Now that he's back in the English Premier League, we realize how much we missed Jose Mourinho. The Portuguese manager of Chelsea is up to his usual tricks, baiting his fellow managers and toying with journalists.
Oh, and by the way, he also happens to have his Chelsea side atop the table as we enter the business end of the season.
His latest barb was in pointing out how Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is a "specialist in failure" due to the Gunners' long trophy drought. It's a classic technique employed by the self-dubbed "Special One." If only Alex Ferguson had stuck around at Manchester United for one more season to match wits with him. Current United boss David Moyes is such a forlorn figure on the touchline right now that any ribbing from Mourinho would seem almost cruel.
But all of the off-the-field shenanigans are just the bonus of Mourinho's residency in West London. There's plenty of substance behind the smarmy style. Chelsea's recent 1-0 win over host Manchester City was a tactical master-class from Mourinho. He had City manager Manuel Pellegrini in his pocket all night long. Manchester City had been rampant at home all season, but Mourinho's team selection put the brakes on that.
Nemanja Matic and David Luiz choked off all of the space in the midfield, frustrating City's Yaya Toure in the process. But Mourinho didn't just park the bus in front of the goal, so to speak. Chelsea counterattacked expertly, as Eden Hazard ran riot in the offensive third of the pitch.
What we saw that night in Manchester was nothing new. If, as the great soccer writer Barney Ronay says, Wenger wants "to color the world a shade of creative midfielder," then Mourinho's preferred hue is the black-and-blue of a defensive midfielder. Frenchman Claude Makelele broke up play for the Blues during Mourinho’s first stint with Chelsea (which yielded two championships), and Matic seems set to play the same role this time around.
But let’s not forget who the star of the show is … it’s always Mourinho. At Real Madrid, he alienated goalkeeper Iker Casillas, a fan favorite and previous untouchable known as St. Iker, and midfielder Juan Mata was on the wrong end of a Jose special this season. Mata, Chelsea’s player of the year last season, found himself frozen out and eventually sold to Manchester United.
But his players will run through walls for him. Chelsea defender John Terry has defied the years with his form this season, and fading midfielder Frank Lampard recently gave a tearful testimonial to his manager at a press dinner.
He may not be everyone’s cup of tea: the purists at the Santiago Bernabeu despised his practicality, and he won’t be on the Christmas card lists of too many of his coaching peers. But ask the fans of Porto or Inter Milan if they would give back their UEFA Champions League trophies, or query the denizens of Stamford Bridge if they like the look of a potential third Premiership title under Mourinho’s stewardship.
He calls himself the "Happy One" now, but he’s sure making life miserable for the other 19 Premier League sides. As we’ve come to learn, it’s Mourinho’s world … we just live in it.