Jose Mourinho had been back in his chair at Chelsea for a only matter of minutes when he outlined his appreciation of Wayne Rooney.
‘He should ask himself what makes him happy,’ said Mourinho rather provocatively. In that instant, he landed the first blow of his second coming at Chelsea. It was as if he’d never been away.
Rooney may remain a United player. But, two months on from the start of his typically unsubtle courtship of one of Manchester United’s best players, it is hard to escape the feeling Mourinho’s return will prove to be the significant development of the summer when it comes to the contest for the title.
Limbo: Rooney remains a United player for now
Those who have spent time with Mourinho recently say he has a bounce in his stride and looks like a man who is back in his favourite Tom Ford suit. His influence is being felt on the Chelsea players, too. A Chelsea squad so often undone by constant change already has a more settled feel about it.
Mourinho gave some revealing insight into his philosophy during a conversation with the author Mike Carson for his forthcoming book The Manager. Recounting a story about flying with his team, he insists that if there is limited space, he and his staff travel economy and the players go business class.
‘One of the things you must remember as a leader is your people are more important than you,’ he said. ‘I have never liked the kind of leadership where the boys say, “He’s my leader, I have to respect him”. I prefer them to say, “I respect him and he’s my leader”.’
Clearly, Mourinho, who has a smile on his face after his difficult time at Real Madrid, feels at home back in the Premier League. In the same conversation, he added: ‘The atmosphere, the intensity and the emotion in England is something you cannot compare with other countries and for somebody in love with the game this is the place you enjoy it most.’
Mourinho reveals that he is unfazed by dealing with big stars: ‘I have never had a problem working with that special talent. And I never understood when people say that it is a problem or you can have a special talent but not two or three or four. I want 11 special talents in my team. The toughest thing is when you don’t have talent in your squad.’
Man manager: Mourinho gave an insight into how he handles players in the book 'The Manager'
Mourinho believes he can forge a special relationship with his players and, despite most people’s opinion, be friends with them at the same time.
He explained: ‘If you are not friends you do not reach the maximum potential of that group. You have to be friends, but they have to understand that between friends the answer is never the answer they are expecting, or the answer they want to hear.’
Although Mourinho has inherited a formidable squad he does need a world-class forward. If not Rooney then there has to be a Plan B. Juan Mata and Eden Hazard are exquisite players who will surely improve, but Fernando Torres and Demba Ba do not look like strikers around whom a title challenge can be constructed. Romelu Lukaku is an exciting prospect but lacks experience. Casting an eye over the squads assembled by last season’s top four, Chelsea and Manchester City appear to have the strongest. Much now depends on whether their managers can coax the very best from them.
Striker light: Fernando Torres (right) and Demba Ba have not convinced Mourinho
That didn’t happen at Stamford Bridge or the Etihad Stadium last season. City’s defence of their 2012 title was undone by problems in their dressing room and their failure to improve their strength in depth. Another summer of investment, with £100million on new signings, has tackled one of those problems. Now it is over to the Chilean Manuel Pellegrini to deal with the other.
In contrast to the uncertainty that has surrounded Chelsea and United in recent weeks, Pellegrini and his employers feel they can build an early advantage if they can hit the ground running.
United have more challenges ahead than they care to think about. A new manager for the first time in 27 years, no marquee signings so far and a forward who couldn’t have made his dissatisfaction any clearer had he painted it in red across the roof of the Stretford End.
Baptism of fire: Moyes faces a tough start as Man United manager
Add to that a fixture list that includes Chelsea, City and Liverpool in the first month and it’s understandable why some bookmakers have made the champions third favourites to retain the title.
David Moyes has carried himself well through pre-season but problems in the market and modest warm-up results intensified the glare of the spotlight.
Outside of last season’s top three, it is hard to see a threat. Arsenal and Arsene Wenger have threatened to spend but are yet to do so. Left untouched, last season’s model will only prove itself unfit for purpose again. Tottenham should improve under the impressive Andre Villas-Boas but it’s difficult to see them doing more than scrapping with their neighbours over fourth place again.
Work to do: Arsene Wenger (right) chats to Manuel Pellegrini
There are also some potentially absorbing sub-plots. Everton manager Roberto Martinez has a challenge to take his new club to where predecessor Moyes never did, namely the Champions League.
Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool must improve if the likeable Northern Irishman is not to feel some genuine pressure, while Michael Laudrup at Swansea, Steve Clarke at West Brom and Chris Hughton at Norwich have opportunities to cement reputations.
In the North East it is hard not to fear for Newcastle’s Alan Pardew following the dimwitted decision to install Joe Kinnear as a director of football.
Pardew, however, may find some of the focus shifting to Sunderland where Paolo Di Canio’s first full season is unlikely to feature many shades of grey.