Anyone who really believes that Jose Mourinho has suddenly lost the plot either has an irrational hatred of Chelsea or has fallen yet again for Sir Alex Ferguson?s windup routine that is now frayed around the edges.
Mourinho would appear to have had a fairly fraught week ? dumped out of the FA Cup at Newcastle, losing at Barcelona while indulging in some serious whingeing, then being sent off at Cardiff during Sunday?s Carling Cup Final.
But if you stand aside, sift through the froth and the tabloid piffle, then Mourinho has emerged stronger than ever.
He?s not going to be derailed by various investigations into his conduct. His business is winning football matches. So far this season, he has lost just four out of 49 and in only one of them ? away to Manchester City ? has he put out a full-strength side.
Now that he has the Carling Cup in his trophy cabinet, he will go on to greater glory. That win will ensure the media focuses on the next match ? away to Norwich City on Saturday ? rather than banging on about losing three matches in a row. The hyperbole that greeted defeat in Barcelona was ludicrous.
We were told that Mourinho faced three defeats on the bounce for the first time ever in his managerial career. Ever? Since when did a career that started just five years ago constitute the use of the emotive word ? ever?? He?s only been at Chelsea this season, for heaven?s sake.
Chelsea will stroll the Premiership because they are managed by an outstanding coach ? as you could tell by his substitutions on Sunday, when Chelsea were one down ? who is also a highly competent, organised individual. There?s nothing more that footballers like than to believe that the guy in charge will take care of business, leaving them to concentrate on kicking balls and opponents. This is an area where Mourinho is brilliant.
He?s clever enough to create diversions, to keep the psychological pressure off his players. After bombing out to Newcastle, when he cocked up his substitutions at halftime, he took all the heat, admitting he was at fault. In the build-up to the Barcelona game, he was at his mischievous best, naming both elevens the day before. It didn?t matter that he was proved wrong ? all the talk was about Mourinho, not the task facing Chelsea.
Then, after blowing a goal lead at the Nou Camp, and getting a man needlessly sent off, he was instrumental in drumming up a load of nonsense about the referee being nobbled by Barcelona. Anyone who knew about Mourinho skirting around the edges of gamesmanship when he was Porto?s manager would have just snorted at the man?s cheek, but the media fell for it.
Mourinho was so incensed that he couldn?t trust himself to speak to the press afterwards. A likely story. It was another clever false scent to ensure his players remained relaxed for the Cardiff final.
Mourinho was undoubtedly correct when he declared on Friday: ?Who in the football world is in a better position than us? Nobody.?
Certainly not Alex Ferguson or Arsene Wenger. Neither of those two has a goalkeeper worth the candle, while Wenger is grappling with a disciplinary crisis that has lead to a rash of dismissals. They could easily go out of the FA Cup at Sheffield United tonight.
Ferguson, meanwhile, saw his United team play with an inferiority complex against Milan in the Champions? League. As usual, none of the media toadies who haven?t been banned by him would ask Ferguson why he started a home tie with a lone striker against an accomplished defensive unit such as Milan?s. He?d spent more than #70 million on his strikers yet left most of them on the bench.
So much for the attacking traditions of Manchester United, yet all the talk is about Mourinho having problems. Wayne Rooney cost more than any Chelsea player, by the way, and Rio Ferdinand was almost as expensive.
Ferguson?s response to mild queries about the Milan match was to storm out of the press conference, purple-faced at such effrontery. At least Mourinho will stand his ground, argue the toss entertainingly and leave you smiling wryly at his cheek. All done in a language that?s foreign to him.
How many others currently in English football make you turn up the volume so you can listen closer to what they have to say? Mourinho passes the Brian Clough/Geoffrey Boycott test.
You don?t have to like the guy, but he does have something about him to make you sit up. As the man says: ?I am the Special One.?
Mourinho is like the young Cloughie and I recall a quote from Alan Durban that confirmed the comparison. Now Durban didn?t particularly like Clough when they worked together at Derby.
Both were voluble, egotistical and articulate but the manager always won the day. But Durban admired him particularly for one quality. His nerve.
He told me once, ?I used to love watching him in the Derby dressing-room, getting ready to face the press after a game. If we?d won, he was bubbling, full of it. But if we?d lost, he?d take an extra look in the mirror, check his tie, throw back his shoulders, open the door wide and stride out to give the press boys hell.
He never took it out on us at that moment, although we?d cop it some other time. Cloughie stood up for us, took the flak and kept us away from all the inquests.
When I became a manager I admired him even more for that, because I often couldn?t think of what to say to the press when we?d played crap. Cloughie had no such problem?.
