Jose Mourinho is out there somewhere, crouched in the long grass. In the days between his appearances on Sky Sports, what is it that he does? What becomes the outlet for all that Machiavellian scheming?
There has to be one, because mischief is such an integral part of his personality. Without the opportunity to voice his conspiracies and exercise the most manipulative parts of his mind, Mourinho would be a half-man. He’d fall in on himself and fade away.
So perhaps he’s not in the long grass. Maybe he’s busy leaving passive-aggressive notes for his wife on the kitchen counter, telling her he loves her, but without any kisses or hearts. Or perhaps he’s sending his son strangely blunt text messages decorated with emojis which don’t quite suit the tone.
There has to be something. He has to be tweaking somebody.
And that’s the problem. Where there is Mourinho, there must always be this corrosive energy. When his career was ascending it was more understated, it would appear sporadically to serve a quick purpose.
Anders Frisk. Arsene Wenger. Rafael Benitez.
Later, at Real Madrid, Chelsea and most recently Manchester United, he allowed those nefarious tendencies to consume him. To the extent, perhaps, that coaching football teams is now what he does in his spare time outside the press conferences, when he’s done plotting and cackling.
Yes, he’ll fix that midfield in a minute, just as soon as he’s finished secretly moving the stapler on his chairman’s desk. Every day. It has to be every day or it won’t work.
Diego Torres wrote a very entertaining book about Mourinho. Whether it was a novel or a biography is questionable, but the anecdotes within its covers were easy enough to believe. They’re even easier to believe in hindsight because Mourinho has really hammed up his supervillain performance in the years since, but back in 2014 that version of him had already been established; the ratios had already shifted.
And that’s the problem with Mourinho now: if your club appoints him, what are you really getting?
If, for instance, Tottenham and Mauricio Pochettino decide to part ways and Daniel Levy tempted the Portuguese to White Hart Lane, almost anybody could write the chapters that would follow.
First would come the Hollywood unveiling. Then the improvement in defensive security, convincing everyone that this is the best decision a football club has ever made.
And then? Then the actual football begins to recede in importance. It starts to become a prop within the soap opera, eventually existing only as a plot hook for his many, many arguments, or as a premise for the thousands of warring articles which follow.
And that is all before something really happens. Then Mourinho goes off like a Catherine Wheel, flaring in every direction, accusing everybody of everything, and descending into such a state of caricature that there is no club anymore – no team, no players, no corner flags, goal-kicks or stadium – only him. Fighting his tedious battles, demanding hundreds of millions of pounds for a re-build which never begins or ends, and crushing the spirit of youth players for the cautionary effect.
For the fans, the cost must be devastating. The effect must actually be to make them hate their own club. Not because of the negative football with which Mourinho is associated, although that hardly sweetens the deal, but because the cycle can be predicted so far in advance and the ending never surprises anyone.
When Mourinho leaves, it will always be worse. He can fix a tyre, but not without ruining the engine. He can lay a new carpet, but he’ll leave your electrics exposed. By the time he departs, he may have won a trophy, but he will have emptied bank accounts, destroyed careers and soured moods. And then he walks away, with the club burning in the background and thousands of hotel extras left unpaid.
And that’s the problem: nothing is worth that. No trophy, no cup, no derby win. Moreover, there’s little evidence that all the chaos – the tension that Mourinho has so successfully copyrighted – has ever really been necessary. He was good enough without it. People liked him, players enjoyed working for him.
So isn’t the road to rehabilitation really quite simple for Jose Mourinho? Need it be any more complicated than dropping this great routine and abandoning his ambition of being seen as the game’s Dark Lord.
Just stop it. Stop it. Stop. It.
Mourinho is still one of the sharpest minds in the game. His greatest achievements may be long in the past, but – from a practical standpoint – he remains someone of enormous worth. He can still build defences and protect them. He can still captivate players and charm them. You’ve watched him on Sky: he’s interesting and educated, smart and compelling.
That urbane, European Cup-winning, odds-defeating veteran of the sport? Yes, you want him managing your football club, if only you didn’t know that he was the game’s ultimate Trojan Horse and that as soon as he’s inside your walls, the jackbooted armies of darkness will spill out into the streets, hacking everything to pieces.
You just want to shake him, to grab him by the collar and scream in his face. It doesn’t have to be this way. A few weeks ago, he appeared in a documentary and became genuinely emotional at the prospect of not being involved as the season got underway. It was affecting, but baffling, because the route back is so obvious that it barely needs plotting.
To be what he was, or to at least be held in something like the same regard, he just needs to coach. To do what actually appears on his job description. Quietly, calmly, proving that he can spend a couple of years at a club without making it an unbearable experience for everyone involved.
Seb Stafford-Bloor is on Twitter.