Older and wiser, the Portuguese realises he needs to set an example on and off the pitch at Stamford Bridge
José Mourinho seemed rather tickled by the latest moniker to be ushered his way. The Chelsea manager was seated in one of the boardrooms at Kuala Lumpur's Club Saujana resort surveying a Premier League landscape stripped of Sir Alex Ferguson and in which only he and Arsène Wenger have claimed the title. At 50 he is almost one of the old breed these days, with three of his former assistants now coaching rivals in the division. If André Villas-Boas, Steve Clarke and Brendan Rodgers are his proteges, capos who have flown the nest, then he can now be considered The Godfather.
The nickname prompted the chuckle that had been intended, yet the Portuguese recognised the implications. Mourinho used to be English football's loose cannon, a figure whose unpredictability was box office. He could be charming one moment, explosively dismissive the next, his ability to undermine opponents long before his team had taken the field the stuff of legend. Those tempestuous last few months at Real Madrid had suggested little had changed in the six years since his acrimonious departure from Stamford Bridge, but he would insist plenty has. He has to act his age.
"I've won all the English competitions, I've almost the most number of Champions League appearances as a manager, and I'm the only one [in the division] who's a European champion," he said. "So maybe I have a bit more responsibility as one of the more experienced guys now. I have that situation added on my shoulders. I have to be an example for everybody, not just in terms of expectations but everything: conduct, support … I have to be there for everyone if they need me. I have felt it over the last few years, in Uefa meetings, trying to establish new ideas to improve the Champions League and Uefa competitions. A respect was there and my responsibility was getting stronger. If that happens too in the Premier League, I have to answer in a positive way."
The idea that Mourinho, once such a politically provocative figure, will become his fellow coaches' go-to man, imparting advice as Ferguson – whom the Portuguese referred to as the "Boss" and the "Dad" – did behind the scenes, reflects his standing. He returns to Chelsea a two-times Champions League winner, his record glittering upon every stage he has graced. They are to name a street after him, an Avenida de Mourinho, in his home town of Setúbal later this year. The assumption is this team, inspired by his presence, will go on to dominate in the Premier League once again, as they did with titles in 2005 and 2006. Yet, while the club has grown so used to claiming silverware, the challenge ahead is very different to that accepted when he was lured from Porto nine years ago.
"I faced a different profile of squad back then, if not a different profile of ambitions," he said. "One team built many years ago is disappearing and we're facing the new situation of financial fair play, so I'm working now with a squad whose best years are to come. After three years at Real, this profile of job comes at a good moment for me. I'm being a bit of a coach, a bit of a teacher. The (young) players have big space in their grey matter, lots of neurons free, ready to absorb and process information. I have to prepare the long-term future, and I don't want to be evaluated or loved for what I did before. I want to be loved because of what I'm doing now and what I will do in the future."
That task is to overthrow Manchester United while also fending off the threat of Manuel Pellegrini's Manchester City, Wenger's Arsenal and Villas-Boas at Spurs. It is David Moyes at Old Trafford who draws the focus, a manager awaiting his first major honour and tasked with succeeding Ferguson, one of the greatest managers of all time. "Before I won the first trophy I had not won anything, so everyone is the same," said Mourinho. "He is experienced. To win trophies with Everton is not easy. When he finished fourth or fifth there, he didn't take the medal home but it's a trophy.
"One of the most difficult things in the club is to create a victory culture, one where you walk through the front door and smell the success, smell the confidence, smell the self-esteem. When I first came to Chelsea we were training at Harlington [the former university sports ground now occupied by Queens Park Rangers] and the only trophy they had from the previous season was the Malaysian Cup they won here. Now Chelsea is a big club.
"But other times you arrive and just think: 'This is already a big club.' David is in a big club with a winning culture already there, and that is a help. Everybody there knows how to win, but he must be the proudest man in the world and has a huge chance.
"City have bought four important players who will improve their fantastic squad. In my first time here people always put pressure on me, saying: 'You buy this, you spend that, you buy the title.' So I hope now they say that about the other side. But it's not about the money. It's always difficult to win. You can have the best players in the world, but you will have other kinds of problems to deal with, in terms of some choices, changes, rotations and turnovers."
City have already claimed a league title since they were transformed by Abu Dhabi money. Wenger's Arsenal, in contrast, have not lifted a trophy since Mourinho's first year in English football and, yet, he still considers them a threat. "They have their philosophy, and for some reason they do it. For sure, their manager does really good in the job. If not they wouldn't keep him. They will sign some players for sure to improve the team, and the manager brings stability. If he signs a new contract it means everything is comfortable and the board and the team know where they want to go. I think they are contenders."
And Villas-Boas, his former opposition scout whose decision to depart Internazionale for his own career in management so damaged their relationship? "All those people who worked with me, for me, none of them found my office locked. They don't have my files hidden under the bed. Everything was there for them: they had the chance to learn, to study, to be part of discussions and to be part of my training process. So for him, for Steve, for Brendan, I am very happy to see them successful.
"What they achieve is down to them. I'm just happy to help in their formation, in the same way Mr [Bobby] Robson or Louis van Gaal did with me. After that, when they fly, when they fly well, I'm happy for them."
That prompted a moment's hesitation before, an hour after the nickname was first mooted, it was officially taken up.
"Maybe I am going to be The Godfather," he added with a smile. Chelsea are glad to have their seasoned champion back in place.