Chelsea’s convincing win over high-flying Crystal Palace on Sunday may well be the start of a revival for the champions. But that shouldn’t surprise us. Not one bit.
After all, Chelsea Football Club is a strange place. A club so pristinely presented to the media, so carefully polished so as to protect its image; a club where players do not speak to the media out of turn and even cover their mouths so as not to be deciphered by TV cameras, it is also a club whose manager for the first four months of the season is only the second in Premier League history to suffer a stadium ban for his antics. And the first to be banned head-butted an opposition player!
It says a lot about the club that this could happen. The manager in question, Jose Mourinho, was allowed the odd burst of petulance because of his brilliance and because of what he means to the club. He is the very definition of a ‘legend’.
But his reign is the one that started the madness in the first place. Mourinho’s first spell at Chelsea brought success and a platform for even more success to follow. He took players like John Terry and Frank Lampard to new heights and created a platform for the likes of Petr Cech and Didier Drogba to go on and become Chelsea legends in their own right.
Since the end of his first reign nine years ago, Chelsea have had seven managers. Not all of them were long-term, but the likes of Guus Hiddink and Avram Grant have stayed long enough to be counted.
Chelsea’s recent managerial history seems to be a story of hiring and firing, punctuated by interim coaches. Going back to Mourinho, and then sacking him then season after winning the title, seems to just set the cycle rolling again. The continuation of the cycle probably means Chelsea fans should not worry too much about their chances of success over the coming few seasons – after all, the madness has produced results over the years.
But what’s curious is that these interim managers are actually very successful.
Avram Grant, Roberto Di Matteo and Rafael Benitez all took Chelsea to a major European final during their spell as interim managers, Di Matteo even got the job permanently. Even Hiddink’s first spell in charge yielded an FA Cup success and a controversial defeat to Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final. Hiddink ended his tenure with the highest win percentage of any Chelsea manager ever. The interims do a great job at Chelsea, so we’ve seen it before.
Even though the defending champions are – barring the biggest comeback in footballing history – completely out of any title race, it’s easy to forget there’s still half of a season left to play.
Not just half of a Premier League season with nothing to play for other than pride, but a Champions League and an FA Cup campaign. Exactly the competitions where the interims seem to excel.
There’s a lot left for Chelsea, but this is a club like no other. It doesn’t work like an Arsenal or a Manchester United. Stability doesn’t seem to matter so much. Success doesn’t necessarily breed success with them.
Chelsea may be back in business after months in the doldrums, but that’s just the way this club seems to like it. The rise like a phoenix from the ashes of a cindered season has happened before. It’s hard to bet against it happening again.