Compared to what is happening at Manchester United and to a lesser extent Arsenal – or what is not happening at those clubs – the Chelsea manager's decisiveness stands out
Never mind the little horse nonsense, the two points dropped at West Bromwich Albion or the distraction of whether Chelsea are better equipped to win the title this season or next. José Mourinho's return is proving a success, isn't it? If there is truth in the maxim that it is never a good idea to go back, Mourinho is unafraid of it. While Chelsea may not have been his preferred destination, at this stage you would never have guessed. Despite approximately half the country hoping he would fall flat on his face at Stamford Bridge, things have gone so smoothly it is almost as if he had never been away.
Looking at the first knockout stage of the Champions League that begins next week, it could reasonably be argued that Chelsea are the English club with the best chance of progressing. That has a lot to do with the difficult ties faced by Arsenal and Manchester City and the lamentable state of Manchester United at the moment, but it also has something to do with the confidence Mourinho inspires in these situations. Without intending any disrespect to Galatasaray, Chelsea supporters will already be looking ahead to the next round, even if the impressive Nemanja Matic is cup-tied for the Champions League this season.
Both Mourinho's January signings are cup-tied for the Champions League in fact, Mohamed Salah having played for Basel in the group stage just as Matic appeared for Benfica, and many a manager might have thought twice before going for such a pair. Not Mourinho. The Chelsea manager argued, quite reasonably, that those were the two players he wanted even if they would only be fully integrated into the team next season, and in the meantime he had players such as Eden Hazard, Willian and Mikel John Obi who could fill in for this season's Champions League fixtures. He knows what he wants, in other words. He can see the way his team should be playing and he knows the personnel he needs in order to make it happen.
That may seem obvious, normal, football manager stuff, but compared to what is happening at Manchester United and to a lesser extent Arsenal – or more accurately what is not happening at those clubs – Mourinho's decisiveness and bold sense of direction stands out. Arsène Wenger usually appears to have a good idea of what he wants but is diffident about going out to get it. Part of the reason for what now looks like over-excitement over the arrival of Mesut Özil was that Arsenal fans had been made to wait so long for a top line, serious signing. For a while it appeared the German could transform the club on his own, before a few indifferent performances suggested that might be wishful thinking, but whatever the eventual verdict on Özil the Arsenal manager was slightly lucky to land him in the first place since the player could easily have ended up at Manchester United.
Where presumably he would have looked as lost and bewildered as Juan Mata is doing at the moment. Or in fact as lost and bewildered as he looked playing for Arsenal at Anfield at the weekend. How did my career come to this, he seemed to be asking Wenger as he made his way off the pitch on being substituted. Privately, Mata is probably wondering the same thing at the moment, and most likely Robin van Persie too, though at least the latter was exactly what United needed for a season. Even as the £37m deal for Mata was going through it was unclear whether the Spain player was exactly what David Moyes needed, and having off-loaded a player who was surplus to requirements and got the asking price without any haggling, this was a transfer that looked much more like Mourinho getting exactly what he wanted.
Whether he is doing it intentionally or not is a good question, but having been snubbed by the Old Trafford heirarchy as a possible replacement for Sir Alex Ferguson, Mourinho now appears to be enjoying showing United what a fearless and uncompromising manager they could have had. United have been crying out for a strong, energetic midfield presence for years, even going back to the last few seasons under Ferguson.
Mata is not that player, and unless first impressions are unusually deceptive it is doubtful whether Marouane Fellaini fits the bill either, but when Mourinho identified such a performer he went straight out and bought him with complete disregard to the fact that Chelsea looked slightly foolish in paying £20m for a player – Matic – they had let go for almost nothing three years earlier. Practically no other manager on earth would have done that, though of course Mourinho could argue he still had change from the Mata money. Mata was well liked at Stamford Bridge, player of the season twice running, but few have attempted to argue against Mourinho's reasoning. After a few convincing wins with Matic in the side, Chelsea look far from foolish now.
Mourinho also seems to be responsible for replacing Ashley Cole without fuss and for rejuvenating John Terry's career to the extent that he is being touted for England again. It is perhaps unfortunate that the direct comparisons again look unflattering for Moyes, but United are still in the hunt for a new left back after two unproductive transfer windows and Nemanja Vidic has decided he will not be sticking around at the end of the season.
Mourinho can also cope with the media, manipulate it even, in the same effortless way that Ferguson could. Having been through the Real Madrid experience, not to mention his time in Milan, he is even more relaxed and self-assured than when he was last in England, and that is saying something. It goes without saying that Moyes – "I don't know what we have to do to win" – is not in the same league, though few are.
History will be the judge of whether Ferguson and United made a good choice of new manager, and history may not take as long as everyone seems to think it will, but one thing has been certain since the very beginning of the season when Mourinho got his feet back under the table at Chelsea and said he would like to buy Wayne Rooney. Moyes was always likely to find it hard at United, and is doing. The very last thing he needed was a personal rival at Chelsea making it all look so easy.