José Mourinho seemed in holiday mood but Chelsea manager used Asia tour opportunity to start casting club's new mould
José Mourinho had spent the past six weeks insisting that at the age of 50 he was a changed man. More mature. Less combustible. A manager with responsibilities who, it seemed, had been affected by that tempestuous departure from Real Madrid. It is worth reserving definitive judgment for a while – this is the same man who had claimed to be "the mellow one" back in Los Angeles in 2007 only for his relationship with Roman Abramovich to disintegrate two months later – but, at least before competition exposes the streetfighter in him, early signs suggest he is re-energised and enjoying life. Mourinho has been a breath of fresh air on this tour. His energy and enthusiasm have been infectious, his excitement obvious at the prospect of a different kind of challenge this time around: working with a largely youthful squad to mould them into something special, all long-term vision combined with a recognition things must be won in the short term. "It's a different job, a different profile," he had said. "Probably leadership has to be different too. I am enjoying it. After three years at Real Madrid, this profile of job comes at a good moment for me."
Mourinho has been jovial on the training pitch. He creased up in fits of laughter back in Bangkok when one of his staff produced a lightning detector as the humidity built, the manager spying his colleague's baffled expression as he pawed at the device and asked why he had brought a breathalyser out on to the turf. He has strolled around the training pitch with a cone on his head, and suggested a journalist who mentioned "the forbidden word" (Rooney) should go and stand facing the wall "for two minutes" in mock disgrace. The notion that he might now be a Godfather figure in the Premier League, as the only European Cup winner and one of only two managers in the top flight who have won the title, seemed to leave him rather tickled, yet he intends to embrace the "responsibility" that his position brings him.
This is not the same scowling Mourinho who departed the club so abruptly six years ago after a 1-1 home draw with Rosenborg in the Champions League. Admittedly, things may change once the adrenaline kicks in but the early signs are promising. He continues to massage the egos of his key players, and everything about Mourinho, with his assistants Silvino Louro a calming influence at his side and Rui Faria an enforcer if required, suggests he is a man at home again. This feels far more than a marriage of convenience.
Chelsea's desire to secure Wayne Rooney from Manchester United was exposed for the world to see as the team prepared for their game against the Singha All Stars in Bangkok. News of their bid leaked and the Premier League champions have insisted that the England forward will not be permitted to leave. A second bid will be made to test that resolve, although Chelsea may choose to time that submission either after the player has handed in a written transfer request, or once United have secured a replacement.
But the offer will come and there is an increasing belief behind the scenes at Chelsea that Rooney will be their player when the transfer window closes on 2 September. He is apparently their sole remaining target, a player to complete the jigsaw and a different kind of forward to those already at the club. Fernando Torres's forte is charging into space behind defenders. Romelu Lukaku is strong, quick but raw. Demba Ba has always felt like a stop-gap. None of that trio, Mourinho believes, would naturally thrive when defenders are tight and seek to suffocate. "That quality they don't have," he said. "I will work on it with them." The implication was Rooney might provide that pedigree.
There will be issues to resolve in the weeks ahead. Torres is due to join the squad at Cobham on Sunday before they fly to the United States next week for a four-match tour. The Spain striker will want to know where he stands given Mourinho is unlikely to want to play two out-and-out forwards regularly. Lukaku and Ba, too, will be anxious for first-team football. All must be appeased somehow to maintain harmony even though Rooney, if they are successful, would surely be first choice. Chelsea visit United on 26 August, David Moyes' first home fixture in charge of the champions. If a deal is to be struck, it seems logical it may not be completed until after that occasion. Chelsea may have to wait to complete their strengthening.
Those players who have been at the club over the past few years will be readily familiar with the formation Mourinho will implement. The Portuguese will play varieties of 4-3-3, sometimes using two defensive midfielders in the centre to shield his back line, sometimes using only one and asking those on either side – it was Marco van Ginkel and Ramires off Nathaniel Chalobah in Jakarta – to bustle upfield in support of the attack.
The intrigue lies less in his deep-lying midfield but in the composition of the three free-spirited players he utilises when 4-3-3 becomes 4-2-3-1. Last year's initial plan, under Roberto Di Matteo, had been to use Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and Oscar in those roles. Rafael Benítez, aware that Chelsea could be rendered defensively vulnerable with all three mavericks in the team, often opted for Victor Moses or even Ramires in one of the slots. Mourinho has already pointed to André Schürrle – an £18.7m signing who will expect to play – and Kevin De Bruyne as contenders, the latter having impressed here until injury curtailed his tour.
