Still seething from Liverpool’s Premier League defeat at the hands of Chelsea last weekend, a title clash of the unstoppable force vs the immovable object variety, in which the regal-blue immovable object came away with a rugged and hard-fought 2-0 victory, Anfield defender Jose Enrique felt compelled to pile on the misery for the Stamford Bridge faithful last night.
Following Chelsea’s exit from the Champions League yesterday evening via a 3-1 defeat to Atletico Marid in the semi-finals, the 28 year-old tweeted the simple statement; “This is what happens when you don’t play football”.
Indeed, Enrique’s condemnation of Chelsea’s style of play under Mourinho is certainly nothing new. Criticisms of the Portuguese’s attritional, often defensive mentality have been doing the rounds ever since the Blues’ first leg against the Spanish table-toppers last week.
The mood of the match was pre-determined; when it was suggested to Atleti captain Gabi by a journalist prior kick-off that Chelsea might give them the ball, he retorted in chuckle, “we’ll give it back to them”. Few were surprised that the Vincente Calderon fixture finished 0-0, with Mourinho and counter-part Diego Simeone, another manager famed for his aggressive, disciplined, dissonant football, waiting to see who would blink first.
Ever since, and especially following the Liverpool game, the traditional cliché of ‘Mourinho parking the bus’ in addition to claims of ’19th century football’ – one of the soundbites of the season, coined by the Chelsea gaffer himself – have been debated by virtually every talking head in the footballing world.
To some, Mourinho’s anti-football is committing genocide on the beautiful game, with his brutish Chelsea side the equivalent of a Nazi death squad carrying out his bidding. Spawned from the home of tica-taca and a full-back Jamie Carragher recently admitted he’d ‘stopped talking to’ during their time together in the Anfield backline for his unreliability and irresponsible ‘defending’, Jose Enrique firmly belongs to that school of thought.
I hold a rather different point of view however. Do I enjoy watching Chelsea drag every significant fixture into a zero-one-sum war of attrition? Not particularly. Do I find pleasure in 22% of the Blues goals coming from set pieces? Not at all. Do I think Mourinho should be praised for his ability to nullify the potency of the opposition, when he could be devoting his meticulous tactical mind to analysing how best to dominate at the other end of the pitch? No.
But where would football be without such representation of the tougher, tactical, more physically demanding side to the beautiful game? Most likely, a world of a thousand Neymars, where the ball is never headed, tackles are never made, the benefits of zonal marking are never considered and matches largely consist of twenty-two lightweight South Americans looking to dribble their way past everyone or claim a foul trying.
Liverpool and Chelsea may currently be at opposite ends of the philosophical spectrum, but it would be impossible to appreciate one without the other. In my opinion, what makes the Premier League so unique is its ability to encompass Spanish-influenced possession outfits like Swansea City and attritional juggernaughts like West Ham in the same division. To be a part of the best top flight in world football, you have to be good enough to adapt to virtually every theoretical avenue the game has to offer.
Likewise, that spectrum is forged in the shape of a horse-shoe. Is there really that much difference between what Jose Mourinho has done at Chelsea this season and Spain’s approach at the 2010 World Cup? One with the ball, the other without, yet the best team in the world, encompassing the greatest technical talents of a generation, won five out of a possible seven matches en route to the trophy, including the final, with a 1-0 score line. Their greatest winning margin for the tournament was just two goals against Group H’s whipping boys, Honduras – hardly what you’d describe as captivating football.
Vincente del Bosque set up La Roja to play to their strengths, and Jose Mourinho is merely doing the same. One can’t expect Chelsea to adopt ferocious, attacking football when their entire forward cast has scored just 18 Premier League goals between them. Likewise, as the Portuguese has been quick to point out, it would have been foolish if the Blues had allowed Jose Enrique’s side to play to their own advantages at Anfield last weekend – Manchester City made that exact mistake a fortnight previous and were duly punished by a 3-2 defeat.
After all, football is and always will be a results-driven industry. Having worked under the trigger-happy Roman Abramovich and within the fickle, politically-motivated realms of the Bernabeu, the Chelsea boss knows this more than anyone.
Furthermore, the Reds defender’s bitter quip couldn’t have been published world-wide at a less appropriate time. Yes, Chelsea lost to Atletico Madrid last night, but uncharacteristically it was their defending that let them down. In fact, when Jose Mourinho decided to open up the match in search of a goal, swapping Ashley Cole for Samuel Eto’o after 54 minutes, the Mattress Makers’ onslaught truly began. If the Portuguese had delayed the substitution and subsequent formation change, then perhaps a different result would have occurred.
Jose Enrique protests as if he’s the champion of the purist ideology, as if he too would be in a Champions League semi-final if he were concerned with such matters as tactics and disciplined defending.
But Cristiano Ronaldo, Claude Makelele, Michael Ballack, Wesley Sneijder, Didier Drogba, Samuel Eto’o and Eden Hazard, to name a few, are all top, top players who have bought into and flourished under the Mourinho philosophy. The Spaniard on the other hand, will be quickly forgotten once he hangs up his boots.
Nobody at Chelsea seems too concerned with their mode of play, and that in itself tells the whole story – just because you can’t beat them doesn’t mean they’re morally wrong. If Jose Enrique believes a more aesthetic philosophy should prevail, then it’s his prerogative to prove it.