Jose Mourinho: Has "The Happy One" Lost His Spark?
Say what you like about the UK football press, but they waste absolutely no time in trying to generate a headline.
The gathered media were surely hoping for the vivacious and arrogant performance the Portuguese manager gave the first time he spoke to the press in South London in 2004. They wanted proclamations of unprecedented success. They wanted scurrilous dismissals of rival managers and Spanish football. They wanted a wryly delivered line about Rafa Benitez's inadequacies. They wanted the full Mourinho.
What they were given, however, was a calm and controlled performance from a man who look tired of his own ebullience.
"I'm the Happy One," said Mourinho in response to the opening question. The Subdued One might have been more appropriate.
Aside from a few rueful smiles and a playful exchange with a Belgian journalist who tried to squeeze in an extra question, Mourinho spoke with the earnest tone of a man with rigorous media training. Once the most captivating act in the Premier League circus, Mou sounded as generic and taciturn as any other manager in his position.
He gave nothing away. There was no roasting of his predecessor, no hint of a bitter exit from Madrid, a strong denial of any poor relations with Roman Abramovich, an insistence that he was not hung up on earning a third Champions League title and absolutely no hints at any forthcoming transfer activity.
Apart from a small dig at Barcelona, whom he "hurt" by breaking their dominance, there was little of the contentious man we all know and love.
So, why the change in character?
"Time changes people," was the reasoning of the man himself. This time around, Mou has a few more gray hairs, a few more successes under his belt, burdens upon his shoulders and a less emotionally volatile outlook.
"Like the Portuguese people of the past, I am a navigator, a bit of an explorer," he said of his odyssey around Europe's major leagues, before expressing his strong desire to shed his fly-by-night reputation to stay at Chelsea "for a long time."
Perhaps, the Portuguese explorer has been worn down by his experiences on the Iberian peninsula. His ego was clearly damaged by the Madrid fans who did not "love" him, and his battles with the upper echelons of the club grew to the extent that he appeared to have dropped captain Iker Casillas purely out of spite.
Depite unbridled success with Los Blancos in 2011-12, Mou was put through the wringer in Spain last season for failing to maintain impossibly high standards. "I cannot say which is the media I like the most... You are not the worst," he said in the press conference, clearly eluding to the vitriolic ride he has been given by the Spanish dailies.
Fifty-year-old Jose Mourinho may have realized that the time is right to give his mouth a rest and let his tactics do the talking from now on. It's a perfectly sensible plan of attack.
Alternatively, the enforcement of a new calm and composed public persona may have actually been a condition of his Premier League second coming.
"I read that I was fired, sacked and a complete break-down of relationship. It's not true," he said when one journalist asked about his departure from Chelsea in 2007.
Could it be that he has really waited six years to clear the air about his reportedly fractious relationship with owner Roman Abramovich? Or was he actually sacked and his return is dependent on backing down on the issues that led to his departure?
We will never know, as Mou has insisted his discussions with the owner remain private, but it is not preposterous to suppose that Abramovich has requested that Mourinho dull some of the spikier edges of his personality.
Of course, making snap judgements about a new outlook based on a single press conference may be premature. When August comes around, this Portuguese leopard may not have changed his spots at all.
But if The Happy One has decided to reign in his world-renowned fiery style, it will be very interesting to see how this translates to goals in the net and points in the title race.
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