London - Jose mourinho's demeanour changes perceptibly when it comes to discussing two of his Spanish superstars, Fernando Torres and Cesc Fabregas.
He knows the question is coming about the troubled Torres and carefully frames his response in upbeat terms while conceding that he is concerned about the mental scars from his difficult spell at Stamford Bridge.
“He is a good player. Maybe the self-esteem in terms of a goalscorer is not at the top,” he says. “All eyes are on him and when he misses a goal everybody remembers.
“We need three strikers and we have three strikers we like. We do not do a season with two strikers, we do a season with three. His work for the team is fantastic and because of that we can play with two of them at the same time.”
It is easy to understand why scars exist. Three-and-a-half years since his £50-million (about R900-million) switch from Liverpool, Torres has scored just 20 goals in 110 Premier League games. Eight in one season is his personal best to date. The mood is much more expansive on the subject of Fabregas, to the extent that Mourinho can scarcely contain his glee at the piece of business that brought the former Arsenal player back to London.
“He can accelerate the intensity of the game or he can reduce it. He’s very intelligent and he has goals. We are so happy and all the players have a fantastic feeling around him as they really feel that he sees football too fast, too fast.”
Mourinho spent most of last week in a plush woodland retreat just outside Arnhem in the Netherlands, plotting pre-season and what lies beyond. A few tourists are in the hotel but it is mostly populated by Chelsea players and the bewilderingly army of personnel who support them on tour, milling around in identical club kit.
You break off from wondering what exactly they all do as this most definitely non-identikit manager sweeps into the room to discuss his fortified squad, how we should celebrate the Premier League, Chelsea’s blossoming youth policy, his goalkeeping dilemma, how some English football folk would benefit from venturing overseas more. And the campaign ahead.
Mourinho is on genial form and clearly optimistic about the season, yet unmistakably there is pressure on him, more than this time last year. One inquisitor asks if he feels it all the more keenly after two seasons without a trophy as a manager. Mourinho politely but firmly corrects him that it is only one, on the somewhat tenuous basis that in his final year at Real Madrid before returning to Stamford Bridge he won the Spanish equivalent of the Community Shield.
The correction comes not once but five times: “One season, one season, the season before I won. One season. There was one season.”
The repeat assertion suggests that even the special one may be prone to the odd bit of insecurity that affects the rest of us, although his career is so freighted with success he really need not have bothered.
And the early indications are that he has positioned his club skillfully for what is to come this time round. If managing to get £50m for David Luiz looks like the sale of the century then that is likely to be forgotten amid the long-lasting benefits of securing Fabregas and Diego Costa for a net outlay of only £9m. Last season Mourinho described the three-way title race as being between “two big horses and a little horse”, with his team the latter.
The addition of thoroughbreds Filipe Luis, Didier Drogba, Fabregas and Costa should mean the end of such comparisons this time.
He is especially delighted with the latter pair, saying: “We needed to transform our squad, especially the striker and midfielder position. We always had the feeling from six or seven months ago that we could possibly get Diego. It would be good for us not to buy a striker in January so we could get the striker in June.
“I always thought Cesc would be a Barcelona player because he is so good and being a Catalan and with the end of Xavi’s career coming.
“When we heard the information he’d decided to come back to London we knew he was the one we wanted. His football brain is what we need in our team. I see him everywhere. His best quality is the speed of how he analyses the game and executes. It is difficult for him to lose the ball or make the wrong decision.
“He can play as a No10 and score or a No8 and give most of his game to the team as we have Nemanja Matic as anchorman and John Obi Mikel. Then we have Oscar and Willian as No10s. Cesc is both, he is the missing piece of our engine.”
Mourinho was also at pains to talk about the opposite end of his squad, the youngsters he is finally convinced will succeed John Terry as authentically home-nurtured products.
“For the first time I have been at Chelsea there is clear group of four or five players between 17 and 20 clearly identified that we know – unless something happens inside their heads – that have to be Chelsea players. To give you one example: Dominic Solanke has to be a Chelsea striker.”
He also name checks Jeremie Boga, Nathan Ake, Isaiah Brown, Lewis Baker and Andreas Christensen, all beneficiaries of the stability he seeks to bring. He said: “Finally we are having stability because for quite a long time a manager was not at Chelsea for more than a year.”
We are talking on the fifth anniversary of the death of Sir Bobby Robson. And after another dismal World Cup campaign when England’s footballing insularity was again exposed, Mourinho cited Sir Bobby as the perfect example of someone who broadened his horizons while never compromising his Englishness.
“He liked his adventure without losing his DNA of being an English manager. The experiences he had made him better and he evolved a lot.”
At the same time he understands why so few from England venture overseas. “In England it’s fantastic. If I was born in a fantastic football country why should I leave? But sometimes you have to go and open doors for other people.”
The reality is at some point this season Mourinho may have to pick an all-foreign side. Nevertheless, this season his team will be a formidable one.