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Just after Chelsea had nullified Manchester City’s rampaging attack and recorded an improbably dominant 1-0 victory at the Etihad, Jose Mourinho, a master of mind games, let loose on a knowing but unprepared world once again.
“Two horses (Arsenal and City) and a little horse (Chelsea),” the ‘happy one’ said of the title race. “A little horse who needs milk and to learn how to jump.”
“It is a nice horse,” Mourinho continued. “A horse that next season we can race.”
Mourinho, a manager who has earned the right to be ranked among the best, knows exactly what to say to get his way. Since returning to Chelsea, Mourinho’s statements have followed a pattern; Chelsea are evolving, they need to learn to manage pressure of being near the top and they will emerge as contenders from day one next season.
For all his protestations however, few will and have reason to believe him.
Through his press conferences, Mourinho speaks to different people at many levels. Take yesterday for example. He effectively conveyed that his team were behind City — who he says have a “complete squad” — as Chelsea struggled to beat teams at the middle and lower end of the table.
He also managed to ruffle Wenger’s feathers — a Mourinho classic — even while labelling Arsenal favourites for the title. “Arsenal are working for many, many years for the evolution of their team. What we are doing this season is what Arsenal have been building to for years,” he said. Classic Mourinho.
In mid-January, he had put Manchester United in their place by discounting them as title rivals after their loss at Chelsea. This was his pointed response to those fans who, during the match, had taunted him about losing out on the United job.
In an art he is seemingly peerless, Mourinho has managed to put the smackdown on those he deems to be his direct rivals but would dearly love to pull one over. Few though, are inclined to believe him about Chelsea not being able to win the league.
“We can [win the title] if they lose it,” he said of his rivals. In one statement, he ratcheted up the pressure on the top two to win. If Chelsea do, he will prove that like Ferguson, he too can win with kids. Even if does not have the United job, the serial winner will definitely have their respect.
Hormazd is senior sub-editor based in New Delhi)