The study of Jose Mourinho has become English football’s fixation. Almost everything that comes out the Special One’s special mouth is analyzed and dissected for true meaning and subtext.
He can be a contradiction of himself at times. His innate arrogance is strewn with instances of diffidence and genuine likeability. He will trash an opposition team for playing "19th century" football, having been criticised himself for playing "anti-football" against technically superior teams. You could call him a hypocrite, but such a streak runs deeper than that through his persona.
The Chelsea manager added yet more material to the study of himself at the weekend, sarcastically congratulating referee Mike Dean following his controversial decision to award Sunderland a penalty in a shock 2-1 home defeat. It was hardly his finest hour.
Even still, Mourinho is undoubtedly the best man for Chelsea and he will eventually lead the club to success, regardless of whether the Blues finish this season without silverware. That much is certain.
With his side’s title hopes all but ended by the defeat to Sunderland, his public reaction was a very deliberate one. He refused to speak to the print journalists for Monday’s newspapers, only offering comment in a two-minute press conference, during which he fielded no questions.
“I want to congratulate Mike Dean,” he said after the defeat, his tone dripping with sarcasm, as per Dominic Fifield of the Guardian. “I think his performance was unbelievable and I think when referees have unbelievable performances, I think it’s fair as managers we give them praise. So, fantastic performance.
“He came here with one objective,” Mourinho continued. “To make a fantastic performance. And he did that. And congratulations also to Mike Riley, the referees’ boss. What they are doing through the whole season is fantastic, especially in the last couple of months, and in teams involved in the title race. Absolutely fantastic.”
He repeated his snide praise of referee Dean in his television interview in an almost identical manner, demonstrating how he wanted that pre-meditated soundbite to be his only response to the loss.
But what was Mourinho attempting to achieve by doing so? Some say he was trying to deflect criticism of his side’s performance away from the players. Others claim it was a desperate last-ditch effort to psyche out his title rivals. Both are classic Mourinho media tactics, but this was something different.
There’s no doubt Mourinho is a bad loser and indignity was on full display at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, as Chelsea’s title challenge evaporated up into the King’s Road sky.
Chelsea’s backroom staff were so incensed by the decision to award the visitors a spot kick that assistant manager Rui Faria tried to storm Dean on the pitch, having to be held back by his colleagues and the fourth official.
Yet Faria’s behavior can at least be excused on the basis that he reacted in the heat of the moment. Mourinho’s response was a calculated and rehearsed one. He knew exactly what he was saying, and the way he was saying it, but did he really know what he was doing?
It was a juvenile counteraction of anger and frustration. There was no intent, only bitterness. Mourinho wasn’t playing mind games with anyone other than with himself. Just as it did at Real Madrid, is the pressure getting to him?
The truth is that upon leaving Spain in the summer, Mourinho needed Chelsea even more than they needed him. The Portuguese coach kept his record of having won the league at every club he’s been at since Porto at Real Madrid but he left having failed to win the Champions League; the one thing he’d been hired to deliver.
In many ways Real Madrid broke Mourinho. Broke his temperament, broke his composure and broke his spirit. The Portuguese had never left a club on such poor terms before.
Chelsea was Mourinho’s only genuine option, illustrating just how far his stock had fallen since taking the Real job three years previously. Gone are the days when the European elite would move mountains to get Mourinho in their dugout.
But even still, with Sir Alex Ferguson out of the picture Mourinho is the most accomplished and powerful manager in the Premier League. Of course, Arsene Wenger is the division’s elder statesman but nobody oozes success like Mourinho. As a manager and a man, he is tailored for the Premier League era.
And while he looks likely to end up empty-handed come the end of this season (although Chelsea are still involved in the Champions League, of course) Mourinho’s second coming at the Bridge will eventually be a successful one. Even if by then we’re still no closer to understanding him.