Mourinho's calculated charm offensive shifts focus onto rivals

Posted by Phil Lythell

Mohid Rasfan/AFP/Getty ImagesEnglish football fans are seeing a different, happier side of Jose Mourinho as he begins his second term at Chelsea.

It has been a month since Jose Mourinho retook the reins at Stamford Bridge, and so far, so smooth.

The typical fireworks have been noticeably absent. Instead, the calm, measured, affable side of Mourinho has been on display. Anybody expecting boastful rhetoric of Mourinho's first stint in the U.K. in 2004 or waiting for verbal hand grenades to be lobbed in the direction of his rivals has been sorely disappointed.

The press, eager for sound bites to gush forth from what was a bottomless well, have been the most affected by his easygoing temperament, and as a result, some have begun to question whether Mourinho still has the appetite for the fight.

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With no bold predictions or ominous threats coming from the Portuguese's mouth, those with copy to file have instead decided to question Mourinho's motivation and suitability in an attempt to explain his nonconfrontational attitude. Has the fire gone out? Is he scarred by his trials in Spain? Is this return destined to end on tears?

But these leaps of judgement fail to take into account the unquestionable fact that there is very little that the former Real Madrid boss does without cold calculation. It seems that no one has considered the possibility that, perhaps, Mourinho is trying a different approach this time around. Perhaps he realizes that the same tactics are not guaranteed to work so perfectly in his second spell and that the conditions of the league and his new club are different from what they were in 2004.

Nine years ago, even though he had just won the Champions League with Porto, there was a sense that he had to make a name for himself in England. Now, he is arguably the most famous and accomplished football manager currently in employment, and he has nothing to prove to anyone, apart from himself.

Mourinho is also aware that he does not need pick a fight just yet. He has been determined to ensure that his initial relations with rival managers are cordial. He has spoken with respect about both David Moyes and Manuel Pellegrini, though most revealing were his comments about Arsene Wenger.

To say that Mourinho and Wenger did not see eye-to-eye in Mourinho's previous spell in England would be an enormous understatement. So, it was surprising and refreshing to see the Portuguese determined to restart his relationship with his counterpart at Arsenal on a good footing.

He showed tremendous class -- not something always ascribed to Mourinho over the years -- by calling Wenger "a very nice guy", "a person with a big culture" and noted that the Gunners' boss "knows what he is doing". It was a show of respect that illustrated the maturity of a man who celebrated his 50th birthday earlier this year.

That too, anyone thinking that Mourinho is just trotting out platitudes is mistaken. Even with his new warm exterior, he has given straight answers to some straight questions. For example, in the middle of his praise for Wenger, he was asked whether he could emulate the Frenchman and stomach working for eight seasons without a trophy. His response: “No, because of my mentality. I would feel strange.” There was no attempt to sugarcoat his reply. It was just an honest appraisal of the situation.

Likewise, Mourinho was not afraid to try and turn the media's focus and attention toward Manchester City by claiming that there was far more pressure on the Citizens to win the Premier League because of their £100m spending spree than there was on Chelsea. He might have spoken favourably about Pellegrini to start with, but he is hardly going to give the new arrival an easy ride.

The stakes were raised even higher when Mourinho claimed that he hoped City would receive the same criticism for their lavish purchases as Chelsea did when they pursued the same spendthrift policy in the middle of the last decade. Mourinho clearly sees City as his main rivals for the title and is determined to do anything he can to destabilise them and shift the limelight off his team.

On the few occasions when Mourinho has spoken about his players, he has also been quite forthright, particularly in his comments about Eden Hazard. Mourinho has lauded Hazard's talent, though has also made clear that the Belgian must work hard to prove his worth. Mourinho will demand constant improvement and excellence from Hazard and, in doing so, will attempt to strike just the right balance between carrot and stick.

Mourinho has spoken in similar ways about Frank Lampard, John Terry and Ashley Cole, praising them while simultaneously denying them any primacy within the squad. The era of the "untouchables" appears to have disappeared. Meritocracy rather than reputation will govern team selection.

The words might be less controversial and caustic, but if one actually listens to what Mourinho is saying, it is clear that there is still a sense to his sanity. Whether his accords last through the season or even past the first contentious refereeing decision is debatable, but for now, Mourinho seems happy to let others enjoy the limelight while he gently sculpts his team into a winner.

Follow Phil Lythell on Twitter @PhilLythell


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