I fell in love with Jose Mourinho at first sight. This was probably because first sight involved him running down the touchline at Old Trafford with arms raised in frantic glee, his Porto team dumping out Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United from the Champions League in what (at the time) seemed like hugely improbable fashion. Chelsea fans tend to enjoy scenes like that, because prior to 2004/05 we were famously miserable people whose only joys came from others' failures. Now we're still cynical and miserable, but in completely different ways.
I wasn't aware at the time that Mourinho would replace Claudio Ranieri at Stamford Bridge, or that he'd be known as the Special One within eight months. All I knew is that he'd annoyed United, and that was all I needed. I adored this weird little, well-dressed man, and for completely schadenfreude-y reasons. That was more than enough.
And then Mourinho came to Chelsea and heavenly goodness promptly ensued. He was a brilliant manager during his tenure with the club - as evidenced by two Premier League titles and some thoroughly dominant play in earning said trophies. The relatively boring nature of his teams was counteracted by the glittering array of trophies he brought the the club. His acerbic nature during press conferences was more amusing than anything else, especially if one didn't take it seriously.
I believed, like many Chelsea fans, that it was all a put on; a show. The Special One said annoying things with a twinkle in his eye. Was he really an egomaniac, or was he engaged in an elaborate, supremely funny piss-take. It wasn't hard to believe the later, if you were inclined to look favourably upon the Portuguese, because his comments were actually funny - and the people who hated them and, as a result, him made them funnier still.
This state of affairs continued after Mourinho left the club (obviously, it was all Roman Abramovich's fault, the tyrant). When the Portuguese went to Inter Milan and declared that he hated the Serie A, it was amusing. When his treble-winning side blew up Chelsea's Champions League ambitions in early 2010 is was another demonstration of his tactical prowess. I boldly proclaimed that Inter would beat Pep Guardiola's Barcelona then, and Mourinho proved me right. Now Jose Mourinho was at his best - an amusing, talented, well-dressed man who could also make me feel smug about my huge and vast knowledge* of the game.
*Warning! May not be huge or vast or particularly knowledgeable knowledge.
And then he went to Real Madrid and things started going... well, wrong. Really, really wrong.
The first indication something was truly amiss was during Madrid's slaughter at the hands of Barcelona in November, as the Special One stared slack-jawed while his team was dismantled 5-0. The Mourinho of old, we might speculate, probably wouldn't have completely ignored the match while his side was being embarrassed by their biggest rivals. He probably wouldn't have looked like a deer in the headlights, or a little boy who had conned his way into something and been found miserably wanting when it mattered.
Piece by piece, the aura disintegrated. No longer were the comments clever, and any amusement inherent in his comments fled the scene when you saw the wild look in those Special, haunted eyes. Realisation dawned in even his staunchest defenders. This was no joke. Mourinho was serious when he proposed that a grand conspiracy theory was in place, implemented by the evil folk of UEFA to promote Barcelona and deny Madrid. It wasn't a joke.
On the pitch, too, his records were sent crumbling. Yes, his Madrid team deservedly wrested the Copa del Rey from Barcelona's hands, but his long-standing home unbeaten record fell at the hands of Sporting Gijon and his team couldn't beat Barcelona when it mattered, in the league or in Europe. Always a sore loser, Mourinho became something worse: A sinister, malign figure, one that seemed hellbent on destroying anything and anyone (particularly a baffled Pep Guardiola) that impeded him in his ascent up the mountain.
In the second leg of the Spanish Supercup, an increasingly disheveled Mourinho still had no answers for Lionel Messi and company. Madrid played well enough, sure, but they couldn't prevent the Blaugranes from earning a 5-4 aggregate victory in a match that - predictably - ended with a brawl after Marcelo took out his anger at being the victim of racist taunts in exactly the wrong fashion: Trying to break Cesc Fabregas' leg. Somewhat less predictably, during the resulting mayhem the Special One gave assistant Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova a rather Special thumb to the eye, receiving a punch to the face for his trouble.
Brawling in the stands is not the mark of a sane man. The words spewing out of Mourinho's mouth at every turn are no longer embedded in the glamour of an actor in full control of his lines. Instead of commanding the narrative, Mourinho has let the story consume him; let the caricature become the person. What used to be charming, funny and clever, on and off the pitch is now... well, less than loveable. Now things seem scary, and serious.
It's not me, Jose. It's you.