In the 2003/2004 season José Mourinho performed, what is by all accounts, a managerial miracle; he went on to win the UEFA Champions League with a team that wasn’t from one of the big five leagues in Europe (England, Germany, Spain, Italy, France). He took a modest FC Porto team and bested the likes of Manchester United and Olympique Lyonnaise on his way to a convincing 3-0 win over AS Monaco in the final. The year afterwards he was to be signed on as Chelsea’s manager, where he would helm their resurgence to the top of English football. Fast forward a decade and you’ll see a very different picture, Chelsea’s prodigal son returned once more – but it seems as though fate and circumstance have conspired to send him on his way again.
Chelsea are current champions, but have all but relinquished their ability to defend their title a quarter of the way into the new season. Last year, Mourinho managed to deliver Chelsea another title, built on the back of a resolute and formidable defence and a consistently acceptable attack. They didn’t have the attacking verve of his first Chelsea squad, but they convincingly managed to dispatch almost all opponents, quite frequently as a result of Eden Hazard’s habit of picking up possession and engineering a goal from nothing.
Enter the 2015/2016 Premier league season and pretty much the exact same squad is languishing in 15th place after 10 games, with 11 points to their name. Let’s put this into perspective – David Moyes had 17 points after 10 games when he led United to their worst finish as current champions in a quarter of a century. A team has to be doing quite badly to perform worse than that United side. For a team to be current champions and to be posting those sorts of figures is quite unheard of. The question on everyone’s (maybe mainly Chelsea fans’) lips is: where has it all gone wrong?
Now the knee-jerk reaction is to blame the manager. Fans do it. Pundits do it. Boards do it. Club owners do it. If your club isn’t doing what you think they should be, everyone’s first port of call is to drop the manager and press that reset button. Is that what Chelsea should be doing? Possibly, but it would belie a few more variables to blame their current predicament on José Mourinho alone.
The fact of the matter is that, like all squads, Chelsea is in need of a bit of a break and some reinforcements. Three out of their four starting defenders are simply too old to be playing two games a week. John Terry is 34, Branislav Ivanovic is 31 and Gary Cahill is 29. Further, Jose Mourinho’s managerial habit has always been to choose an ideal starting eleven, and unless injury or severe fatigue dictates, he always plays that starting eleven. The three attackers most responsible for Chelsea’s title charge last season – Eden Hazard, Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas are all visibly fatigued and ineffective this season, much like their defensive counterparts.
As far as issues on the pitch go, Chelsea’s form can be put down to an aged defence, and a burnt out attack. Youngsters like Kurt Zouma and Baba Rahman can’t be expected to instantly carry an entire back line. They need time to adapt and form an understanding with their fellow defenders. Further up the pitch, their goal scorers are simply too fatigued to have the energy and dynamism that they did last time around. Chelsea had a markedly quiet transfer window this summer, with a lack of quality signings being brought in at key positions. Simply put, over half the team is still trying to recover from last season. Eden Hazard played 55 games for club and country last season, and started all 38 of Chelsea’s league games. Fabregas played 48 games and started 33 times in the league, these are unusually high demands on any player.
Now, I’ve discussed the squad at length, and I haven’t really mentioned Mourinho’s impact thus far – which might lead some to believe he’s innocent in this affair. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. It’s not Mourinho’s fault that additions to the squad weren’t made, as it was well documented during the transfer window that high profile, expensive targets were avoided by Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich for whatever reason. What they needed were established names that could take the burden off of stalwarts like John Terry and Ivanovic. What they got were youngsters that may turn into those established names, but not any time soon.
That being said, what is Jose Mourinho’s fault is how he has reacted to Chelsea’s aberrational plummet. We all know he’s a divisive and prickly figure, but he has reached the zenith of what has been a developing habit of asocial egoism. Beginning at Inter Milan, where his tenure was characterised by insulting antagonism of fellow managers and the Italian press, he quickly gained the reputation of mouthy upstart. His indomitable record protected him from too much criticism from fans or pundits though. When he departed for Spain to manage Los Blancos, his forays into controversy followed closely behind. He developed a fractious relationship with then Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola, which was swiftly followed by causing divisions within the Madrid dressing room. After freezing out Iker Casillas, a club legend, he created an untenable position in Spain that caused several players to allegedly question his methods. On the way to his return to Chelsea from Madrid he made many enemies in the Spanish press, a habit from his time in Italy, and a mainstay of his current tenure with Chelsea.
Over the last ten years of his career a trend has become apparent. When Jose Mourinho is winning; he is the Special One, he is confident, he smiles, and he jokes. When he loses, the isolated siege mentality comes to the fore with predictable bitterness. At Inter he insulted fellow managers and journalists, at Madrid he poked a fellow professional in the eye after a match, created divisions within his dressing room and continued his antagonism of the press. So far at Chelsea, he has chastised a team doctor on the pitch, thrown several of his first team players under the bus in post-match conferences, and accused the English FA of pursuing an agenda against Chelsea Football Club with biased officiating decisions. Across his career it is clear that when the going gets tough, Mourinho looks outwards to assign the blame.
There is a marked similarity between in his behavior right now and his behavior when he has left clubs previously. The murmurs from the press and fans have begun. With each loss, each odd selection decision, like playing a wide forward at left-back, he coaxes Roman Abramovich closer and closer to dropping the axe. If Chelsea are to resurrect this season, either Mourinho has to take responsibility for their revival, or the Chelsea board will have to find a candidate capable of captaining what appears to be a quickly sinking ship. Entertaining personality he may be, but the football community, Chelsea fans included, appear to be tiring of his antics and bad performances. Can Chelsea’s season be saved by Mourinho, or do they need a calmer hand to lead them up the table?