Thursday September 20th 2007, 07:01am: “And the headline story this morning; Jose Mourinho leaves Chelsea.”
The words were like dynamite sticks exploding within the confines of my sleepy, tired head. Never had my battered old radio-alarm woken me with such devastating effect, not even when I had accidentally left the volume high enough to wake John Lennon. The effect on me was like being electrocuted and tickled at the same time ; I jumped up from my slumber and barely managed to stop myself falling off the bed. As I sat there trying to take in the devastating news, I faced the stark realization that the ‘glory years’ were to end, before they had really got going.
Trudging into work was even worse; it was the talk of the office, and as I sat amongst the smug Arsenal, Spurs and United fans, grinning at me at every possible opportunity, I felt emptier than Rio Ferdinand’s skull. Every time somebody mentioned it, I wanted to rip off their face and put it through the office shredder. Although there were thousands of Chelsea fans feeling exactly the way I did, being the only Blue at work, I felt totally lost, and alone.
Time is a great healer though, and as the dust settled over time, the initial wave of pessimism was short-lived as success continued. That season we were to push United all the way to the final league match under the stewardship of the much maligned Avraam Grant, and were a slippery penalty spot and the width of a post from winning the Champions League.
After an ill-advised spell under the successful but totally unsuitable ‘Big Phil’ Scholari, caretaker-manager Guus Hiddink brought back some consistency and silver-wear, in the form of the FA Cup. Carlo Ancelotti brilliantly took us back to the pinnacle of English football by winning the double, but couldn’t continue that success and was brutally (and in my opinion unfairly) despatched a year later.
Andre Villas-Boas was brought in with his gravelly voice to rebuild, but despite his talent was unable to find the correct balance, before Roberto Di Matteo achieved immortality by galvanizing the ageing team to secure the Holy Grail, with possibly the most unbelievable and dramatic Champions League win ever, plus the FA Cup for added morale. But like others before him, the fans’ favourite was cast aside when things started to go wrong, and as we wondered who on Earth was left for us to turn to, Mr Abramovic did the unthinkable and brought in possibly the most unpopular manager (amongst Chelsea fans) that he could have employed; Rafa Benitez. The interim man, however, bravely battled on against the odds and secured more success in the form of the Europa League, ensuring that we now have a total clean sweep of domestic and European trophies to our name.
So one could say, the policy of chopping and changing managers has worked, and the often-criticized lack of continuity has yielded more success than many other examples of managerial stability, most notably the red half of North London. But despite the managerial revolving door at Chelsea seeing more faces than Piccadilly Circus, one main thing has remained constant; the winning mentality and resilience brought in by The Special One at the start of this glittering near-decade. Which begs the question: Has Jose Mourinho ever really left Chelsea?
Let’s analyse this. Firstly, even Nelson’s Column knows that Mourinho’s happiest years were at Chelsea. His relationship with the fans is unrivalled. He has always spoken positively about Chelsea, London and English football. Even the press here seem to be his favourite. He has always made it abundantly obvious that his ties with Chelsea may have been damaged, but were never completely severed.
Secondly, Chelsea as a team has never totally moved on. Avraam Grant did well with his results, but, without wishing to ‘piss on his chips’, all he did was pretty much continue what Jose had been doing for 3 years on the pitch (off the pitch it was like comparing Mick Jagger to Cliff Richard). The team, system, tactical set-up and style of play was the same. There seemed to be little in the way of new ideas. This is not a criticism; it was actually good management; if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Big Phil tried to shake things up and make major changes to the way we played, but after initial promise, he proved too one-dimensional for the Premiership. The 4-2-2-2 system with attacking full-backs was quickly sussed out and with no ‘Plan B’, it was goodnight, thanks for coming.
Enter Hiddink. An excellent manager, who recognized that the team (and squad) was most comfortable with the old Mourinho system, and reverted to type. Solid defence, compact midfield, intelligent and creative wide players, and a powerhouse up front.
Cuddly Carlo came in to take the team on, and started brilliantly, his diamond formation proving difficult to defend against at first. But when performances and results dipped, he too went with the tried and tested, and we romped to a spectacular double, breaking goal-scoring records on the way.
The same happened when AVB left; Robbie Di Matteo took charge and recognised the importance of the stalwarts of the Mourinho era (notably JT, Lampard, Drogba, Cole and Cech), and focused on this influence with spectacular consequences. And although Benitez brought in some new ideas, there was much of the Mourinho Chelsea that battled for that top 4 finish and dramatically beat Benfica in Amsterdam.
However while many managers have reverted to Mourinho’s tactics or formations, the major factor throughout all this success has been the unrivalled levels of determination, courage and fight that has been shown in these trophy wins. And this is something that was brought in by Jose himself, and has been consistently practiced by the aforementioned troops. The influence has been imposed on many other players that joined post-Mourinho: Ivanovic, Luiz, Cahill, Ramirez and Mata most notably.
This was most evident during the incredible Champions League run: the amazing comeback against Napoli, the near miracle against Barcelona and of course the drama of Munich. But whenever the going has got tough over the last 6 years, more often than not, we have seen this Chelsea spirit come to the rescue.
Great and continually successful clubs have an identity; something that becomes the standard manner and minimum requirement for any player that plays for the club. It filters from the pitch, to the stands, and creates a bond between players and fans. Barcelona have the total-football “tiki-taka” policy. Manchester United have an amazing ability to find and produce real “United players” to constantly rebuild their team and continue winning. Chelsea’s identity is that of a team that combines its footballing ability with mental strength, work-ethic, refusal to ever accept defeat, and an astounding ability to overcome any obstacles against the odds. And despite the different managers, tactics, and ideas that have come and gone, it is what Mourinho brought to the club 9 years ago that has kept us winning though the interim years.
When Mr Mourinho, now dubbed ‘The Happy One’, starts work on 1st July, he will find many new faces, on and off the pitch. He will have some of the finest young talent in football to work with and develop, some players that may need moving on, and a handful of his former soldiers, older and a little greyer but quality still intact. But what he will also find, is that the Jose Mourinho mentality has become the Chelsea identity, and really he has been there all along.
ONE MAN WENT TO MOW …
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