Time wasting, injuries, a parked bus (or two if you are Brendan Rodgers) – Jose Mourinho has had previous experience in the dark arts of football. From the moment his Porto team of Deco, Maniche and Carvalho dived and rolled their way to a UEFA Cup victory over Martin O’Neill’s Celtic side in 2003, Jose Mourinho has assumed the role of pantomime villain in Britain and Ireland.
Captain Hook, Blofeld or The Joker would be proud of Jose Mourinho’s rap sheet – from the knee slide at Old Trafford, to hiding in a laundry basket to circumvent a UEFA ban in order to deliver Chelsea’s teamtalk against Bayern Munich in a Champions League quarter-final, we can now add a flu-riddled Jose halting Liverpool’s emotional march to the title in the year of the 25th anniversary of Hillsborough. During a bizarre post match press conference on Sunday, Mourinho blew his cheeks in and out as he tried to spread his germs across the press room. “Be careful of my bug”, he laughed – if Mourinho didn’t exist someone would have to make him up.
In the build-up to the match, Mourinho’s declaration that the Champions League semi-final second leg against Atletico would take precedence ahead of the Liverpool match was classic Mourinho. His former captain at Porto, Jorge Costa gave an insight into Mourinho’s psychological warfare skills in the 2010 book ‘From Mourinho’ by Luis Lourenco –
“First point: He acts like he does to free players from external things, like pressure, that are around if you play for a big club. By creating these battles (with the press, the authorities, rivals) for himself it leaves us to concentrate on essentials…practice and the games. Second point: he creates these battles so that we are obliged to be his warriors on the pitch. We become committed in the battle. That might sound simple, but it’s not. To manage that, you have to have established a united group. Maybe one day he will come across a squad where he doesn’t achieve that complicity”.
Mourinho’s hinting at a refereeing conspiracy after his side’s late defeat to a dubious penalty against Sunderland has now led to a second FA charge of the season. However, in the days leading up to the Liverpool game, it was Mourinho that the press were talking about – not the fact that Chelsea had lost two games against teams in the lower half of the table in the past month to blow their title challenge.
“Sometimes he creates a stress situation for a specific game, always with an objective”
Mourinho’s ex-Porto stalwart Deco said the above about ‘The Special One’ in the past. It appears now that as the final whistle blew in the defeat to Sunderland, Mourinho immediately launched his plan to defeat Liverpool.
Mourinho had analysed Liverpool’s style this season and realised that almost all of their attacking is done down the centre of the pitch. Mourinho packed that channel on Sunday with Lampard, Matic and Mikel and threw down the gauntlet to Brendan Rodgers to come up with a Plan B – he could not. Liverpool had to resort to long range shots and 39 crosses in a game where their usual waves of attack broke down on a Chelsea beach-head manned by Ivanovic (a right back playing a centre half) and Tomas Kalas (a 20-year-old making his Premier League debut).
Steven Gerrard’s error was in part forced due to Mourinho’s tactics as Gerrard had his eyes cast up field, desperately seeking a route through Chelsea’s massed ranks, as the ball rolled under his foot and into Demba Ba’s path. Mourinho’s ability to elicit two top class performances in a week from Ashley Cole is also a testament to his man management. Cole had not started a league match for Chelsea since mid January and in a World Cup year where Mourinho has exiled him, it would be understandable for him to not feel committed to Chelsea’s cause at this point in the season. However, Cole took to his task of restricting Suarez and Sterling with relish and may have rescued his chance of a seat on the plane to Brazil in the process.
‘They wanted the clowns!’
Mourinho was heard to shout as he strode up the Anfield tunnel at the final whistle after inexplicably snubbing the ritual full time handshake with Brendan Rodgers. Mourinho’s failure to explain the comment when pressed by Sky Sports’ Geoff Shreeves means it will be shrouded in mystery. However, what is clear from Sunday is that Mourinho is still very much The Ringmaster.
David Sheehan, Pundit Arena.