‘Stand up for the Special One … stand up for the Special One,’ the chant had reverberated enthusiastically around sun-drenched Stamford Bridge as José Mário dos Santos Mourinho Félix, to give the Blues illustrious coach his full name, applauded an adoring crowd as his Chelsea team took to the field for the opening day fixture with Birmingham City.
It’s just over three years since the legendary Portugeezer breezed confidently into SW6 and set about re-writing significant sections of the history book of English football. “Please don’t call me arrogant but I’m European champion and I think I’m a special one,” José had proclaimed assertively upon becoming manager of Chelsea. 183 games later, this bold decree is not only vindicated, but could be considered relatively modest in the wake of the magnificent accomplishments his charges have mustered under his stewardship. 125 victories, 38 draws and just 20 defeats is a remarkable achievement, which in terms of major honours has brought Chelsea two Premiership titles, the FA Cup and two League Cups; a glittering array of silverware to grace the Stamford Bridge trophy cabinet.
‘José Mourinho … José Mourinho … José Mourinho … José Mourinho … José Mourinho,’ caterwauled Big ‘my summer holiday was all inclusive’ Chris, leading the Gate 17 mantra with Paul Potts-style vocal projection as we celebrated the expurgation of Liverpool’s top-flight achievement of having gone 63 games unbeaten at home from the record books. Our friends in the naughty north can continue to hysterically chant ‘no history’ at us until their faces turn the same shade of red as the replica shirts they wear, but the facts of the matter are plain for all to see. Here in the sexy south, our man Mourinho is continuing to make history, his league record at Stamford Bridge remaining unblemished by the stigma of defeat.
The jealous accusations that Chelsea, in the Abramovich era, have bought success are falling on deaf ears as, one by one, English footballs so-called elite clubs are being snapped up by avaricious plutocrats each pledging to ‘spend, spend, spend’ in order to satiate the burning desires of supporters which have been rekindled after years of mediocrity and disappointment. ‘Where were you when you were sh*t?’ … ‘We were there when we were sh*t’. The traditional rival terrace banter will echo across many more stadiums in the coming season than it has done in the past. The trouble is there are only three domestic and two European trophies up for grabs … so for many, and I’m thinking about the managers and coaches here, the newly found weight of expectation that comes with all this investment will be a burden too heavy for some to bear.
Let’s take José’s bespectacled, porcine, Spanish adversary, Rafael Benitez, as an example. Rafa arrived at Anfield just a couple of weeks after the Special One took over the managerial reins from Claudio Ranieri, and his record as Liverpool coach reads thus; 187 games, 106 victories, 35 draws, 46 losses. Mourinho’s win-lose ratio is vastly superior to that of Benitez. Is this down to the funds José has had at his disposal, or sheer tactical nous? A neutral might argue a case for the Spaniard. This season though, the frenetic transfer activity which has been funded by the Reds new owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, has changed the shape of the comparative equation. Anything less than the continually elusive Premiership title will be deemed as failure, and Rafa will surely be shown the door, or fall on his own sword, or allow himself to be lured back to Spain. The playing field has been financially levelled this season. Let’s see how Mr Benitez copes with the pressure.
“There are only two ways for me to leave Chelsea. One way is in June 2010 when I finish my contract and if the club doesn’t give me a new one. It is the end of my contract and I am out. The second way is for Chelsea to sack me. The way of the manager leaving the club by deciding to walk away, no chance! I will never do this to Chelsea supporters.” Mr Mourinho earned the unwavering respect and support of Blues fans everywhere when he made this statement after Chelsea had defeated ‘the’ Arsenal in last seasons ‘Snarling’ Cup Final. Thank God all that nonsense was sorted out, can you imagine a Chelsea without Mourinho? Well yeah, maybe … but it wouldn’t be quite the same.
The newly mellowed Special One now has other issues to contend with in the unconventionally austere confines of Stamford Bridge. An injury ravaged squad, want-away wingers, and senior players squabbling over contracts present an altogether different and interesting challenge for Chelsea’s manager who appears as motivated as ever to build on what he has achieved for the club. As for Benitez and Liverpool, he doesn’t have too long to wait to renew that rivalry. My money’s on José to prevail this season.
Stand up for the Special One … Not half!
Up the Chels!
Mark Worrall is the author of cult terrace classic Over Land and Sea. His new book, Blue Murder, Chelsea till I die, is out now. Signed copies of both books are available to buy with free postage within the UK at www.overlandandsea.net.