The emotional return of José Mourinho, already the most successful Chelsea manager in our history and one of the undisputed finest coaches on the planet, means we’ll be looking forward to next season like few others. Chopper Harris called it right when he said the appointment was a pat on the back for Roman Abramovich. This time the owner has listened to what the fans wanted and delivered a coach we’ll all get behind from day one. It’s a brave decision, not least because of the egos involved and the fallout from Mourinho’s acrimonious departure from the club. It is to Roman’s credit he has cast any grievances or differences to one side and put the interests of Chelsea Football Club first.
Last season the shock sacking of club legend Roberto Di Matteo and the controversial appointment of Rafa Benitez resulted in the board, the fans and the management spending various moments of the season at odds with each other. The uneasy atmosphere wasn’t beneficial to any of the parties involved and a continued lack of harmony would certainly have had an negative impact on the club’s future. Throughout the time of the interim one the coach maintained a dignified persona in light of the abuse from the stands. Time and again he stated he was a ‘professional’ doing a ‘professional job’. In other words there was no love lost. He was getting paid a good wage and would get on with the job in hand regardless of backing. “I have to do my job, that’s it.” During the infamous Middlesbrough post match interview, labelled another ‘Rafa rant’, he lambasted the supporters and was critical of the board.
“A group of fans, they are not doing any favours for the team when they are singing and wasting time preparing banners. It’s because someone made a mistake. The put my title ‘interim manager’, and I will leave at the end of the season, so they don’t need to waste time with me. They have to concentrate on supporting the team, that’s what they have to do.” (Rafa Benitez, 27th February 2013)
The response from Benitez was more of a measured plea rather than a rant and the perceived ‘attack’ on the board and supporters didn’t provoke further abuse but an uneasy truce of sorts broke out until the season’s end. We don’t care about Rafa, Rafa don’t care about us was the mantra.
Ultimately Benitez’s short reign ended in more success for Chelsea and more success for the manager but it was an unsustainable pairing. The title ‘interim’ was as unmistaken as it was accurate. Upon his recent new role at Napoli Benitez was quick to praise their fans and the club’s ‘illustrious heritage’ certain qualities he failed to mention whilst at the Bridge, then the home of the European Cup.
“I must confess that I am extremely excited because I can share my passion for football with the fans of Napoli; it is proven that they are very, very special. I look forward to experiencing each and every one of the fans of Napoli and their strong support for this project.” (Rafa Benitez, 28th May 2013)
Many distractors have reasoned that this was nothing more than a veiled dig at Chelsea, the plastic flag wavers (no match for the Italian passion) and the fans who booed his every touchline gesture. Perhaps a fairer take on the press release is a manager all too eager not to repeat past mistakes and wanting to be quick to get the support base on his side.
This brings us onto Jose Mourinho. In his very first interview since being reappointed he stated his love, passion and commitment to Chelsea Football Club. The marriage analogy was very apt. Here was not a ‘professional’ just doing a ‘professional job’. Mourinho presented himself as a supporter who is now the coach, the difference, he said, is “I’m one of you”. Mourinho has already taken a giant step in uniting the fans, the players and the board together for next season. In a little over seven minutes José Mourinho has already achieved something the previous coach struggled to achieve in seven months. Welcome home José.