Moodiest of the Blues reserves special place for work-shy Chelsea wizard Mata
Attacking midfielder’s role in doubt as Mourinho makes point to insistent club hierarchy
According to Mourinho, the reason there is no place for Chelsea’s best attacking player is that “the club” has given him a directive that the side are to play attacking football.
The manager made it sound like he welcomed the club’s suggestion even while he spoke with evident nostalgia of the old, direct, power-based Chelsea style – developed, naturally, by Mourinho – that had secured so many titles.
It was, however, his unfortunate duty to point out that a team wanting to play attacking, proactive football in the opponent’s half has to work much harder than a side content to sit deep and hit the centre forward with long balls.
In Mourinho’s account, Chelsea have spent a couple of years playing defensive “low-block” football.
Mata’s covering play
The system had suited Mata because all it asked of him was to hang around behind the striker waiting for his team-mates to give him the ball. If his statistics looked far superior to those of Oscar, that was only because he didn’t have to spend half the game chasing his full-back up and down the wing.
Of course, Mourinho could easily use Mata in the middle and play Oscar or another player in the wide role. Until now, nobody had noticed that Mata’s defensive contribution was suspect. But of course, this isn’t really about Mata’s qualities as a player. It’s about Mourinho marking his territory.
He is saying that he will only go along with club directives about the style of play on his own terms. Chelsea can have their proactive style. But if that’s what they want, then they must accept that their most popular player might have to be a casualty of the transition.
The message is that you can try to tell Mourinho what to do, but you will rarely be satisfied with the results. At some point, it becomes easier to let him do things his own way.
Mourinho’s history testifies to his ruthlessness when it comes to internal club politics. At Real Madrid, he forced out sporting director Jorge Valdano. It’s a shame that this time one of the best players in the Premier League appears to have been caught in the crossfire. But Mourinho wouldn’t be the successful manager he is if he worried about the fate of the little people.