What makes a man charismatic in the eyes of others? Is it some kind of unspoken gravitas conveyed by a unnerving physical presence or a foreboding demeanour? Is it a rare facility for verbal communication manifested in the ability to cajole, console and inspire? Or is it, rather, the penchant for the theatrical -- the predisposition towards the grand gesture designed by one with innate showmanship and calculated to have maximum effect?
Last night, as we winced and grimaced at the Grand Guignol spectacle of José Mourinho sprinting to celebrate not so much with but at his players on the Stamford Bridge pitch, we were reminded of just how badly wrong some folk can get it when they attempt to define charisma. The Portuguese crowd-shusher is regularly touted by the fawning British media as the Great Character of the Premier League. Listening to the sycophantic likes of Sky's Geoff Shreeves, as they grovel before Mourinho's spectacular rudeness, one can often struggle to retain one's Sunday lunch. The cult of José is enough to bring out the latent intolerance in even the most forbearing soul.
Mourinho, however, is a phenomenon. A hugely talented, driven and successful coach with a predilection for the melodramatic and a proclivity for the controversial, his greatest single passion would appear to be himself. If smug self-satisfaction were a harnessable potentiality, then one could safely power a small city on the resonant might of the Chelsea gaffer's onanistic self-regard.
Desperate apologists dress up his needy attention seeking as a cunning ruse to heroically distract the fiendish glare of the media away from such wilting wallflowers as John Terry and Ashley Cole but the reality is that Mourinho is far too comfortable in the spotlight for it to be a sacrifice. Yet for as long as the serial winner continues to be victorious, all criticism of him will seem like sour grapes -- the malcontent grumbling of an envious opponent. For now then, the cult continues to flourish.
With his impactfully stark tonsorial statements, bravura on-pitch heroics and statuesque physical presence, Mamadou Sakho is a man who knows a little something about the capacity to create an impression, and for him, Brendan Rodgers is quite the leader. Sakho was effectively the Northern Irishman's big summer splurge but a combination of injury and Rodgers' selection policy has seen him make only 14 Premier League appearances. The former Ligue 1 champion bears no grievance, however, and his praise of the manager is pointed whilst the player's confidence in himself remains undiminished.
"Rodgers manages to get the maximum out of every player," insists the Frenchman. "It’s hugely important and not every coach has that charisma. He must keep all the players interested and each time he calls up a player they respond with a performance. Like I did at West Ham. It’s been four months and I haven’t played with injury. I had the chance to express myself, and I was there. I felt like a lion before the match. It had been four months and I was hungry to come back strongly. The last time Liverpool won the title I was four months old and now I am 24 - I had just been born. Honestly, we will give everything until the last second of the last match."
Sakho's words are a juddering reminder to fans, drunk on the possibility of title success, of just how long Liverpool Football Club has been without the ultimate affirmation of being the best side in the land. The deceptively adroit defender's entire life has passed since the Redmen were last at the pinnacle of the game under Kenny Dalglish and it has been a life spent overcoming socio-economic adversity in order to succeed at the highest level in professional football. Sakho is a winner and a natural leader on the pitch. There is within him a clear-eyed resolve and a ferocious will to succeed. His upbringing and natural aggression are what the player credits for his will to succeed.
"For me it (football) is war and I'm not afraid of anyone," the classy defender avers. "I do boxing in addition to my normal training and I am having my punchbag and boxing kit sent over from France. Before I joined Liverpool I fought at a Paris gym owned by the kickboxing champion Aurelien Duarte and I trained with his cornerman Alex - a crazy Serb. Alex said I have levels of fury he has not seen in some fighters. Before the France-Ukraine game I prepared as though I was going into a boxing ring, intending to tear my opponents apart. I told myself that nobody was going to get past me.
"The fury I had in me that night still remains in me. It could be anger about the way my life has gone. When I was a kid in Paris I used to stand by the ring road and wash car windscreens. I used to take a plastic mineral water bottle with a bit of washing-up liquid and clean car windows with my mates to earn a few coins. I used to play truant a lot as a kid. I was a rebel and it was hard for my parents with six kids to look after."
The centre-half partnership of Sakho and Martin Skrtel, so dominant against the considerable aerial threat of Andy Carroll and his West Ham chums, is not one that timid attackers will relish facing. In the past, Skrtel has been bafflingly cowed by physically powerful forwards but as this season progresses, his strength and dominance are increasing exponentially.
To be frank, as a duo, they even look scary and right now, Liverpool will take whatever advantage they can get. One is reminded of Shankly asking the assembled press to take a "walk around" his own defensive colossus, Ron Yeats. If these two talented and physically imposing defenders can have even a slight intimidatory effect, Brendan Rodgers will be glad of it. Small margins are all-important when one is sitting atop the Premier League in April. Sakho himself, displaying an admirable inclination towards leadership and a bullish self-possession, claims that the team's position is no surprise to him.
"Ever since I arrived at the club, since the first month, I said it," he insists. "I told my team-mates that we are capable of winning the title. We have the quality and we just have to believe it. And voila -- as the season progressed we saw Liverpool grow in strength playing such beautiful football. We've not stolen the position where we are today. We deserve to be where we are today."
Voila, indeed. The timing of this excellent footballer 's return to the team may be serendipitous. Mamadou Sakho is a winner and winners are what Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool Football Club need for the next five matches.