There was a moment, away from all the cameras, when Jose Mourinho could sit down and try to put into words what has changed at the age of 50. “More grey hair,” he began. Then he reached into the inside pocket of his suit jacket and pulled out a pair of reading glasses. “And these …”
The new Jose, he told us. Older, wiser. Less confrontational, more clued-up. “Humble” was the word he used.
Well, until the moment he was reminded of the time, at one of his first Chelsea press conferences, he had lifted his hand above his head to show approximately where he regarded his own ego. Did he still feel the same?
“Of course,” he replied, and for the first time he cracked a smile. “I’m still very confident. But, at the same time, I’m more stable, more mature.
“If I was a proud guy because of what I did before, now I’ve done more. I’ve been at Inter Milan, Real Madrid, I’ve won titles. The only thing that affects me is the glasses, man. After that, I’m happier than ever.”
That was one of the 18 times the soft-focus, best-behaviour Mourinho used the word “stable” or “stability”.
He mentioned being “happy” that Arsène Wenger was still around, but it did not carry the read-between-the-lines mischief of old.
As for David Moyes and Manuel Pellegrini, there were kind, supportive words —“good decisions, good decisions” — and only a passing reference to the fact Moyes had never managed in the Champions League “so people can’t expect him to be a fish in water”.
Mourinho, of course, has managed “I think, 108 matches” at that level.
On Chelsea, he said he would not talk about Rafael Benitez’s time in charge. That, too, wavered a little with his assessment of the squad.
“Europa League winners can be analysed in two ways. One way: you won it. The other way: why did you win it?
“You won it because you didn’t get through the group phase of the Champions League. You don’t have teams like Steaua Bucharest in the Champions League …”
What is clear is that he fits more snugly into English football than its Spanish counterpart.
“I don’t enjoy too much winning 6-0. I don’t enjoy a league where you are against one team and it is about 90 points, 92 points, 96 points, 100 points; 100 goals, 110 goals, 120 goals.
“The number of points Barcelona got last season, finishing second, they would win every other league with this number. The same with Real this season.
“It’s a two-horse race, and that is a big difference with English football.
“But also, I missed the mentality of the 90 minutes in England, pushing everybody to the maximum, playing the extra competition [the Capital One Cup], 60 matches, 70 matches, three matches in a row, the Christmas period, the Easter period. Fantastic.”
This was the point at which he was asked how the Premier League compared now to his previous stint.
“In terms of quality, I don’t think it’s better. But in terms of competitiveness, it’s harder.”
— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2013