As Jose Mourinho returned to Chelsea I looked at perceptions of the Portuguese, his influence on the Premier League and the challenges he faces…
Opinions on “The Special One” – although this moniker, much like Marie Antoinette and her reference to cake, is a mistranslation that has been allowed to perpetuate – are as erratic and varied as his own mood swings. Here are just some of the banal musings from journalists and broadcasters in the last 24 hours:
Henry Winter – “Box-office reopens”
Phil McNulty – “The Premier League will be richer for his presence”
Gary Lineker – “Welcome back Jose Mourinho. Let the games begin…”
According to just about everyone the Premier League “just got interesting again”. It needed an injection of something after a sterile 2012-13, but not necessarily an injection of Mourinho. The off-field landscape, so depressingly dominated by agenda, moralisation and pantomime, will not be abated by the looming spectre of Mourinho, but ratcheted up to stratospheric levels.
Is this really something to proclaim as exciting or even interesting? What he brings is artificial drama through his own ego, for the football his sides produce rarely sets the pulses racing. We shouldn’t be encouraged or exhilarated about his return, but rather more cynical and wary of the impending doom.
Oliver Kay has roughly identified the ‘9 stages of Jose’, but the impact of his return will stretch further than his ability to both hoodwink and antagonise the press.
Never Go Back
This is unchartered territory for Roman Abramovich and Mourinho. The latter has never before returned to one of his former employers, and the former has never before called upon the services of one he has previously relinquished.
It is an oft unspoken rule in football that you “never go back”. Whilst there are plenty of examples of high-profile returns on the continent, which have enjoyed varying degrees of success and failure, there are rather fewer in this country or, more specifically, this division.
Howard Kendall had three spells at Everton, which covered the club’s gradual degradation from table toppers to relegation candidates. Tony Pulis’ second spell at Stoke City brought them a Premier League berth and five years of stabilisation.
Kevin Keegan’s second coming at Newcastle was chronically undermined by backroom interference and consequently never got going. Kenny Dalglish’s return to Liverpool brought the club’s first trophy in six years, but the off-field controversies that defined it concealed a torrid final few months on the pitch.
With no unequivocal success story for Mourinho to cite, he has the weight of history against him; a challenge that will no more intimidate him than delight him.
Is the return of Mourinho beneficial to Chelsea?
Since the sacking of Carlo Ancelotti and appointment of Andre Villas-Boas two summers ago, the club has been in seemingly perpetual transition as Mourinho’s old guard has been ushered towards the sidelines.
Mourinho’s Portuguese protege fell on his own sword as his own inadequacies failed to facilitate successful transition, whilst Roberto Di Matteo sacrificed the blueprint on the way to an FA Cup and Champions League double, before the revolution quickly engulfed him in autumn of last year. Only Rafa Benitez prospered as he shunted Frank Lampard and John Terry to the squad’s periphery, relatively succeeded where predecessors had failed by bringing a semblance of former glory out of Fernando Torres and converted the mercurial David Luiz into an influential totem.
The roots of a long-term development into a self-sustainable enterprise have been ripped asunder by the reappointment of Mourinho. Abramovich has seemingly abandoned the push for sensible transition. The club’s haul of trophies, particularly in the last two seasons, has perhaps encouraged the Russian to embrace theMourinhillian traits that the squad has displayed and shelve his lust for Pep Guardiola and ‘The Barcelona Way.’
How will the silky triumvirate of Juan Mata, Oscar and Eden Hazard fit into the functional setup of Mourinho sides of yore? Between 2004-6, Mourinho and Chelsea powered their way to back-to-back league titles through direct football and sheer force of will, with just the occasional sprinkling of beauty.
Despite their cup success, they have not posted close to 80 points since 2010, with a high last season of 75; Chelsea are not ready for a title challenge.
Whether he can forge another domineering side with the club’s current blend of creative artisans, or if he will seek significant change via the transfer market, will be his most pressing demand.
Mourinho is the type of manager who can make the difference and inspire those extra 12-15 points required to turn third into first, but he will not find it as easy as he did in 2004.
In 2004 Mourinho’s brash management was fresh and invigorating. He inherited a Premier League landscape that was lacking real competition. Though Arsenal’s Invincibles had romped to the title, Manchester United were in transition and Liverpool had finished fourth with a mere 60 points – a point fewer than their final total last season for a seventh place finish.
After a harrowing final year at Madrid where his squad became alienated from the methods that had brought him such success before, Mourinho faces a far greater challenge in 2013. Only Arsenal and United posed a threat in 2004; now there are at least four foes, all entering differing stages of transition.
The Portuguese will not be able to spring the same surprise; he is not the unquantifiable unknown he was then. Even following his Champions League victory with Porto, few credited the instant impact he would bring to Chelsea.
When Mourinho left in 2007 the league was very much the domain of Sir Alex Ferguson, his influence most keenly felt in his managerial disciples of the time – Steve Bruce, Roy Keane, Mark Hughes and Steve Coppell.
Though Ferguson’s influence remains, Mourinho’s is now much more pronounced – Brendan Rodgers, Andre Villas-Boas and Steve Clarke have all cited the Portuguese as a defining figure in the development of their coaching methods.
In the absence of Ferguson, Mourinho now takes on the mantle as the godfather of English football.
Premier League clubs are all of a sudden obsessed with the premise of ‘dynasty.’ It is perhaps unsurprising given the looming spectre of Financial Fair Play, but it is marked in the managerial changes in Manchester, which have both officially cited stability and holism.
Mourinho has declared that he yearns to create a dynasty at Stamford Bridge – something that has thus far eluded him as a manager. His reputation as a serial winner comes at a price, and so he is never charged with building a legacy through a self-sustainable business model.
Clubs who seek his employment tend to disregard the future and the inevitable divorce – Inter Milan have churned through six managers since Mourinho orchestrated their Champions League triumph in 2010.
Abramovich, despite his reputation for rampant knee-jerk reactionism, will surely be conscious of the dangers inherent. But given his blatant disregard for managerial stability, it would not disturb him.
Aside from a fixation with aesthetic perfection, does Roman Abramovich even know what Roman Abramovich wants? Has he temporarily abandoned the pursuit of beauty, or binned it completely?
Despite these persistent questions that refuse to subside, the reappointment of Mourinho has paradoxically put Chelsea in its most stable position since the summer of 2010. The Portuguese has an average shelf-life of two-to-three seasons at his clubs; in a decade of 10 managerial changes, that would be Abramovich’s very own dynasty.