Jose Mourinho is, to put it one way, a very good football manager. “The Special One” is a serial winner; his teams have won eight domestic titles and two UEFA Champions League trophies (as well as innumerable smaller tourneys). Individually he is a three-time Premier League manager of the year, and a two-time winner of the equivalent Primeira Liga (Portuguese) and Serie A (Italian) awards. Recently, in his second stint with Chelsea, he guided the squad to a third place finish in 2013-14, despite their top goal scorer netting just 17 goals, and dominated last season, losing just three matches and coasting to an eight point win over second place Man City. Owner Roman Abramovich rewarded him with a four-year contract, keeping him at Stamford Bridge through 2019. What could this article possibly be about other than to rant about his obvious managerial brilliance? Well, his tenure at Chelsea might just not be that simple.
First, let’s backtrack to September 2007. The young, divisive manager was enjoying a meteoric rise to coaching stardom, having led Porto (yes, Porto) to an unlikely upset of Manchester United en route to winning the Champions League title in 2004, and pulling Chelsea to new heights. Mourinho, fresh off back-to-back Premier League titles in his first two seasons with the club (as well as the first two of his prem-MOY awards), looked to carry his momentum into an era of title relevance. Despite this success, Chelsea endured a tumultuous start to the 2006/07 season, including sitting in fifth place, losing to Aston Villa, and tying Norwegian (woo) squad Rosenborg and lowly Blackburn. This slow start was exacerbated by a blatant, and growing, rift with the management of the club, chiefly Abramovich. The two men had been at odds over a number of issues, centrally the owner’s unwanted input during the previous transfer window, including signing Adriy Shevchenko (who forced Mourinho to change his 4-3-3 shape to play him with Drogba) and Michael Ballack (who Mourinho thought played too much like goalscorer Lampard). There was also a perception that the manager’s ego meant he wanted more power in the organization. Additionally, and crucially, Abramovich and the board were frustrated by the style of play employed by the squad during their slow start.
Fast forward to 2015 and both owner and manager have repeatedly (and publicly) dismissed any similarities between the happenings of 2007; and this appears to be somewhat valid. This time around the club is actually the defending league champion and, more importantly, there appears to be a much healthier relationship between coach and board. Abramovich no longer elicits worry when he visits training sessions, as he used to, but communicates far more regularly with his manager and has remained steadfast in his support of the Portuguese. There are, unfortunately, less promising differences. Chelsea is now 15th place in the league (not 5th), following their worst start to the top flight since 1986. Mourinho also cannot assign blame to the injuries of stars like Drogba, Lampard, Carvalho and Ballack, as he could in ’07.
It is not, however, these differences that prompted the odds of him leaving to tumble from 12-1 to 5-2 and inspire genuine worry in fans. Prominently, in both cases the manager was unhappy with Abramovich’s transfer activity. This year, during the richest transfer window of all time (over £870 million spent), Chelsea’s biggest signings were keeper Asmir Begovic and forward Pedro Rodriguez. For perspective, Man U was able to beef up their squad by doling out more than twice the London club’s £60m summer spending, paying £140 million in the market, only to be bested by their cross-city rivals, City, who spent a slightly terrifying £160m. Additionally, it is important to note, Chelsea’s attacking, fluid style of football that saw Hazard, Fàbregas and Costa feature has faded to a more defensive, slow and uninspired system. The team has been lethargic from the start, and the pressure is rising on Mourinho. It is starting to show.
Paris St. Germain has now been rumored to be offering the Special One an “escape” from Chelsea at season’s end, a notion that would have seemed ludicrous just 6 weeks ago. Another source says that the manager would have been axed had the club failed to defeat Maccabi Tel Aviv in their opening Champions League match. Off the field Mourinho has seemed on edge, getting into a spat with Everton manager Roberto Martinez, blaming a trainer for a loss after she assisted an injured player, and showing blatant exasperation with players at press conferences, essentially blaming them for losses. He even accused a reporter of playing badminton (you can’t make this stuff up).
Is Mourinho going to leave Stamford Bridge this season? Most likely not; the club has too much quality to stay slumped for long and is led by one of the most insatiable winners in the sport. However the divide and tensions are very real, and, should they develop or grow, they could lead to a less than cordial divorce at the end of the year.