Earlier in the campaign, the Portuguese turned to his book of pre-made metaphors to label the Blues as the ‘little horse’ in the title race, in turn likening rivals Manchester City to a Jaguar for their incredible spending power. In recent weeks, the use of analogies have diminished and Mourinho’s diction has taken a less eloquent turn, yet, as if it were some sort of game of cat-and-mouse, the Stamford Bridge boss is still bluntly knocking back notions of his side’s favourite status.
In a text-book showing of reverse psychology, journalists now seem almost addicted to trying to make the Special One back Chelsea’s title credentials. They are yet to make any form of significant breakthrough, or overcome their itch for the issue.
Perhaps understandably so; in order to subscribe to Mourinho’s point of view, you’d have to ignore the vast evidence to suggest otherwise. Firstly, the Special One’s re-arrival in West London during the summer immediately resulted in the bookies making Chelsea title favourites. They tend to know what they’re talking about – the house always wins – and who can argue with the Portuguese’s track record in England; two Premier League titles, two League Cups and one FA Cup from just three full campaigns.
Secondly, the Blues are now sitting pretty at the top of the Premier League table with 69 points from 31 games. Liverpool appear to be infinitely gaining momentum, and Manchester City have three matches in hand, but with just seven games left of the current campaign, the ball is well and truly in Chelsea’s court.
Thirdly, and most importantly, when it’s come to the heavyweight contests this season, the West Londoners have truly blown their title rivals out of the water. Chelsea don a stunning return of 13 points out of a possible 15 from top four clashes this term, and are yet to lose to Arsenal, Liverpool or Manchester City.
In fact, the Gunners are the only silverware competitors that have been able to hold the Blues to a draw. The Reds could break that dominance when they face Chelsea at Anfield next month, but in terms of the six-pointers thus far and the psychological impact that often comes with them, the West Londoners certainly have the upper hand.
So the next time Mourinho compares his Chelsea squad to a plethora of tadpoles that require his motherly love to fulfil their potential of becoming world-class frogs, or a litter of kittens that currently include a few too many runts and a few too many old toms to be considered effective Premier League title challengers, I’ll have to respectfully disagree.
But regardless of that simile-filled declaration, claiming the Premiership’s crown this term will still be the Portugese’s greatest achievement to date in England, purely due to the fact that Mourinho’s Chelsea 2.0 aren’t a patch on the original.
For example, in the Special One’s first transfer window at Stamford Bridge – summer 2004 – he signed three prior Champions League winners Claude Makelele, Paulo Ferreira and Ricardo Carvalho, in addition to Michael Essien, Didier Drogba, Arjen Robben and Petr Cech. An incredible cast of inaugural signings indeed, even if at the time their world-class quality hadn’t truly come to light.
Compare that to the signings Mourinho made at the start of the current campaign; Willian, Andre Schurrle, Marco Van Ginkel, Mark Schwarzer and a 32 year-old Samuel Eto’o. Perhaps the phrase ‘stop-gap solution’ is slightly harsh, but nonetheless, you can’t imagine Schurrle, Eto’o or Schwarzer being still with the Blues in a couple of seasons’ time. These acquisitions weren’t made in mind of the Premier League title, but rather to keep Chelsea tiding over until they were capable of effectively challenging.
Likewise, throughout his three years at Stamford Bridge, the Portuguese added to his illustrious cast with Ashley Cole, Andriy Shevchenko, Michael Ballack, Alex, Juliano Belletti and Branislav Ivanovic to name but a few, not to mention John Terry, Frank Lampard, Eidur Gudjohnsen and William Gallas, whom he had inherited from Claudio Ranieri. By 2007, Mourinho had at his disposal one of the strongest starting XIs and rosters in Europe. Silverware was a necessity, not an opportunity.
The situation now is very different. Chelsea’s starting XI isn’t even the strongest in the Premier League, let alone the Champions League, and the likes of Ramires, John Obi Mikel, Demba Ba, Gary Cahill and Willian quite frankly do not compare. Unlike their predecessors, they will not go down in the history books as some of the greatest players of their generation.
Don’t get me wrong – the Portuguese certainly has top quality talent at his disposal, Eden Hazard, Oscar, Cesar Azpilicueta and Nemanja Matic for example, but these young, inexperienced players are being propped up by an ageing backbone of ancient Mourinho allies, such as Lampard, Terry and Eto’o, that on paper at least, should be well beyond their better years. With one generation breaking through and another coming to an end, as the Blues boss has stated on multiple occasions this season, Chelsea are a club amid transition.
Usually that process requires the temporary surrendering of silverware, but Mourinho’s ability to effectively balance out these two, incredibly different cliques in the Blues squad has somehow propelled Chelsea closer than they’ve been to the Premier League title since 2011.
In addition to Chelsea’s glut in quality, or perhaps a better turn of phrase would be the absence of flagship stars – compare the Blues roster to Yaya Toure, Pablo Zabaleta, Vincent Kompany, Joe Hart and Sergio Aguero at Manchester City for example – Mourinho has also had to fight against the disturbing absence of a dependable goalscorer.
The Portuguese admitted as much when ‘unknowingly’ recorded by a French journalist last month, stated on camera; “I have a team but no striker. It is not possible for us to win the Premier League. We have Samuel Eto’o. Yes, Eto’o. But he is 32, maybe even 35, I don’t know.”
The claims may have been harsh but that doesn’t mean they aren’t true; Chelsea’s strike force of Eto’o, Ba and Fernando Torres have found just 15 Premier League goals between them this season, making them directly responsible for only 24% of the Blues’ domestic goal tally.
Compare that to Liverpool, where Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge have racked up a combined total of 47, or Manchester City, where Manuel Pellegrini has an incredible forward cast of Aguero, Edin Dzeo, Alvaro Negredo and Stevan Jovetic at his disposal. If any of those players were to join the Chelsea ranks, their potency in the final third would dramatically improve.
So, despite the Portuguese’s claims, although Chelsea are title favourites this year that’s almost entirely down to one man – Jose Mourinho. Two if you include the impeccable, match-winning performances of Eden Hazard. This is the weakest Blues roster he’s ever had, and the summer 2013 transfer window was by far his least adventurous at the Stamford Bridge helm.
If the West London side claim the English crown this year, it’s sole strength remains the Special One’s managerial magic, unlike his first tenure where, despite Mourinho’s incredible trophy record, the power of Roman Abramovich’s purse strings decisively told.
Resultantly, finishing the current campaign with the Premier League crown should go down in the history books as the Portuguese’s greatest achievement in England.