The decision that a number of football enthusiasts thought may be coming finally transpired – Roman Abramovich and the Chelsea board have once again cut short another manager’s tenure at the London club – and for the second time Abramovich has booted out José Mourinho. While managerial changes aren’t exactly anomalous, even midseason ones, this sacking is of particular interest both in regard to Chelsea FC as well as for José Mourinho. We’ll start by analyzing what led to his catastrophic record, and what may come for the gifted coach.
We’ve already covered a fair amount of his talents and proficiencies, but instead of easily finding himself in another top level job, there’s a possibility that interested clubs may be examining Mourinho’s latest spell at Chelsea with more scrutiny than before. It is uncommon for a manager of his calibre to take a league winning team, with a fantastic squad, not only into the bottom half of the table but a single point off the relegation zone. Everything from the season before has remained the same: the manager, the crucial players, the staff. A fatigued squad and a few well-placed reinforcements to the squad were necessary, but they cannot account for the dip in form that has seen the champions lose nine in sixteen league games. Although fans of Mourinho’s may find it difficult to admit, there’s a very real possibility that it is primarily down to his presence and negative contribution that the team have been unable to reach last season’s heights.
A lot of fans are expressing disappointment and anger at the players for not giving more for the team, and possibly rightly so. A visible lack of effort or commitment has crept into Chelsea’s demeanour over the last two months. Game changing players from last season such as Eden Hazard, Nemanja Matić, and Cesc Fàbregas in particular are shadows of their former selves. So, while fans are justified in saying that the players did not show enough unity and grit on the pitch, some blame lies at Mourinho’s door for not being able to galvanize his dressing room. He is frequently referred to as a fantastic man manager, a manager that can engage with players and make them feel valuable – pulling high level performances out of very driven individuals. We’ve seen this happen before, last season in fact, but it would seem that when faced with adversity Mourinho begins deflecting responsibility outward in an attempt to protect his own reputation. Fantastic man managers with the subtlety to keep all parties involved at a football club happy would not routinely criticize them in public. The only effect his repeated public outbursts could realistically cause is resentment and discontent within the dressing room.
When questioned at his last post-match interview against Leicester Mourinho stated that the team had “betrayed his training” – a strong sentiment, but one that seemed as though it was bubbling under the surface for some time. What has become clear is that Mourinho is not ready to be a long term manager that can rejuvenate squads quickly enough to remain successful but with enough tact to avoid unsettling those who remain. Although Arsene Wenger receives a lot of criticism for his lack of trophies in the last decade, he has shown a distinct aptitude for reinventing his team as big names depart and as players age, while it appears that Mourinho has yet to develop that ability. Mourinho’s second appointment at Chelsea came with the explicit admission from the manager himself that this time he was in for the long haul. Chelsea’s support as a whole was convinced of his ability to become Chelsea’s Wenger or Sir Alex Ferguson, but Mourinho’s behavior over the past few weeks confirms that at present he lacks some of the qualities necessary to create continued success.
With criticisms likely to come his way for some time after his departure, it is worth noting that this unfortunate separation from Chelsea Football Club might be a logical occurrence considering how long Mourinho has consistently been at the top level of European football. After his success at Porto he went to Chelsea, followed by Inter Milan, followed by Real Madrid, followed by Chelsea again. Over the last twelve years he has managed some of Europe’s most prestigious and historic clubs, without ever having taken an extended break during that period. Although they are paid exceptionally well and they are famed heroes upon delivering success, managers work in high stress environments where their lives and footballing decisions are under constant public scrutiny and criticism. Pep Guardiola took a twelve-month sabbatical after his period at FC Barcelona, stating that he needed to recover from the rigours of managing an elite team. Mourinho’s time of uninterrupted managerial involvement is three times longer than the four-season period that Guardiola was at Barcelona, so it may only be logical that after such an exhausting amount of time a break may be the wisest thing for him to wash away the memories of the past six months.
In the mean time, it appears that Chelsea will have another familiar face in the hot seat for the remainder of the season – Guus Hiddink has apparently been identified as Mourinho’s temporary replacement. The Dutchman previously replaced Luis Felipé Scolari at Chelsea in the 08/09 season, where he went on to win the FA Cup. Most notably though, a number of the high profile players at Chelsea at the time became quite fond of Hiddink’s methods and personality, going as far as trying to convince him to stay beyond that season. Hiddink still remains the Chelsea manager with the highest win percentage at 74%, which the Blues are sorely in need of at the moment. Although their season has been dismal so far, the appointment of a positive personality like Hiddink is likely to cause the resurrection of their season and an upturn in dressing room mood. They may have been heavily under-performing, but they remain the champions and do possess an incredibly formidable squad. While Hiddink attempts to salvage something for the Blues, all eyes will probably be on Mourinho and what he chooses as his next move. PSG are rumored to be extremely interested in his services, but whether or not he will end up there is a mystery at the moment, suffice it to say both Mourinho and any prospective employers are likely to be assessing his contribution to this train wreck of a season though.