In case you hadn’t noticed, the English media bloody love a bit of Jose Mourinho. In fact, they love all of him. From his relentless quotability to his remarkably candid opinions and consistently suave appearance, Mourinho will always be the special one on Fleet Street.
It was love at first sight. Even before the Portuguese’s unforgettable first press conference as Chelsea manager, his 21st century re-imagination of David Pleat’s dash of triumph, when knocking Manchester United out of the Champions League with Porto, was the stuff of dreams for delighted scribes. The relationship worked well for the majority of Mourinho’s stay at Stamford Bridge. During this time, he remained within easy reach and helped to establish the Premier League as the place to be.
But Jose is a man on a mission. What we have learned about him recently has proven that he was never going to hang around on the King’s Road for long, regardless of Roman Abramovich’s wishes. Not when there were other clubs throughout Europe willing to extend his collection of continental league titles.
There have, of course, been doubters. Chelsea have still never won the Champions League trophy that Mourinho lifted shortly before arriving in west London and claimed back last night. He was unable to deliver that particular prize with that particular club but his success with Inter this season seems to have restored faith.
Few European Cup-winning managers have created a special bond with the stadium that hosted their greatest victory. Mourinho has certainly had little to do with the subsequently re-named Veltins Arena in Gelsenkirchen since he triumphed there with Porto in 2004. Similarly, Rafa Benitez and Frank Rijkaard are unlikely to manage Turkey or France any time soon.
Carlo Ancelotti appears in no rush to work in Athens, Sir Alex Ferguson an even less probable candidate to earn his future crust in Moscow and Pep Guardiola surely has no designs on leaving the Camp Nou to coach Lazio or Roma. Mourinho, however, will be back at the Bernabeu very soon for his most high-profile project yet.
The former Barcelona employee’s arrival at Real Madrid this summer is set to divide opinion among journalists on these shores. Over the past two seasons in the Champions League, Pep Guardiola has dismissed each of the three best teams that England has to offer. The attitude of the British press towards Barca as a result of these meetings varied wildly – there was widespread indignation after Chelsea’s controversial injury-time exit but acceptance and even admiration when the Blaugrana outplayed Manchester United in the final.
This season, Barca were lauded for the way they controlled possession during their two strolls to victory over Arsenal, although there was a sense that the growing respect was meted out grudgingly. When Mourinho masterminded Inter’s successful bid to end Barca’s dream of retaining their title in Madrid, he won fans on Fleet Street as well as in the Spanish capital. Some writers could barely contain their joy.
Barca’s underhand pursuit of Cesc Fabregas this month has seen much of the goodwill towards the Catalan side evaporate completely. Suddenly, Barca are the enemy for the way they operate and, crucially, the way they continue to endanger the Premier League’s self-proclaimed status as the best in the world.
Mourinho is not the only Portuguese to light up the English top flight in recent years. Many in the media still pine for Cristiano Ronaldo, the on-field version of the special one. But he chose La Liga and Fabregas looks almost certain to follow suit.
Coverage of Spanish football in this country increased over the past twelve months as Ronaldo provided Real with the same electrifying performances to which Manchester United fans grew accustomed at Old Trafford. With Mourinho directing his countryman from the Bernabeu dugout next season, it will improve once more. And if Fabregas is to line up opposite the Portuguese pair in El Clasico, the level of interest from those who constantly feel the need to defend and promote the Premiership will be staggering.
That old mantra, that no publicity is bad publicity, will be tested to the limit where La Liga is concerned. If and when Chelsea, Manchester United or Arsenal get the opportunity to wreak revenge on Barca in the Champions League, the spotlight will be dazzling. And if Mourinho’s Real Madrid face English opposition, the column inches will write themselves.