The same applies to Jose Mourinho. His players will follow him anywhere because he is demonstrably in charge.
Chelsea only have to play three Premiership matches in March, because of internationals, and I wouldn?t have thought Norwich, West Brom and Crystal Palace will cause him much grief. Soon he?ll have Arjen Robben back and they?ll cruise through the gears.
There?s no reason why Chelsea won?t beat Barcelona next week in the second leg of the Champions? League, as they have a precious away goal. Would you then bet against them lifting a trophy that Mourinho won last year for Porto?
And, if nothing else, it would have been a desperately dull Premiership season to cover had it not been for the bonfire of the vanities fanned by the cool dude who speaks four languages.
Wayward streak that tests Bruce
Later today, Birmingham City will discover if they can still call on a skilful, attacking player who has become an instant hit with their supporters ? or someone who will be the star of a prison football team.
Jermaine Pennant faces up to six months in prison after pleading guilty to driving while disqualified, without insurance and drink driving. He will be sentenced at Aylesbury Magistrates Court today. The omens are not good as Home Office guidelines indicate that a custodial sentence is the norm in such situations.
Yet Birmingham manager Steve Bruce is going in to bat for Pennant. Bruce is aware that many will see this as a cynical exercise by him, designed to keep a highlytalented footballer out of prison at the same time as improving his chances of winning Premiership games.
Bruce didn?t duck the issue when I interviewed him about Pennant for five Live late last week, even when I asked him how he?d feel if a non-footballer who was way over the limit happened to mow down one of his children.
He agreed that it might appear as if the football industry was looking to gain an advantage not usually available to a miscreant from another walk of life and that he had been as disgusted as anyone at various social antics of high-profile footballers in the last year or two.
He did have a reasonable point, though, when pondering exactly what prison would do for Pennant. Pennant?s harsh upbringing in a deprived part of Nottingham had not prepared him for the maturity needed for getting fast-tracked to Arsenal for a cool #2 million when only 15.
Yet Pennant seems to have a chronic wayward streak. He was sent home from an England Under-21 tour to Portugal for breaking a curfew and would appear to fulfil all the criteria needed for a case study on a young footballer with brains only in his feet, and too much money at his disposal. Both driving offences involved a Mercedes, by the way. Not exactly the usual mode of transport for a 22-year-old.
Yet Bruce believes that community service ? looking after old folk or dodgy kids ? would serve him better, especially if it?s decided to tag Pennant electronically. Few of us are qualified to judge accordingly but I?m convinced that Bruce is viewing Pennant in the round, not just as a commodity.
If Pennant does escape a jail sentence today, it?ll not only be a stern test of Bruce?s man management qualities but also a chance to see if the player realises there are no last chances left.
Trip could lead to a fall
One of the most attractive features of West Bromwich Albion FC and their players is that the collective feet are invariably on the ground. It?s a friendly, unpretentious club and most of the current squad are cast in the same mould.
Before and after a match at the Hawthorns, the supporters can banter with the players as they walk up Halford?s Lane to get to their cars on the other side of the road.
The players probably dread getting a roasting from the punters if the performance has been poor, but generally the atmosphere is affable. Not for the Albion players the tinted windows and precious attitude of the Premiership elite.
I wonder how the fans of this blue-collar club feel about the five days just spent by the first-team squad in Florida? After the nervy, pallid effort last Tuesday against Southampton, it probably wasn?t the best time for news to leak out that the players were off for some r?n?r in the Florida sunshine.
Bryan Robson put up a good case for the trip when he spoke after the Southampton game, saying the squad needed some bonding time after some January signings, that a successful group has to get to know each other.
It?s worked for Newcastle incidentally. Graeme Souness was roundly criticised for taking his players off to Dubai when results were going against them and since then, Newcastle have won four in a row.
But there?s a puritan strain in the heart of the most devoted football fan. They want evidence that the players will continue to give everything to the cause, not that they will freeze under the expectation as they did against Southampton. The Florida jaunt will be factored in by the West Brom supporters if they don?t prevail against Birmingham City next Sunday.
It?ll be up to Robson and assistant Nigel Pearson to squeeze every last drop out of their players, with just 11 games left and Crystal Palace seven points clear of them. This trip may well prove instrumental. Then the fans will happily look at the Florida snaps as they walk down the Halford?s Lane with the players.
But could you imagine Gary Megson being able to run the Florida trip past the nose of the chairman Jeremy Peace with much hope of success? Methinks a couple of days on Salisbury Plain might have been Megson?s best option.