsenal’s title rivals were showing a ‘fear to fail’ by not backing their own chances of claiming the English crown, the Chelsea manager entered his customary Friday press meeting fuming from the nostrils and with a psychotic glaze in his eyes.
With barely enough time for the quizzing journalist to finish his request for a retort of the Gunners gaffer’s latest instalment of the Premier League’s ongoing mind-game skirmishes, Mourinho, in the sternest terms possible, stated; “He is a specialist in failure, I am not. The reality is he’s a specialist because eight years without a piece of silverware, that is failure. If I did that in Chelsea I would leave London and not come back.”
The words may be harsh but that doesn’t mean they aren’t true. If the Portuguese’s second term at Chelsea consisted of eight years and no silverware, his body would probably be found at the bottom of a Russian oil well. That’s a fairly moot point, considering Roman Abramovich can’t stomach three defeats in a row, let alone two full seasons without any form of accolade.
But Mourinho could have approached this scenario incredibly differently.
Arsene Wenger was vague and respectful enough not to mention Chelsea or their manager by name, in no small part due to the fact he was talking about not only the Blues, but Liverpool and Manchester City too, whom, despite a four-point gap between all three at the top of the Premier League table, have all refused to label themselves as title favourites.
He could have responded in his usual fashion – a mixture of arrogant nonchalance and wise-cracking patronisation – but the aggressive tone of his voice, his face like a thunderstorm and the bluntness of his diction was incredibly telling; there is some truth behind Wenger’s indirect claims of a ‘fear to fail’ at Stamford Bridge, and the Chelsea gaffer knows it.
Mourinho admitted as much himself – “If he is right and I have a fear of failure it is because I don’t fail many times. So maybe he is right,” the Portuguese quipped mid-monologue as he refused to break eye contact with the enquiring reporter – and there’s no doubt the soundbites of his second Premier League tenure are in complete contrast to his first.
Far from being the ‘Special One’, a manager so charismatic anything was possible under his rebellious style of leadership, the ‘happy one’ has compared his current Blues roster to a crop of ‘young eggs’, that require the warmth of his motherly bosom, and constantly downplayed Chelsea’s chances of winning their first Premier League title since 2010 this season.
Most of that has been attributed to the Portuguese’s traditional ploys of deflecting attention from his own players and putting the pressure back onto his opponents, but regardless of current league standing, it’s obvious that Mourinho’s Chelsea 2.0 are by no means as coveted, proven or distinguished as the stellar cast he put together to claim back-to-back Premier League titles, two League Cups and an FA Cup during his original stay in West London. The most obvious difference is the lack of a dependable striker.
The Blues boss knows this only too well. In fact, he’s regularly remarked that Chelsea are a club still in transition, bookended by the old guard and those who are still yet to reach their ultimate potential, such as Eden Hazard and Oscar. If anything, the Portuguese probably feels there would be a veil of dishonesty towards his players, the fans and Abramovich if he billed the club’s title chances this season any differently. The fear is not necessarily one of failure, but rather one of placing false hope and undue expectation.
But his explosive backlash at the Arsenal manager had a different motivation. Mourinho’s aggressive swipe clearly contained a level of annoyance that one of his title rivals had dared to speak out of turn, breaking the psychological alpha-male stranglehold he enjoys over his opponents, but more importantly, it was yet another exercise in diversion.
Since the Portuguese’s blunt condemnation of Wenger, the Gunners gaffer’s words have long been forgotten. The idea that Mourinho would rather hedge his bets and protect his reputation than put it on the line this season has been shelved by the British press, instead their column inches devoted to the venom, malice and impropriety of the Chelsea manager’s verbal onslaught.
Once again, it’s another public relations ploy, so ravelled in controversy that the British media are obliged to buy into. As the Chelsea manager stated only ten days ago, everything he says and does is a mind-game.
But in danger of this article falling into the same trap of failing to comment on the real issue at hand; let us not forget that Mourinho’s disrespectful response was in most part due to Wenger’s ‘fear to fail’ analysis being grounded in unavoidable truth. Uncharacteristically, the Portuguese is for once unprepared to back his own abilities.