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Jose Mourinho – Could the silence be fear?
- Updated: 21 April, 2012
Federico Tardito / LaPresse / DPPI
“His silence, speaks volumes / His silence, speaks volumes”
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For someone who readily admits that, as far as he is concerned, the game begins with the press conference, someone for whom the actual match is merely a higher intensity episode in an otherwise unbroken continuum of competitiveness, a code orange escalation of his Clausewitzian Total War, it is impossible not to try and interpret José Mourinho’s pre-Clásico delegation of presser duties to the altogether more moderate Aitor Karanka as the transmission of some sort of message or other. How could it not be? (And what is the message?)
OK, we know that he has had his beef recently over the intrusiveness and, well, the sense of entitlement that the Spanish football press feels regarding access to him and his thoughts, José even taking the trouble of quantifying the amount of time he (and his players) is donating. But even that grievance – ostensibly legitimate – smacks of a ruse, an ulterior motive. Again, how could it not be? This is José.
This is a man for whom The Game never stops, for whom there is no hors de combat; he’s always switched on, 24/7, like some speed-fuelled Tommy on the Somme. It is almost as if he knew he wanted to say nothing yesterday, so prepared the ground by forewarning the press that his ordinarily happily volunteered quotemongery would not be available. Well, would you put it past him?
Could the silence this time be fear – if not over anything as mundane as the actual result, then certainly about his reputation, his myth? The accusation has been made of Mourinho before – by Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos, no less, when their touchline-banned manager, aggrieved at Pepe’s (and his own) red card and the 0-2 first-leg defeat in last year’s Champions League semi-final, incredibly instructed the team to play for a 0-0, presumably so he could stew on his grievances, his sense that persecuting agents were abroad, which is among the more common – and occasionally effective – of his methods (or his psychopathologies, depending on your point of view).
Of course, prior to that match, almost precisely 12 months ago now, José indulged in much mudslinging, finally provoking a response from Guardiola – famously, he called Mourinho the “puto amo” of the press conference, and later received a standing ovation from the players back at the team hotel – so what is different this time?
Is the silence just a new, desperate idea, an experiment for the sake of trying something different? That is plausible, but you just cannot see José being able to help himself. His native prickliness, his need to conjure forth some enemy or conspiracy, is not only getting on for compulsive (and, by definition, something that cannot just be switched on and off), he is also actually pretty good at button-pushing.
There have been quite a few choleric, bellicose managers down the years, but few have had quite such a searingly caustic turn of phrase or the type of forensic nerve-hitting that’s enough to pack off adversaries to extended psychoanalysis, either through the pinpointing of an existing weakness or neurosis, or – preferably for José, no doubt – the implanting of an entirely new one.
One imagines Pep being pretty immune from the barbs. But it is nevertheless still quite strange, quite out of character for the usually razorwired and hyperalert Mourinho to pass up pre-Clásico verbal sparring. If Pep’s team’s character comes from the ronda, then Mourinho’s emerges from the rueda.
Of course, it goes without saying that this is an enormous game for Real Madrid. But not as big as it is for Barcelona. And this was an ideal opportunity to remind the blaugrana of that.
In fact, despite Barça slicing six points from Real’s lead in the last few weeks, with los merengues facing a potentially tricky game at San Mamés to finish (although Athletic might be preparing for two cup finals by then), the situation is almost identical to circumstances Mourinho faced early on during his stint at Chelsea, a situation that prompted one of his most brilliant ever press conference performances, one in which his instinct for melodrama was on full display.
As it is, his self-imposed silence has prevented the reprisal of a line that was – uncharacteristically perhaps – less acerbic or hostile than of such concussively flawless logic and laconic delivery that it could not but have unnerved the team for whose ears it was intended. As far as I’m aware, this line was not really picked up or widely appreciated at the time – which would perhaps be borne out by the fact that, alas, it cannot be located on YouTube – nor has it been logged in the canon of Mourinhisms. Yet this is a quip that’s crying out for a 2012 remix and really ought to have been unfurled for Pep and his men…
We pick up our hero in 2004, his first season in London. Remember it? He had abandoned that “beautiful blue chair” in Porto and his job as #2 to God, swanked his way down the King’s Road, talking the talk, walking the walk, and making even the most grizzled of hacks swoon. And he had Chelsea winning, too, immediately and with a swagger. Then came the presser.
It was the eve of a London derby against the Gunners, two weeks before Christmas, 16 games into the campaign. Chelsea were top, holding a 3-point lead over Everton (who had played a game more, winning the Merseyside Derby at lunchtime that day) with Arsenal a further two points back (this is not inconsequential padding, so remember the details). Chelsea had been remorseless, but this was the mighty Arsenal of Bergkamp, Henry, Pirès and Vieira – Invincibles the season before and early pacesetters this time.
Mourinho held court fully aware of the danger they presented and was, unsurprisingly, pitch perfect. After several minutes of back-and-forth – the tepid baseline rallying of 80’s women’s tennis, of Sabatini and Mary-Jo Fernandez – he was asked a straightforward question about the ‘p-word’ by a blockhead hack utterly out of his intellectual depth discussing such a notion with him. So he pounced. Doubtless it was an innocent platitude, a simple, thoughtless, mundane question that would habitually have prompted from one of the Portuguese’s peers an automatic, anodyne, ‘safe’ Gaffer-answer. Not from Mourinho. Oh no…
“So, Hoe-zay,” the twit began, as oblivious of his mispronunciation of Mourinho’s first name as he was of the way in which his question was about to be deconstructed, “how are your players going to cope with the pressure tomorra?”
It was a query so predictable, and eliciting an answer so polished, that for a moment I thought the questioner must be his stooge. But Mourinho manifestly doesn’t need a straight man to pave the way for his punchlines.
If it were off-the-cuff, it would have been impressive. Paradoxically, however, it would have somehow been less impressive than Mourinho having anticipated the question and gone to the trouble of rehearsing his reply to the point where it would seem spontaneous. For that would confirm unequivocally that he never, ever switched off, see – that The Game never ended.
He started his riposte with a stare long enough to intimidate his questioner, this delay allowing him some time to ponder the question’s pat idiocy, then slowly arched an eyebrow, offered the hint of a smile (that of a maniac about to stove in your skull), before responding:
“The Chelsea supporters have a beautiful song…” Here, he slowed right down, his deadpanning giving that Iberian Portuguese accent even more of a Russian lilt.
“It goes like this: ‘We…are…top of the league… We are…top of the league’. It doesn’t matter the re-sult: after the match, the supporters, they can still sing their beautiful song. The only question is: two points, five points, or eight points?”
The room fell silent, save a few giggles (quickly cowed by a scowl). Mourinho paused again for a second or so, it might have been an eternity, then concluded: “Pressure? I would say the pressure is on Arsenal.” As I seem to recall Kenneth Wolstenhome having said: it is now…
So, for those that lap up the drama when a genuine exponent of mind games is playing, Mourinho’s baffling absence from yesterday’s presser has foreclosed the obvious variation on that line: “1 point, 4 points, or 7 points?”
Shame, because I was looking forward to José attaching his metaphorical electrodes to some blaugrana nipples.
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Parts of this piece were used in an earlier article for The FCF.