Mihir Bose: Can Mourinho make us fall in love with Chelsea?

Jose Mourinho has nothing in common with Richard Burton. But the Portuguese, like the great Welsh actor, is about to discover what it means to go back to your first love. And, while not even the most devoted Stamford Bridge fan will argue that Chelsea is football’s Elizabeth Taylor, the way Mourinho has expressed himself in recent weeks, leading up to return, leaves no doubt that his great love for the west London club almost matches that of Burton for Taylor.

Normally, in such situations, both parties to the remarriage make declarations of how much they have learnt from their previous mistakes. In this case there has been no such pronouncements. In the closed world that Chelsea have adopted – they are not alone, Arsenal regularly provide master classes on how to be the Kremlins of English football – we would not expect any great statements from them. But in the way Mourinho has expressed himself there are clear indications that in this, his second coming, the Special One will approach his job very differently.

Back in 2004 Mourinho might have come to Chelsea having won the Champions League with Porto but for many in this country he was a relative unknown. To make matters worse, while Portugal may be England’s oldest ally, as a country, in many ways, Portugal does not immediately strike many chords, unlike say Italy, Spain let alone Germany. Indeed, if truth be told, many of us would struggle to recall any great Portuguese. In football there has long been Eusebio and later Luis Figo and, by the time Mourinho arrived on these shores, Ronaldo was making an impact. But that apart no one that made us sit up and take notice.

It was against this background that Mourinho arrived and it is clear from the beginning he decided that to impress the English, and particularly the feared English media, he had to be outlandish. Not just let his results talk for him but do the talking and boasting himself, hence all those references to being The Special One.

He was helped in this by the fact that Peter Kenyon, who the previous year had moved from Manchester United to Chelsea as chief executive, also wanted to put his stamp on the place.

And we all know how well Mourinho did. In the process not only did he create waves on the football pitch, winning Chelsea its first League crown for more than 50 years, but waves that went beyond the football club – indeed well beyond the game. You only have to talk to many women, who have no love for football, to find how fascinating they found him and how much of an interest they took in how the Chelsea manager dressed. My wife, for instance, who has to be dragged to football, commented on Mourinho’s dress sense and his looks.

The problem for the Special One in his first incarnation was that while he won trophies he also played football in a gritty, unappetising way, great for the Chelsea fans who had never seen such success but doing nothing for the neutrals.

And what is more the whole style of the club suggested Chelsea were a sort of more elevated version of Millwall in that the team and management did not care how the world regarded them. So having long been a team which many neutrals liked for their maverick qualities under Mourinho it became a team everyone wanted to hate.

To an extent the trend for this was set by the owner Roman Abramovich

Trevor Birch, then chief executive of the club and the man who negotiated the deal that brought Abramovich to this country, told me that while “Abramovich was the biggest change I have seen in English football”, he could have done more to make Chelsea loved by the neutrals. After Birch had done the deal, which took ten minutes, his advice to the Russian was, “Look you’re living every supporter’s dream, why not allow them to share in that dream and therefore at a fell swoop just reduce the season ticket prices. So it announces your arrival with a bang and supporters from every other club would wish they had an owner like that. I was voted down on the basis it had to be run as a business, which it was rather ironic, when you look at 700 million losses later.”

Birch is convinced that also explains why, despite the success his money has brought, Chelsea are not loved by the neutrals. “What I thought they should try and achieve was to become everybody’s favourite second team on the basis that, Christ, if only we could have had that kind of owner. There are certain ways that you need to act to gain that kind of affection from people. The stance that they took was we’re going to break even and we’re going to be the biggest. That certainly rubbed people up the wrong way.”

Mourinho played a huge part in that, not least in the way he riled UEFA who described him as an enemy of football.

Now I get the impression that Mourinho in his second coming does not feel the need to prove himself, the need to rile people. This may be because Mourinho comes back having proved himself round the world. It explains why he appears to exude an inner satisfaction which was certainly not there in his first incarnation.

We shall have to see if this is really the case.

And the test for that will come when he fields his first team. Will it be the grim, attritional, Chelsea team of 2004 and 2007? Or will be it a team that combines winning football with an attractive playing style. One that neutrals can admire. If the latter we will know Mourinho has indeed changed and in the process he will have transformed Chelsea way beyond what happens on the field of play.

Mihir Bose’s latest book: Game Changer: How the English Premier League Came to Dominate the World has been published by Marshall Cavendish for £14.99. Follow Mihir on Twitter @ mihirbose