Whether engaging in tit-for-tat provocations with rival managers, using outlandish statements to act as a lightning rod for his players, or even winding up his own charges to inspire a reaction in training or on the pitch, Mourinho is rivalled only by Sir Alex Ferguson in his ability to toy with the minds of others.
While Fergie was more of a blunt instrument – using fear, anger and outrage to force friends and foes to submit to his will – Mourinho is a more sophisticated animal.
His recent attack on Arsene Wenger – when he called the Arsenal boss a “specialist in failure” – was not intended to distract the Frenchman from his job.
While Wenger will have told his players to prove the Portuguese wrong, it will have sowed doubts in their notoriously fragile collective psyche.
Their form since has been hit and miss at best, and – after a shock defeat at Stoke – they may even suffer one of their characteristic implosions.
His latest trick came courtesy of a rant against football’s governing bodies for supposedly failing to give his side enough time to recover from a Champions League trip to Istanbul on Wednesday night.
Mourinho argued eloquently that the FA was not supporting Chelsea correctly by scheduling their next Premier League match – a West London derby with Fulham – on Saturday afternoon. Having travelled home from the exact point at which Europe meets Asia, Mourinho insisted that the game should have been moved to Sunday or Monday.
Never mind the size of Chelsea’s squad, never mind the fact they were facing the league’s bottom side: it was Chelsea against the rest of the world.
But in addition to this creation of a mini-siege mentality, Mourinho developed a situation whereby his players probably expected to be dropped. So those players, mindful that their places were under threat, would have responded accordingly in training.
Not only would such a statement potentially buck their ideas up, it also lowered expectations – so that when, as it happened, only two changes were made from the 1-1 draw with Galatasaray, his starting XI was suitably prepared, motivated and grateful for the opportunity.
Failure specialists Arsenal, meanwhile, contrived to lose 1-0 at Stoke, a defeat that could drop them down to third if Liverpool win at Southampton. And with Manchester City only two points behind the Gunners, with two games in hand, don’t put your house on Wenger breaking that trophy drought.
Saturday afternoon does make you wonder one thing about Chelsea though – why on earth they bought Mohamed Salah who, having been cup-tied in midweek, would have been raring to go at Fulham. The Egyptian wasn’t even in the squad – perhaps Mourinho simply didn’t want him to join rivals Liverpool.
As it happened, Andre Schurrle retained his place on the right wing.
The result? A marvellous hat-trick and one of his career-best performances, second only to his star turn against Sweden last year.
Chapeau, Monsieur Mourinho, chapeau.
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