It has been a long 11 months for Jose Mourinho.
Sacked by Manchester United on 18 December 2018, Mourinho has not exactly disappeared from public life.
There were a number of interviews, a few sponsorship commitments and those compelling appearances on Sky Sports’ football coverage.
Only now, back in management and able to reflect on a satisfying 3-2 win for his new club Tottenham in a potentially tricky London derby at West Ham, can Mourinho admit he sometimes wondered during that time: “What am I doing here?”
He has never felt like that in the technical area. Not even when it was going wrong at United or, previously, at Chelsea when answers proved so elusive.
Once Son Heung-min had scored the first goal of Mourinho’s Tottenham reign to put his new club on their way to a victory at the London Stadium that was far more comfortable than the eventual scoreline suggests, life was just fine again for the 56-year-old Portuguese.
“I was back where I belong,” he said. “This is my natural habitat.
“Was I extra emotional? No. Was I nervous before the game? No. But I just love it.
“To confess, the most difficult moments for me in this 11 months was the part of the summer when, for the first time, I didn’t have a pre-season. I was looking at other managers and clubs doing things. It was a weird feeling.”
Jose’s still box office
That Mourinho was making his remarks in a packed room full of football journalists told its own story.
Today’s match would have been a reasonably big deal anyway given the local rivalry but, in truth, without Mourinho it would have been behind Manchester City’s meeting with Chelsea and, possibly, Liverpool’s win at Crystal Palace as the must-see event of the weekend.
Tottenham limited media to one representative per organisation when they unveiled Mourinho at their training ground on Thursday and still had to turn down more than 50 requests for entry.
The London Stadium played host to 380 football journalists in their various guises. The guy on the gate who distributes the passes and, it is not unkind to say, has been round the block a few times, said it was unprecedented.
That may or may not be true. But, beyond question, Mourinho is box office. He may say, as he did again on Saturday, it is “not about him”. But it regularly seems to end up being all about him.
No matter how the relationship between manager and club works out, Tottenham will reach the end of Mourinho’s time in charge with a bigger profile than they have right now.
Given that chairman Daniel Levy is looking for a naming sponsor for their magnificent new stadium, and is trying to bridge a commercial gap that still exists between Spurs and the other members of England’s ‘big six’, some astute members of the football fraternity are speculating that Mourinho’s box office appeal could be a significant reason behind Levy’s latest managerial appointment.
So tepid were West Ham for the first 70 minutes of the game, it is impossible to draw any noteworthy conclusions from Mourinho’s first match in charge.
There were no significant substitutions because Tottenham were already three goals ahead when he started to make them.
Before Son scored the opener, it was interesting to see Mourinho prompt him into nudging a couple of strides backwards to close the gap between him, Andriy Yarmolenko and full-back Ben Davies, who was marking him.
Equally, when Tottenham got their second, Mourinho first yelled at the group of players to his left who were celebrating – then, when he got no response, to Toby Alderweireld 40 yards away to his right, to deliver an instruction.
“I want to do my things and I have started doing my things,” he said afterwards with a glint in his eye. “I hope that you [the media] don’t understand it very well and you don’t speak about it a lot.
“But the positional play is different and very adapted to the players.”
A combination of Mourinho’s managerial history and the hand gestures he was using as he delivered a mini lecture to Davies indicates emphasis was being put on making doubly sure opponents loitering in dangerous positions were being adequately watched and that the ball was being played forward quickly on the counter.
The more interesting stuff, especially about Harry Kane, who is not a battering ram striker in the mould of Didier Drogba or Romelu Lukaku, for which Mourinho is noted, can only be assessed over time.
No histrionics, no controversy
As was the case at United, the early impressions of Mourinho at Tottenham have been favourable.
He said it was important to hear music pumping in the dressing room after the West Ham game because it meant the players were happy. The choice was down to the players, he said – although it is understood he was stunned to hear them playing 1980s tunes on Friday. Mourinho said there needed to be a change, so Dele Alli has taken over as DJ.
It will take a while for the stain of his last few weeks at Manchester United to be removed and some stereotypes will never disappear. The West Ham lift operator joked before kick-off: “When I have finished doing this I am going to park Jose’s bus.”
There were no songs in the new manager’s honour from the Tottenham support. But there were none for Mauricio Pochettino either.
If those I spoke to beforehand are any guide, while there is huge disappointment to see the popular Argentine leave, there is also recognition that the situation could not be left as it was indefinitely because results and performances were not good enough.
Mourinho has been brought in to change the dynamic. He must do so knowing many of his squad felt a special bond with Pochettino, which will not be erased because he is no longer around.
Nevertheless, Mourinho looked content.
His celebration at Tottenham’s opener indicated an element of relief as he punched the air in front of him. But there was none of the pent-up anger from the night of his last but one victory as a manager, when he smashed a crate of bottles into the ground following a late Marouane Fellaini goal at Old Trafford.
After staying for the final whistle – something he did not always do in Manchester – Mourinho just turned calmly, shook Manuel Pellegrini’s hand, embraced Alli and hugged his backroom staff.
No histrionics, no controversy. Just a man doing what he does best.