Live von der Insel - The English Football Column : The Mastermind and his Masseur

José Mourinho was back to his best on Monday night, as his Chelsea side outwitted Manchester City. It was a timely success, says our columnist, for a man whose infamous ego was in dire need of a massage.

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Mourinho celebrates. The win over City certainly massaged his ego.
Mourinho celebrates. The win over City certainly massaged his ego.Foto: imago

José Mourinho has endured a lot of stick lately.

His comment on West Ham last week is a good example. When Mourinho moaned that Sam Allardyce’s team played “19th century football”, he was greeted with a wave of contrary negativity which made one proud to be British.“You idiot, Mourinho!” we cooed. “Haven’t you read Jonathan Wilson’s Inverting the Pyramid? 19th century, teams tended to set up with a boisterous line of eight forwards, not the ultra defensive, bus parking dross which West Ham play!” we guffawed.  

Were it not for the fact that José Mourinho is also the man credited with beating an invincible Barcelona and winning the European Cup by playing exclusively negative tactics at Internazionale, we might have understood him. But Mourinho moaning about someone else playing defensively is like Pep Guardiola moaning that “the problem with Arsenal is: they always try to walk the ball in”.

So Mourinho needed a lifeline. Proof that he was still a genius. And he got it against Manchester City on Monday evening.

This is a Manchester City which hadn’t failed to score a goal at home in the league since 2010. This is a Manchester City who, before Monday night, the world was already crowning as the new English champions. That they had only just gained top spot having spent most of the season behind Arsenal didn’t matter. They’d scored 68 goals in 24 games! And, for at least six games, they had been the most in form team in Europe! Six games! It’s practically an era!

For one fine evening, though, Mourinho cast aside all the worries that have plagued him this season. Gone was the fear that Fernando Torres would melt in the rain. Gone was the worry that his hairline may recede so swiftly that, by the end of the 90 minutes, he would look like a cross between Leon Trotsky and Grant Mitchell. Back was the old Mourinho. Efficient, ruthless, captivating.

Chelsea pressed Yaya Toure into the ground, (a good and also novel idea: general form with Toure is to move out of his way and hope he trips over his own feet). Mourinho’s side then miraculously made Martin Demichelis look even more superfluous than he normally is, and consolidated it with a fine defensive display to keep City out, and a rocket of a left foot strike from Branislav Ivanovic to take the three points for themselves.

And how, suddenly, had Mourinho masterminded this coup de grace? How had he gone from Petulant Mou to Perfect Mou? “We like big games” he shrugged afterwards. Mourinho has two shrugs – an angry shrug and a smug shrug. This was the smug shrug.

But if Mourinho could be smug about his tactics, he admitted that the psychological factor was less his own work.

“I did not say anything before the game. Billy, the masseur, did the team talk.”

Billy McCulloch the masseur is widely known as a jovial if grating individual who tells rubbish jokes on Chelsea TV. According to Mourinho, the Portuguese hadn’t spoken to his team since lunchtime, leaving McCulloch to give the players a bit of inspiration before kick off. What he said remains a mystery.

“I didn’t understand any of it,” Mourinho chuckled, “he was screaming so much in his Scottish, rah rah rah! But the players clapped!”

Leaving aside for a moment the fact that McCulloch is from Swindon and hasn’t a hint of Scottish to his accent, one must marvel at the genius of this idea. For if Mourinho, as talented a linguist as there is in football, could not understand McCulloch, lord knows what the Chelsea players  thought of him. Mourinho’s team contains a grand total of five native English speakers, only two of whom were in the team on Monday.

He has struck gold again. Just as we thought Mourinho was losing his marbles, he reinvents reinvented the team talk for the modern era. Instead of real words, just throw an incomprehensible mash of angry sounding noises at your players, and they will even beat Manchester City.

The man is, truly, a genius.

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