Jim White

Jose’s special performance

Jim White

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In the press room at Inter's Appiano Gentile training ground this week, Jose Mourinho knew he had a special audience. The English press were in town ahead of his team's game with Chelsea this evening. And instead of the sneers and rolled eyes and sucked-in cheeks he generally elicits from his usual inquisitors among the Italian media contingent, it was high fiving and back slapping and joshing all round.

Yes, his fan club was in town. And it was clear that the love affair between Mourinho and England has not dulled. But then why should it: the Premier League would be an immensely richer place were he to return - as he hinted this week - over the summer. Suddenly, instead of inscrutable nothings, notebooks would be filled once more with reams of copy. The story would be back.

The point about Mourinho is that he loves all this stuff. He loves the attention. He loves the cameras. He loves chucking in his little verbal grenades. Why? Because he knows it works. He once said that the one thing a manager can do ahead of a big game is to make the opposition think. That is what he has always striven to do in his press conferences: just throw in a couple of things that might get under the opponents' skin. In a game where fractions of percentages make a difference, his verbals might just be the thing that changes a result.

Not always are they as spectacular as his announcing the Barcelona team correctly before a Champions League tie a few years back. But this week he delivered a couple of comments, designed to rile and annoy his opposite number Carlo Ancelotti that so perfectly hit the mark, they are probably already the subject of a Pentagon study in the best practice of verbal warfare. So much so, that somewhere in Hollywood, the movie is already in treatment, called 'The Men Who Say Sarcastic Things in Press Conferences'. With George Clooney in the starring role, obviously.

First Mourinho let it be known that the Chelsea side his Inter will be facing tonight remains his creation. Never mind that three managers have been in the dug out since he left, these were his boys, he instilled their work ethic, he built their confidence, he is still in touch with them. While Ancelotti said he had not talked to Ashley Cole since his disgrace, Mourinho had been on the phone immediately, offering words of comfort, words of advice. He still had Ashley's well-being in his mind.

The Portuguese wasn't just showing off here. His motive was subtly to undermine the authority of his opposite number, a man he has never cared for and who has never cared for him. He was saying that Ancelotti's players answer not to their current boss, but the old one, the one who still loves them. Will it work? Maybe not. Ancellotti is too canny an operator to let it be known he is narked. But it just might. So in Mourinho's world, when every little detail has to be addressed, it is worth a try.

Then there was his admission that he had turned down the England job in the immediate aftermath of Steve McClaren's sacking. In the city where Fabio Capello is close to a deity, this was a daring proposition: that he is more in demand than the great don of Italian football himself. And the message was duly communicated back to England, back to the chairmen who will be making decisions this summer.

Mourinho is clearly in restless mood. Happy to have his messengers send out his CV, he wants to be wanted again. Where will Mourinho end up? Well, he made it known to his eager audience that he wants to come back to England, to a place where he is admired rather than viewed with suspicion. The question is in which dugout will he be installed?

He'd love the United job, but the current incumbent would need to be prised out of his seat by the local fire brigade wielding cutting equipment. He wouldn't mind returning to Chelsea, but he burned too many bridges there and the owner really doesn't like him. He would enjoy Liverpool, but not with the current owners, the current debt and the current lack of funds. Arsenal, like United, doesn't have a vacancy. Which leaves one place, a place with the money and the ambition to match the special one's special self-regard. And how much would he relish easing an Italian out of the position, given his current disdain for that particular football nation.

In fact, the biggest message of Mourinho's tour de force this week is that Roberto Mancini needs to start winning a few games. The breath he can feel on his collar is just about the hottest in football right now.

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