Since June 2004, when he anointed himself the “special one” on his very first day in English soccer, Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho has proven a reliable source of press-conference mischief. In 2005, Mourinho labeled Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger “a voyeur” with “a big telescope to see what happens in other families.” He refused to apologize after television cameras caught him poking Barcelona assistant manager Tito Villanova in the eye. Over the past decade, he has launched a series of carefully timed verbal assaults on referees and opponents, a technique borrowed directly from the Sir Alex Ferguson media-distraction playbook.
But the events of the past week suggest Mourinho is beginning to lose his touch. On Tuesday, in a light-hearted interview with the Spanish newspaper La Region, Montserrat Benitez, whose husband, Real Madrid manager Rafael Benitez, has coached several of Mourinho’s former clubs, quipped that she and Rafa “tidy up [Mourinho’s] messes.” Mourinho was not amused. “I’m not laughing,” he said. “If she takes care of her husband’s diet, she will have less time to speak about me.”
Mourinho’s juvenile fat joke drew widespread criticism. (Though perhaps Benitez should be flattered. When Mourinho gets really angry, when his trademark smirk hardens into a sneer, he likes to emphasize the sheer unimportance of his critics: “I do not know who he is,” Mourinho told the Italian media after Catania CEO Pietro Lo Monaco publicly denounced him. “I have heard of Bayern Monaco and the Monaco GP, the Tibetan Monaco and the Principality of Monaco. I’ve never heard of any others.”)
On the face of it, Mourinho’s comments simply mark the latest episode in an ancient feud between two of the prickliest coaches in European soccer. (Benitez claims that “me and Jose were really good friends until Liverpool started beating Chelsea.”) But Mourinho’s recent misbehavior – a slightly unfair comment about Manchester United’s summer spending, as well as the gratuitous Benitez joke – feels fundamentally different from the years of tactical bluster that preceded it.