Ken Early: José Mourinho lost in labyrinth of own fiction

Chelsea players losing faith as manager’s credibility dwindles with each new excuse

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho insists he does not need reassurances over his future after the English champions lose to Stoke City on penalties in the League Cup fourth round. Video: Reuters


Forty-five minutes after Chelsea had lost to Liverpool, José Mourinho stood with his coaching staff in the centre circle.

Initially they appeared to be holding a council of war after what had been a shattering defeat, but as the camera lingered, it soon became apparent that they were saying hardly anything at all.

In so far as there was any talking, Mourinho did most of it, though this was no impassioned harangue. It was evident that the Chelsea manager did not have a great deal to offer. He stood in his blue suit with his hands in the pockets and every so often uttered some mordant remark. His tracksuited henchmen stared awkwardly at the ground, like mourners at a funeral who don’t know what to say.

It was an insight into the authoritarian dynamics of Mourinho’s set-up. The men around him appeared to be primarily concerned with reading the emotional state of their chief and reflecting it back at him, rather than suggesting solutions or trying to effect a change in the mood.

Interesting details

Writing in The Sun newspaper on the morning of the game, West Ham’s vice-chairman Karren Brady had revealed some interesting details about what had gone on when Mourinho was sent to the stand during the half-time break in Chelsea’s defeat to West Ham last week. Officials from the home side had cleared a place for Mourinho to sit next to the three Chelsea directors in the directors’ box, but Mourinho preferred to stand at the back of the box among West Ham supporters.

“I wish he was on close terms with his chief executive, as this should be a person he trusts to watch his back and, when necessary, talk some sense into him,” Brady wrote.

If Brady’s anecdote deepened the impression that the relationship between the Chelsea manager and club hierarchy is strained, the scene on the pitch suggested that Mourinho immediate circle is not doing much to alleviate the sense of isolation.

Second Captains

There are many puzzling aspects to Chelsea’s meltdown but perhaps the most mysterious is why Mourinho seems determined to wallow in the mood of despair. He gave a remarkable pair of TV interviews in which he refused to offer any comment on the match. The point he was trying to make was that he could not speak honestly for fear of further punishment from the vast conspiracy that has been working against Chelsea.

Unfortunately, since nobody else believes in the existence of the conspiracy, he did not achieve an impression of heroic martyrdom. He simply came across as an undignified and farcical figure.

The BBC asked him: does the fight go on? “Of course, the fight goes on. But sometimes there are fights that are very impossible to win. You go to a fight with . . . different ammunition. There are sometimes fights you cannot win.”

Certainly, it’s difficult to win any fight if you approach it with such jaded defeatism.

“What I saw from my players was good,” Mourinho said, “until the moment when they felt it was impossible to do better.”

The moment Mourinho was referring to was Mark Clattenburg’s decision around the 65-minute mark not to show Lucas Leiva a second yellow card for a blatant trip on Ramires.

This was certainly a frustrating call from Chelsea’s perspective, as was Clattenburg’s decision to allow 40 extra seconds at the end of first-half injury-time, during which Liverpool equalised.

But sometimes decisions go against you, and it’s up to you to respond.

You thought back to another interview Mourinho had done almost two years ago. Chelsea had just drawn 0-0 at Arsenal with an unashamedly brutalist defensive display that infuriated the home fans. Afterwards, we saw what we used to think of as the real José, crackling with malevolent energy.

He heaped scorn on Arsenal’s complaints about the referee. “They like to cry – that’s tradition. Players from other countries, especially some countries, they have that in their blood. I prefer English blood in football and English blood in these situations is ‘come on, let’s go’.”

Liverpool showed the spirit of “come on, let’s go”. As the crowd sang Mourinho’s name in the aftermath of Ramires’ fourth-minute goal, Jürgen Klopp could be seen encouraging his players. Chelsea’s players had no such leadership from their own manager. Instead Mourinho self-combusted over the Lucas decision, and his bewildered team followed suit.

The truth is Clattenburg didn’t cost Chelsea the game; it was their own terrible play. They did not create a single noteworthy chance after the early goal.

Blame others

But if Mourinho acknowledged this fact he would be forced to accept some responsibility for what has happened to his team. He prefers to blame others, and that’s been his theme all season, whether it be the club who didn’t sign the players he wanted, the doctor who didn’t understand the game, Eden Hazard and his unwillingness to track back, the FA, the referees, the media, etc.

With each unlikely excuse a little more of his credibility leaches away. His players already seem to have lost faith in the story he’s telling them, and it’s only a matter of time before his employers do too.

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