Have Chelsea really improved since Mourinho?
It’s been five years since his surprising exit from English football but Jose Mourinho’s name is still regularly heard echoing around Stamford Bridge. His departure exposed a gaping wound at the heart of the club, which some will argue has never fully healed. The players miss his influence, the fans his unwavering confidence while journalists are no longer guaranteed a bizarre, yet utterly memorable quote.
Just a few short months ago speculation reached fever pitch surrounding a possible ‘second coming’ and will no doubt peak again should the shine fade from Roberto Di Matteo’s current reign. But are Chelsea a better side now than they were under Mourinho?
The instinctive answer is a firm yes, the club are of course current European champions, a tag they never held under the leadership of Mourinho. Even the uninspiring figure of Avram Grant guided The Blues further in the competition, although it’s worth remembering that Mourinho was like a magnet to controversial decisions on the European stage. Chelsea however beat Barcelona, a club Mourinho (and just about everyone else) has struggled against along with Bayern Munich, who were his conquerors this time round.
The summer’s transfer activity has signalled a new dawn in West London, the purchase of Oscar and Eden Hazard highlight the club’s impressive ambitions and although their importance in the squad remains unquestionable, the end is in sight for the likes of Frank Lampard, John Terry and Ashley Cole, which suggests the club are finally ready to move on.
It’s no secret that chairman Roman Abramovich has spent the past few years trying to replicate the euphoria that engulfed the club during Mourinho’s tenure. The Russian billionaire has forever desired the idealistic reality of silverware dominance coupled with beautiful football. His disapproval of Mourinho – on the pitch at least – stemmed from his defensively minded approach, which perhaps lacked the exciting elements of Arsenal’s invincible side.
Carlo Ancelotti looked to have provided the answer to his prayers when he abandoned the stereotypes associated with Italian football and romped to the title displaying free-flowing attacking football. However the ‘gung-ho’ approach is not a sustainable tactic and can only guarantee short-term success, hence his dismissal the following year when he failed to repeat the same heroics. The sacking was another example of Roman’s impatience and itchy trigger finger that has hampered the club as much as it has helped.
There is a wonderful sense of irony that Chelsea triumphed in the Champions League last year largely thanks to their resilient rearguard. Of all the managers employed since 2007, it was the relatively shy and inexperienced figure of Roberto Di Matteo that led them to glory. It was Di Matteo who replicated Mourinho’s familiar trait of taking the spotlight off the players although he did replace the bullish poise with a refreshing sense of humility. Maybe the penny has finally dropped for Roman; evident from how the recent signings of Victor Moses, Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne mirror a return to the formation Mourinho established using Arjen Robben, Damien Duff and Joe Cole.
Perhaps the only question that needs asking revolves around whether the club would reappoint Mourinho tomorrow, if the opportunity arose. The answer would undeniably be a resounding “yes!” On Tuesday night he reminded the country why we fell in love with him, the endearing charm, the never say die attitude and the touchline antics that so few managers can execute without evoking fits of laughter. He took on Roberto Mancini in a battle of the mind-games and unlike Alex Ferguson, came out on top.
Unlike Chelsea, Mourinho has been repeatedly successful in the years that followed the end of their relationship. His treble-winning Inter Milan side exceeded each and every expectation and over in Spain, he has built a side capable of competing with the best team in the world. He has drawn criticism for focusing on strengthening the defensive arm of the Galacticos but that is perhaps the only area in which Barcelona remains inferior. It may not always be pretty, but at the end of the day winning is everything and of all the names people have hurled at Mourinho, ‘winner’ is the only one worth remembering.
Mourinho personifies the phrase ‘you don’t know how good you’ve got it, until it’s gone’. His return to The Bridge is unfortunately a fantasy that can never materialise with Abramovich at the helm. The arrogance, egotistical behaviour and stubborn nature of both men will serve only to reignite a battle for control of the club. Chelsea must continue to look forward, embrace the enjoyment from having an iconic former player in charge and brace themselves for a turbulent period as the last of ‘Mourinho’s Men’ or ‘Old Guard’ are fazed out of the side.