All will be craving the No10 role enjoyed, largely, by Mata last season but each may actually end up featuring on the flank. Indeed, the Spaniard may be destined for the right wing as Mourinho asks his wide men to cut inside on to their stronger foot. "I need to get to know him better," said the manager of Mata, another one of the six players granted extra time off after the Confederations Cup and who will report back on Sunday. "I like sometimes to play with what I like to call wingers with the wrong foot – right-footed men on the left and left-footed men on the right. He is the only left-footed player we have when we want to play with a winger on the right side, so I will play him there." Theirs is a relationship that has still to be gauged.
The games played in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta were, as Mourinho stressed, merely public training sessions for Chelsea, opportunities to build up fitness after the short summer break even if an opportunity to instil that "winning culture" of which the management had spoken was to be grasped. Yet, even against substandard opponents, there were players on the tour who were desperate to make their mark, and some did.
De Bruyne was arguably the most impressive performer in Bangkok, drifting from centre to the wings and conjuring clever passes en route. The Belgian enjoyed a productive spell on loan at Werder Bremen last season and has been told he has a role to play in the campaign ahead. First impressions suggest he has the quality to make waves. Certainly, his understanding with Hazard and, in particular, Lukaku seems well established. The battering ram of a striker scored in all three games and is already demonstrating better vision and understanding of where he should be making his runs. Centre-backs will be bullied in the season ahead, but so might opposing full-backs and even those in central midfield.
Lukaku returned to Chelsea a player encouraged by an excellent season under Steve Clarke at West Bromwich Albion and will be anxious to secure a place in Belgium's World Cup squad for next summer's tournament in Brazil. He will feature, with Mourinho having already suggested he would have no qualms about flinging the teenager into the fray for the opening fixture against Hull City, when Torres may still be jet-lagged having played a midweek friendly for Spain in Ecuador. Van Ginkel, too, has been a steadying influence in midfield, albeit with the odd wild challenge thrown in, and offered glimpses of his huge promise. He will benefit from working alongside Frank Lampard and Michael Essien this season, experienced campaigners eager to pass on their knowledge to the next generation.
Others will have to wait for their chance. Chalobah has played in defence and midfield on the tour, impressing in the latter role, but will spend the season out on loan, most likely at another Premier League club.
Josh McEachran will also make a temporary move, while Bertrand Traoré and Wallace – each of whom having shown flashes of excellence in the Far East, with Traoré a revelation – will need to find loan moves to European clubs with neither likely to secure a work permit to play in England. Islam Feruz will drop back into the Under-21s, and Jamal Blackman will spend the season as a No3 goalkeeper behind Petr Cech and Mark Schwarzer. That, in itself, will be an education for the youngster.
These summer schleps around the Far East have become the norm these days. Chelsea joined Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool in hopping around the region, the quartet playing in Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Japan between them. Sunderland, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City are in Hong Kong at the moment playing in the Barclays Asia Trophy, with these all being exercises in growing the brand.
The pitches have not been great – Lampard's achilles was not risked at any of the venues – and the humidity stifling, but the Asia market made up 50% of the most recent overseas television deal struck by the Premier League, worth more than £1.4bn last season alone. Those figures will keep rising, and there is the motivation to visit.
All this must understandably feel rather alien to the rank and file back in the Matthew Harding upper or Shed end, but in an age of financial fair play, these revenue streams may be critical. Chelsea continue to engage and lay roots with their new fan base in distant lands – "Here to play, here to stay" was the tour logo – with the Blue Pitches laid in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur soon to be followed by one in Jakarta. There have been open training and signing sessions, the players mobbed wherever they go, with the stadia nearly always full and replica shirts out in abundance. The atmosphere in Jakarta where 80,106 crammed into the Gelora Bung Karno stadium was deafening, as it had been for Liverpool's visit. This still feels like an opportunity, and it is one this club is taking.
"Chelsea is a big club that wants to be even bigger," said Mourinho on arrival in Indonesia. "You can't do that by just winning trophies. One of the things is you need a big fan base. One of the reasons Chelsea travels a lot this pre-season is that objective. We must feed the passion we feel that is growing up around this club. I was here in 2004. I'm back in 2013 and this is great fun for me, and provokes some pride too, to feel the differences in this club's evolution here. Chelsea is becoming bigger and bigger." Events such as this, sandwiched between post- and pre-season trips to the United States, continue to spread the word.