"The individual relationships he builds is something special." Those were the words of Frank Lampard on Sunday night at a tribute dinner staged by the English Football Writers' Association in honour of José Mourinho, his manager at Chelsea FC.
On the same day another Chelsea player offered a more public illustration of Mourinho's ability to bring the best out of a footballer – namely Samuel Eto'o, with his hat-trick in the 3-1 Premier League victory over Manchester United FC. There were eyebrows raised in some quarters when Mourinho signed Eto'o from FC Anji Makhachkala in late August – even more so when Romelu Lukaku was sent out on loan 48 hours later – and it is fair to say the Cameroonian made an underwhelming start to his Chelsea career with one goal in his first ten appearances.
Mourinho hinted in the autumn that Eto'o, after two and a half years in Russia, would need time to adjust to the speed of the English top flight – not easy for a player who turns 33 in March and is no longer able to summon the lightning pace of old. There has been much discussion in the interim about the merits of Chelsea's centre-forward options, yet what Eto’o has not lost on recent evidence is the nose for goal that put him on the scoresheet in two UEFA Champions League finals for FC Barcelona.
In his previous outing at Stamford Bridge he had scored against Liverpool FC; on Sunday, he told Mourinho he liked "big games" and wanted to start. Mourinho's own decision, the Portuguese later revealed, was based on his wish to have Eto'o's "movement, his quality around the box". The pair's instincts were both proved correct as Eto'o's old predatory powers surfaced once more to help Chelsea maintain their best winning sequence in this season's Premier League – five in a row now.
Of course, Mourinho knows Eto'o well from their time together with FC Internazionale Milano's 2010 UEFA Champions League-winning side and the relationship forged in Italy has endured. "Since we met at Inter, he has always been in my life," Eto'o said of Mourinho earlier this term as he detailed their regular exchange of messages subsequently– and even disclosed an attempt to persuade his old boss to join him at Anji. Now they are together again and Eto'o said after downing United that his career would not have been complete without this spell in England.
How long he remains is open to question given he is on a short, season-long deal and has spoken this week of his wish to return to Spain and his old club RCD Mallorca – he misses not just the sunshine but the jamón too, apparently. Sunday's hat-trick, though, suggests he may have an important role to play in west London before the call of the cured ham proves too strong.
With Chelsea soon to resume their UEFA Champions League campaign against Didier Drogba's Galatasaray AŞ as well as pursuing the Premier League title, Mourinho will certainly hope so. And if so, it would be yet more fruit borne by one of the Chelsea manager's special relationships.
The opinions expressed here are the writer's own and not those of UEFA.
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