Amid the continual media furore that eternally surrounds Jose Mourinho, the latest instalment being the Special One’s apparent ‘off the record’ comment about Chelsea’s rather blunt strike force reported by a French journalist, once again we’ve fallen into the age-old trap of discussing anything but footballing issues at Stamford Bridge.
For example, not a hint of column inch attention has been devoted to the fact the Blues’ last three showings have consisted of a disturbing away draw to 17th-placed West Brom, a 2-0 defeat to Manchester City in the FA Cup and an incredibly uninspiring last-minute win against Everton.
In a similar vein of thought, what should have been earmarked as the most divisive moment of Jose Mourinho’s season – his decision to sell Juan Mata to Manchester United for a £37million fee – has been completely shelved. Although, the Portuguese has the Premier League champions’ horrendous form to partially thank for that.
But just over a month gone since the midfielder’s record-breaking move to Old Trafford, I believe the timing is right to revisit the issue, even if the rest of the media world still has its tunnel-vision firmly set on whatever controversy fodder comes out of the Chelsea gaffer’s mouth.
Ousting a two-time (consecutive winning I might add) Blues Player of the Year was certainly a bold move; Mourinho justified it by firstly targeting Mata’s limited defensive contribution, and secondly anointing young whipper-snapper Oscar as the club’s No.10 for the many, many years to come.
The Portuguese appeared pretty firm in that belief, to such an extent he issued the Spain international just eleven Premier League starts prior to his Carrington switch, whilst Oscar – three years his junior – had managed 20 appearances in the league by late-January, all but three coming in that all-important tip-of-midfield, playmaking role.
But in my opinion at least, the Brazilian is yet to repay his manager’s faith, and at this moment in time, Oscar is still to prove that he was worth axing one of Chelsea’s flagship stars for.
At the start of the season, Mata’s regular place on the bench was justified by the 22 year-old’s strong form, and his seeming coming-of-age under the returning Special One. There was a period, from mid-September to late November, where Mourinho’s new golden boy claimed four goals, two assists and three man of the match awards (according to whoscored.com) in the space of just seven appearances.
We’ve seen flashes of that untouchable form since – his one-goal and one-assist haul against Southampton on New Year’s day for example, or his intrinsically influential performance against Liverpool a matter of days previous.
But to suggest Oscar’s performances have begun to dry up would be a disturbing understatement; the kind of understatement quickly overlooked by the British press as they report Mourinho’s every opinion on a whole range of essentially benign, trivial issues, such as who’s longest in the shower – him, Manuel Pellegrini or Arsene Wenger?
Against Everton, whoscored.com gave the Brazil international a rating of just 5.9 – his lowest of the season – despite the rest of the starting XI’s average being a decent 7.29, and after coming off at half time through injury without having forged any clear opportunities for his side to score, Oscar’s replacement, Ramires, had a far more positive effect on the game.
Admittedly, at just 22 years of age, Oscar has more than enough time to mould into the world-class playmaking No.10 Mourinho heralded of him at the start of the season. And having racked up well over 100 appearances over the last two years of his career – a ridiculous amount of playing time for a footballer so young – the timing seems right for a hangover of fatigue to kick in, just after the most hectic and physically draining period of the Premier League season.
But for a player operating in the most fundamental part of the pitch, favoured over a £37million-rated, internationally proven Two-time Chelsea Player of the Year, at the heartbeat of a Blues side that are currently top of the Premier League table, you have the right to expect considerably more.
Oscar has found just six goals and two assists in the Premier League this season, whilst last term his United-bound predecessor racked up 12 goals and 12 assists, the biggest attacking contribution of the entire Chelsea roster. Even the Brazilian’s two supplies this year have been trumped by Mata in just five league outings at his new club.
Don’t get me wrong; from Oscar’s first 18 months at Stamford Bridge, and particularly through his sensational showings in the Champions League – having netted seven times in 21 appearances on the continent – it’s obvious that the Brazilian has an incredible future ahead of him. Only a fool would be willing to speculate otherwise.
But thus far, Mourinho’s original ousting of Juan Mata from the Chelsea first team, and his subsequent decision to sell him to a divisional rival in January, as a result of Oscar’s anointment, is yet to come close to justification.
Perhaps the Chelsea gaffer views his golden boy as a longer-term project than his usual custom. But even so, Blues fans will have a right to contemplate, should the West London side fall a few goals or a few points short of the Premier League title, whether Mata’s departure came six months too early.
Amid Mourinho’s self-declared inadequacies of Chelsea’s forward cast, it’s his attacking midfielders that need take the goalscoring mantle. Whereas that task could have been easily trusted in a 25 year-old, established Premier League performer in Juan Mata, we can’t yet say the same about Oscar.