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Inside FutbolInside Futbol

26 October 2019


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06 August 2019

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To Be Chelsea Success Again Jose Mourinho Must Do Unthinkable: Change

Seldom is there an appointment which seems to make as much sense on paper as Jose Mourinho’s move back to Chelsea from Real Madrid. Loved at Stamford Bridge almost as much as he is reviled at the Bernabeu, Real Madrid could not wait to say adios to the Portuguese coach and he will be just as thankful to see the back of Iker Casillas and company, and welcomed back with open arms by his former employers at Chelsea.

But nothing is ever that simple. There is a real sense that this time it will be very different for Mourinho at Stamford Bridge. For a start, he will not be backed with unlimited wealth, with Roman Abramovich keen to make his team pay their way after years of being propped up by his wallet. This will be the first time since his FC Porto days that Mourinho has an owner reluctant to spend big money.

He will also have to accept limits on his power and status within the club. Chelsea are keen to avoid the kind of ‘us and them’ mentality that developed between Mourinho’s staff and others at the Blues last time around. It is for that reason that Michael Emenalo, Roman Abramovich’s trusted advisor, had his offer to resign, which he made to help smooth Mourinho’s appointment, turned down by the club. Emenalo is the kind of influential figure that Mourinho is never keen to work with, having seen off the interference of Jorge Valdano at Real Madrid.

Mourinho also comes into a team that will not be content with winning at any cost. Abramovich has won all there is to win since buying Chelsea back in 2003 and he has made clear that he wants the club to play a more entertaining brand of football. That is why David Luiz, Oscar, Juan Mata and Eden Hazard were all bought.

The Portuguese coach is also aware that he was not the first choice of the Russian oligarch as he was back in 2004. He is no longer flavour of the month, instead it was Pep Guardiola whom Chelsea craved. But he chose Bayern Munich instead. And had Manuel Pellegrini preferred London to Manchester there is a good chance that Mourinho wouldn’t even had had the option of returning to Chelsea. The same would go for Jurgen Klopp, were he not welded to his position at Borussia Dortmund. Mourinho is returning not because of his belief that he is the ‘Special One’, but because he is now the only one seemingly willing to take on the post.

The reason for that is in no small part down to the constant managerial changes that have taken place at Chelsea over the years. At a club where instant Champions League success is no safeguard against the sack, or where a cabal of players wield such power behind the scenes that they can see off manager after manager, it is no surprise that top tacticians are put off. As Brendan Rodgers put it before he took over at Liverpool last year, he had no intention of returning to Stamford Bridge because he was looking to build a career rather than destroy one. Former Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas, now in charge at Tottenham, will reflect philosophically on that sentiment. One of the best young managers in world football, Villas-Boas is still undoing the reputational damage sustained from his time at Stamford Bridge.

Villas-Boas’ hiring and firing summed up Chelsea’s confused direction of travel. They appointed the bright young manager at the start of the 2011/12 season to transform an ageing and direct team into a free flowing unit, and they finished it by winning the Champions League in the most direct and attritional style imaginable, beating the purveyors of the beautiful game themselves, Barcelona, with a solid defence and ruthless counter attacks.

Barcelona capture the essence of Chelsea and Mourinho’s problem. The most inspiring side of a generation, they have been the benchmark, capable of both winning and playing some of the most beautiful football the game has seen. Yet during their period of dominance, Chelsea have been their nemesis. Anyone who loves the Catalans will surely despise the Londoners, and to hire Mourinho as Chelsea boss is to unite the two great anti-Barcelona forces of the times.

However, this completely contradicts everything Abramovich seems to be trying to create. The Russian continues to harbour the dream of turning Chelsea into a London Barcelona, signing some of the best young technicians around in Mata, Oscar and Hazard to achieve that goal. But then this is an owner who continues to strengthen the forces holding back progress at Stamford Bridge, the John Terry and Frank Lampard axis, at the expense of those looking to modernise. Abramovich’s problem seems to be that he is too concerned with short term failure to plan for long term success the way he craves. Seeing Lampard break the club’s goalscoring record tempted him to go back on his decision not to offer the Englishman a new contract. Turning to Mourinho is arguably a bigger U-turn still. To be a success this time, Mourinho has to play pro-active football and trust creative players. Even his Real Madrid team played better on the counter attack than the front foot – when teams worked that out this season they found they could beat Real Madrid.

It is possible the first player shipped out under Mourinho will be David Luiz. If there is any player who symbolises the transition from the old Chelsea to the new, it is him. A leader, a big character, yet wonderfully silky with the ball at his feet despite being a defender, Luiz should be the heart of the new Chelsea. And how does Hazard fit into Mourinho’s Blues? Hazard can be one of the very best players in the world, among the top half dozen in the game, but he is not the type of player to track back at every opportunity. That is unlikely to go down well with Mourinho, but it is Hazard’s virtuoso genius which will make Chelsea what Abramovich wants them to be. To curb that is to curb Abramovich’s dream.

And so Mourinho has quite a challenge ahead. Perhaps he is being brought back in order to instil a winner’s mentality into the club’s next generation, before heading off again and allowing the next half dozen managers to reap the benefits. But if the Portuguese wants to be around longer (and he has penned a four-year contract), he has to make Chelsea a brand people want to identify with, to make neutrals like them. Pre-Abramovich it is easy to forget that Chelsea had been one of the most entertaining teams around with the likes of Roberto Di Matteo and Gianfranco Zola. But the type of football they have played since, the tolerance of the antics of the likes of Terry and hounding of referees, such as their disgraceful slur of racism against Mark Clattenburg earlier this season, not to mention continual managerial change, have been what has turned so many neutrals against the club.

After both of his Champions League triumphs to date, Mourinho has announced his departures from those clubs before the night’s celebrations were even complete, whilst reportedly flying home separately to his own players. It is that individualistic nature and craving to turn attention on himself which he must curb to be a success this time around. His teams thrive on conflict, on being painted negatively. Mourinho seems the last man to change Chelsea’s identity, but somehow he must.

And first he must change himself. Barcelona snubbed him in favour of Guardiola in 2008 for these very reasons, and Manchester United did the same this summer. Real Madrid have just fired him because of it. Bayern Munich wanted his old rival, Guardiola, and got him. Football is increasingly about image and style, and not just trophies. Ever the pragmatist, perhaps this will be what changes Mourinho. Or maybe not.

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