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Jose winds up the opposition

Cameron Carter on Mourinho's touchline overreations and Goals Goals Goals

He may be as prone to smiling as the late Pauline Fowler on a fruit and pulses diet, but José Mourinho is clearly having a laugh. No one in football management has ever used the media in such Machiavellian fashion, or employed quite so varied means of annoying and disquieting his opponents. Brian Clough would routinely intimidate and lecture interviewers, but this was purely for his own benefit. Joe Kinnear had Wimbledon employing noise pollution and a no-lightbulb-in-the-away-toilets policy, but the nurturing of a gang mentality was the only purpose. Alex Ferguson introduced to the modern game the potent psychology of the throwaway remark, but seldom strays from this tried and tested area of work. Mourinho, an entirely new strain, pops up on our screens with a bewildering array of techniques and the deadpan delight in his art that marks out the obsessive genius.

The “running touchline goad” was displayed on December 10 and 17 in two distinct guises. Against Arsenal, Chelsea’s equaliser was celebrated with a brief sprint followed by what appeared to be a mime of a man stabbing a waterbed while tied to a trotting horse. One week later, his gambolling air-punching rejoicing was knowingly choreographed before a backdrop of impotent Evertonian rage. Having showered and put on a new coat, he went directly back to his labours in the post-match interview with the “nerveless slander” gambit, labelling Andrew Johnson “untrustworthy” and suggesting he dived, all in the manner of a quiet man who travels the world provoking pistol duels.

His boys have learned from their manager’s cerebral sorcery and celebrated their two late goals against Everton by tumbling hormonally towards their fans while screeching like polecats. All teams that are successful for any period of time develop some sort of siege mentality, but this one has at its head a man who clearly enjoys a long siege. Right now, with Chelsea creeping up ominously on a team we must these days refer to as “plucky Man United”, Mourinho appears as a churlish malcontent, but in years to come his behaviour will be recognised as a master class in early 21st-century provocation.

On the same MOTD2 that Mourinho provoked David Moyes into vein-throbbing fury, Joey Barton’s behaviour on scoring Manchester City’s only goal against Spurs raised an age-old football question: “Why do players run to fetch the ball from the opposition net when they’ve pulled one back in the second half?” Clearly, the referee does not let his watch run on while the ball is nestling in the back of the net, so what can possibly be gained from wrestling the ball from a recently traumatised goalkeeper and sprinting back to your own half, bawling the odds? Can it be that Barton and the countless others who do the same are helplessly answering some ancestral instinct that was of some purpose in the early days of football, but has become meaningless since the advent of stop-watches?

BBC3’s Boxing Day highlights bonanza, Goals, Goals, Goals, 2006 (my commas, not theirs) had more sense about it. We all got to see lots of goals, one after the other, to which we could say: “I’d forgotten that one, what a scorcher!” It also had Mark Bright, describing the “sweet spot” on the ball with which Steven Gerrard connected to bring a great Cup final this year to metaphorical orgasm. If only more footballers were educated in the location of this sweet spot, we might get more satisfying games all round. The only thing that marred this goal-fest was a voiceover that relied for comedy largely on comparing people caught on camera to Arthur Mullard, Timothy Spall and other amusing figures. For goodness sake, this is what Baddiel and Skinner do on street corners, surely another level can be aspired to for even the simplest of programmes?

On December 23’s Football Focus, Garth Crooks was given the task of talking us through the Stevens Report on illegal payments. This is like asking a junior prefect to be responsible for giving the four-minute warning in their district. Garth, clearly excited, relished using words such as “commission”, “corporate” and “forensic” so much that, in his rush to say “corporate” again on little old Football Focus, he squeezed “Football Association” into two syllables (“Fation”). Helpfully, the programme planned to clear up the matter once and for all by polling the public on: “Will the Stevens Report sort out bungs in football? Text Yes or No.” Unfortunately, an earlier poll – “Have you any idea as to what is in the Stevens Report? Text Yes or No” – had been lost forever.

From WSC 24o February 2007. What was happening this month

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