No matter how much you love or hate Mourinho, you’ve got to love him. His natural charisma and outspokenness has made him one of the most famous and adored football managers of the modern era, with one group of people particularly fond of the Special One - the press.
Since the day Mourinho knighted himself as a ‘Special One’ in 2004, his ability to manufacture back page headlines has made him a dictator of the press room. When news is light, Mourinho fills a double page. He’s a father of the press, an omnipresent figure that will help when things get tough, and deliver when he’s expected to.
But in recent weeks, Mourinho has abused his authoritative position for the good of his Chelsea side. You might say that’s fair - using the media’s influence in the game to his advantage. Yet the shrewdness of his recent commercial antics has left one manager in the Premier League victim: a certain Manuel Pellegrini.
‘Say something provocative and it will make the back page. Other managers will be questioned about it and the controversy of the topic will escalate. They’re distracted from their game, they lose focus and they drop points.’ Though it may not be an utterly conscious process, this is essentially the thought track Mourinho had three days before Chelsea and Manchester City’s huge meeting at the Etihad Stadium.
‘They (Manchester City) are lucky,’ said Mourinho. Lucky? Lucky? 100 goals in 34 games, a 100% win record at home and the highest scoring team in the league are, lucky. An outrageous comment – we thought.
When prompted the following day on what he thought of Mourinho’s comments, Pellegrini resisted getting into a battle of words, dismissing the ‘lucky’ tag, saying ‘I’m not concerned (about Mourinho’s claims)’.
But Mourinho hadn’t stopped, oh no. Two days prior to the game, Mourinho then began explaining how Manchester City have underachieved since the Sheikh Mansour takeover, describing their Champions League performances as ‘very bad’.
Nothing more was said before the game, perhaps José decided to spend at least some time on tactics! But boy, did those tactics pay off. Chelsea stalled Manchester City, as Mourinho’s men found the perfect balance between players committing themselves to attack and defence. The game finished 1-0 to Chelsea, with the win putting them two points behind then league leaders Arsenal – right in the thick of the title race. Of course, again, José had a different view.
‘The title race is between two horses (Arsenal and Manchester City) and a little horse (Chelsea) that needs milk and needs to learn how to jump,’ declared the Special One in the only way he knows how. Admitting inferiority to two title rivals is something any normal manager would avoid. But Mourinho isn’t a normal manager.
Claiming to be ‘a little horse’ angered Pellegrini, as it made a mockery of his side – portraying the loss as embarrassing given that Manchester City were, according to José, stronger title contenders. The Chilean then made his biggest mistake yet, even more so than losing the game – as he decided to ignite a war of words with Mourinho.
This was just what Mourinho wanted. To put this all in context, the managers of England’s top four tiers are like fishes of the sea. Arsene Wenger is an octopus - running the operations, a strong, respected character. Ian Holloway is a clown fish – you can probably work that out for yourself. And Pellegrini is a shark - one of the biggest forces in the sea. A lot of bait is thrown around to distract the fishes from their daily routines. The source of the bait? The fisherman. Or in other words, José Mourinho.
‘It (Chelsea) can be a little horse, but very rich,’ said Pellegrini. He continued, ‘This is the team that has spent most money in the last 10 years, it is the team that spent most money this year, and the team that spent the most money in the transfer window. So, little, but rich.’ Check mate Pellegrini, we thought. But this was by no means the end.
After Pellegrini had a little nibble, Mourinho hanged onto him and just started winding. The next chapter in the book saw Mourinho patronise Pellegrini’s engineering background, saying, ‘The only thing that is funny that he keeps saying he never responds to Mourinho, he never comments about Mourinho. He said that in Spain, too.’
Though hoping for another Pellegrini comeback, the Manchester City manager decided to avoid the personal battle and straighten his focus towards the upcoming Norwich game. Another frustrating performance saw City drop points, as the game finished 0-0 at Carrow Road. The main talking point of the game though, was what appeared as a kick out of irritation from City midfielder Yaya Toure on Norwich’s Ricky van Wolfswinkel.
Ever the opportunist, Mourinho didn’t think twice about voicing his opinion on the matter, in the hope of reigniting his battle with Pellegrini. Prior to an FA panel decision on the Toure incident, the Portuguese stated, ‘If he (Toure) is not suspended, players can do what they want if the referee doesn't see.’
Toure wasn’t suspended. This meant Mourinho’s comments prior to the decision on the ban came to the forefront of the back pages. Pellegrini retaliated again, this time trying to end the spat between Mourinho and himself. The Chilean manager said, ‘I answered just once to Mourinho. These are not mind games because I don't think managers can be affected by those kind of things, but I will not answer any more on Mourinho.’ I sense a bit of denial here, but go back on his word now and Pellegrini will be made a fool – something which you can bet Mourinho will do his best to make happen.
So the Pellegrini-Mourinho relationship is dormant as I write, with both men reported to have not exchanged Valentine’s Day cards. It sure will be intriguing to see how this personal battle and the title race pans out - it’s going to be a photo finish.
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