José Mourinho reduced to raging against machine
Chelsea manager clings to sense of injustice as season in goes into tailspin
José Mourinho sits on his own before the start of the English Premier League game between West Ham United and Chelsea. Photograph: Hannah McKay/EPA
Even back when the fit felt perfect, in those heady days of spring when the team were hoisting trophies and all appeared hunky dory between manager and hierarchy, those at Chelsea had privately acknowledged the true test of a relationship lay ahead. Admittedly, the tension that had choked the joy from José Mourinho’s and Roman Abramovich’s partnership eight years previously had long since dissipated, experience ensuring both better understood the demands of a football club in contention.
The caveat was it is easy to acknowledge the balance as ideal while the team were sweeping all before them en route to claiming the title by eight points. “Wait until we lose five in a row,” came the words of warning, albeit offered light-heartedly, from a member of the board. In truth, no one ever really believed this side could endure such a nosedive.
A sequence that miserable seemed implausible, though Chelsea’s six defeats this term, spread over 14 competitive games, have delivered the same shockwaves. Up to now a season of unanticipated trauma, with a trip to Stoke to come in the Capital One Cup on tonight, has reinforced the belief that times have changed. There has been a public vote of confidence from on high, backing the manager to turn the dismal form around. But the true test comes now. Events at the Boleyn Ground on Saturday ensured that much.
Mourinho is one of the game’s greats. Love his winning nature or loathe his spikiness, the success he has enjoyed in four countries is staggering, and no one has inspired the same level of triumph at Stamford Bridge. Logic would concur with his own observations after the recent home loss to Southampton. “Chelsea cannot have a better manager than me,” he claimed. “There are many managers in the world who belong to my level, but not better. Not better. If the club sacks me they sack the best manager this club ever had.”
Carlo Ancelotti and Guus Hiddink are available and understood to be open, in principle, to a return to Chelsea – albeit the Italian would surely turn his nose up at a short-term position – but their credentials are hardly better than those of the incumbent. All they would offer would be a fresh approach at a difficult juncture.
Besides, another interim appointment would have the feel of a panic-driven retrograde step, or at least it would were concerns not building over Mourinho’s state of mind. At present he is a man at war with the world. The unfair public castigation of his club’s medical staff on the season’s opening day offered an insight into a manager whose mood had already turned, perhaps frustrated by an incoherent pre-season and a summer of stuttering recruitment.
The manager has racked up fines of £101,000 (€139,000) to date, £50,000 of which is still being contested, with two of his coaching staff sanctioned in incidents over the past 18 months as if following his lead. The outbursts against the Football Association, have fuelled familiar conspiracy theories that, really, should not be granted proper credence.
Yes, there is inconsistency among the officialdom. That explains how West Ham could commit 10 fouls and Chelsea 12 on Saturday, and yet Jon Moss’s respective card counts for the teams were one and seven. That is infuriating and does reflect poorly on the disciplinary system. But other teams are denied penalties, or see players sent off after accumulating soft yellow cards for injudicious fouls, while pointing to opponents escaping similar sanction from the same officials.
His gripes over Arsène Wenger escaping punishment for an apparent shove in last season’s derby against Arsenal, or for the Frenchman’s unsanctioned “weak and naive” critique of Mike Dean’s display this time round, are far more justified and the FA’s failure to impose proper punishment on Wenger clearly still eats away at Mourinho. But clinging on to a sense of injustice is having a detrimental effect on Chelsea.
The regular tantrums, whether expressed outside a referee’s room or delivered to a television camera in the tunnel, are perceived to be those of a man losing control. A figure cracking under a different kind of pressure, baffled as to why the methods which had stood him in such good stead for years are suddenly failing to provoke a positive response.
Mourinho has tried everything. He has given senior players a dressing down in public and in private – he has done the same to some of the squad’s younger talents – and playing the blame game clearly only goes so far. He has put his arm round others in a bid to rediscover last season’s form, offering support by attending international fixtures as a show of solidarity. He has chopped and changed his selection, left out last season’s player of the year and even offered youth a glimpse of a chance. None of it has worked. Every hint that Chelsea have revived has been pursued by a relapse, leaving the manager to rage against the machine.
There is sympathy within the hierarchy over the fact that his father is seriously ill in Lisbon, and perhaps an element of self-admonishment too at those failures in the transfer market over the summer. There should also be exasperation that the manager is being let down by his players. Why did Diego Costa return to pre-season overweight? Why was Eden Hazard favouriting Instagram posts about a potential move to Real Madrid?
In the recent past, this club boasted a core of seniors so strong that they could almost go into autopilot to haul themselves out of predicaments, but none of the current crop seems quite capable of shrugging off a crisis of confidence.
Bright and bubbly
Yet the manager’s mood is increasingly drawing the focus. The 52-year-old had returned to Stamford Bridge a calmer figure. He was bright and bubbly behind the scenes, at ease at the Cobham training base and apparently relishing establishing another dynasty at this club.
The hierarchy had accepted the odd outburst when it seemed isolated, aware that when you recruit the Portuguese you take on board the whole package, but the constant discord is starting to detract from Mourinho’s qualities. And when that happens, the fit can quickly start to feel rather more clunky. Guardian Service