Chelsea’s Jose Mourinho faces his toughest test
Laurent Blanc’s PSG have opportunity to establish credentials as European contenders
PSG’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic is relishing the prospect of facing his old boss Jose Mourinho.
Jose Mourinho has brought Chelsea to Parc des Princes before, though as he glanced down the probable Paris Saint-Germain team – Thiago Silva, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani, Marco Verratti – scribbled by the Uefa interpreter at his side, that previous visit a decade ago must have felt like a distant memory.
Rarely has Roman Abramovich’s investment taken on the whiff of old money but in confronting France’s nouveaux riches in the quarter-final of the Champions League, the visitors will endure what rivals have experienced back in England ever since the oligarch’s whim drew him to a corner of south-west London in 2003.
If overcoming PSG had once seemed a formality, as it proved in Mourinho’s first European game in charge of Chelsea back in 2004 when the home side were defeated with ease, then these days it is a daunting prospect.
This is a confrontation that has enthused the French, an eagerly anticipated test of the money-flushed PSG project and a chance for Laurent Blanc’s side to establish their credentials as Champions League contenders.
The English club consider it a tete a tete with one of the “economic sharks”, a phrase used by their manager back in August, who may or may not be quite as committed to Uefa’s financial fair-play initiative.
Mourinho has acknowledged that PSG’s staggering recent outlay – around £350m since Qatar Sports Investments bought them in 2011 – reflects a club simply doing what Chelsea did in those giddy first few transfer windows under Abramovich. Yet, sitting at Parc des Princes while his players began their warm-up on the turf outside, he stressed that was then, this is now. The parameters of what is permitted have effectively changed.
“Mr Abramovich made a huge investment in the club, with the freedom of that time, and was fundamental to Chelsea’s evolution,” said the Portuguese.
“The football rules were open to that, and his was probably the most important investment in that period, so Chelsea built year after year some of the best teams in European football. Paris are doing the same.
“They are accumulating talent and ambitions. We are trying to comply with financial fair play, yes. At this time, we cannot spend what PSG have because we’re playing by the rules.
“We are clearly one of the teams working under these rules and respecting them, and that makes us think about our football in a different way, but we are waiting to know if everybody is playing by the same rules.”
For now, though, the clash of Europe’s moneyed classes is intriguing. Chelsea may boast European trophies in each of the past two seasons, but PSG are an emerging force, a team whom Mourinho admitted are “better than I thought” once the scouting reports had been assessed.
Chelsea’s manager could point to his opponents’ array of forward options, with his own further hampered by the absence of the hamstrung Samuel Eto’o. “PSG have fantastic strikers and goalscorers, and that is what really makes the difference at this level,” he offered.
Yet Ibrahimovic – who worked under Mourinho for a year at Internazionale – has noticed progress in the set-up even since Barcelona overcome the French at this stage of the competition a year ago.
“Last year we played as individuals but now, collectively, we are stronger,” said the Swede, whose 40 goals in 42 appearances this season suggest he is a player in his pomp.
“We are where Chelsea were nine years ago, when their owner took over and put in big investment, but we are beginners in everything we do. Chelsea’s project has been going on for years: in our tie, they are super-favourites.”
That PSG project should ensure the 32-year-old Swede sees out his elite playing career in Ligue 1, with the Premier League deprived of his extravagant ability.
“This is my last contract in Europe, so to win the European Cup I have to win it with Paris,” he added.
“I have respect for the Premier League, a great competition with good individual players, but I’ve made stories in other countries. It’s nothing that I regret. In this tie, we have nothing to lose. It’s a good test.”
The same can be said for Chelsea. Should they repeat that feat from 2004 by winning 3-0 , Europe would be left in a state of shock.