Yesterday it was announced by the President of Real Madrid, Florentino Perez that the time had come to “end the relationship” between Real Madrid and Jose Mourinho. He euphemised the evident simultaneous sacking and resigning a “mutually agreed upon deal” before adding that the season hadn’t been at the level required for Real Madrid. Mourinho himself called the campaign the worst of his career and I don’t think there can be any doubt that’s true.
The debate over whether or not the Portuguese’s three year reign in the Spanish capital was a success, has already been running for a while. It seems almost insulting, to me at least, to reduce the impact of a figure as complex and multifaceted as Mourinho to the balance sheet, but I think it serves as useful tool for being able to sympathise with his critics. Over the course of his three seasons Mourinho has: won two major trophies (including a record-breaking league title win). He has feuded and publically fallen out with Ramos, Cassilas, Pepe, Ronaldo and Jorge Valdano. He has often resorted to embarrassing outburst and rants – most notably his paranoid diatribe suggesting there was a conspiracy between UEFA and UNICEF. There have been disgraceful sending-offs aplenty. He has often neglected his duties to the Spanish media and bullied journalists when he did give conferences. And surely most reprehensible of all – his pusillanimous eye gouging of Tito Vilanova.
Even since 2004 I have been a huge fan of Jose Mourinho and it gives me no pleasure at all to outline his shortcomings, but I feel if we’re being honest, as we must be, given his imminent return to our Chelsea, then we have to admit to the fact we are hiring a coach who for the first time in his career, is coming off the back of an unsuccessful job. He is leaving Madrid without any major trophies in the cabinet, with the majority of fans glad to see the back of him and with, allegedly, all but four members of his squad sharing this sentiment. Contrast this to his exit from Chelsea and Inter Milan where he left such a deep ingrained loyalty, and I think his biggest failure at Madrid becomes apparent.
Having said all of this, there is one important point that needs to be made. Some have suggested that Mourinho has sullied the name of Real Madrid and is breaking with the club’s principles, when the truth of the matter is that Madrid broke their own principles by hiring him in the first place. If Perez and his officials were naive enough to expect Jose not to start fires and cause controversy when they approached him, after his first press conference where he stated “I am Jose Mourinho and I don’t change”, I think the club lost all rights to criticise the man for his values. It’s understandable to me why any chairman would want to hire the world’s best coach, but knowing his character in advance, what on Earth did Madrid think was going to happen, given the officious hierarchy and egotistical core of players they were giving him to work with?
It’s also worth noting that whilst they may be outweighed by the negatives, the scale of Mourinho’s few achievements were immense to say the least. Ultimately we all know why he was brought to Real Madrid – and that was to stop Barcelona, which he of course did by winning La Liga with 100 points last season. To suggest anything along the lines of “once in three years was a minimum” I think is to seriously underestimate the challenge. This Barcelona are probably the greatest club side of all time; they are fronted by possibly the greatest player of all time and I think that to maintain anyone but Mourinho could’ve wrestled the league away from them would be a difficult argument to make. Sadly, it might take Barcelona winning the next five Spanish leagues before people realise just how impressive an achievement it was.
Regarding his three UCL campaigns, tactical decisions made by Mourinho in all three of his semi-final defeats could have and were severely questioned, but in the end, teams don’t reach finals without a measure of luck and Madrid never got it. For the club to have reached the semis in three consecutive seasons after not getting past the last 16 since 2004, I think shows Mourinho has at least got Madrid back to where they should be, if not where they wanted him to take them.
So now with announcement expected within the next fortnight of Jose’s return to Chelsea, what exactly are his targets and what can we expect?
In my opinion his first job will be to address a criticism made by his former opposition scout, Andre Villas-Boas about the club – a criticism I thought was actually quite fair. Before Tottenham’s draw at Stamford Bridge, our former coach said that Chelsea lacked “a style”, which to him is “always more important than success”. It’s important to note carefully what AVB said here because of course Chelsea don’t lack style (with Mata, Hazard, Luiz and Oscar we have style to burn) what we lack is a style/a distinguished way of playing. Under Di Matteo initially of course we were a team who defended deep and counter attacked and by the end of his reign the Italian had us playing extremely directly, giving the three playmakers pretty much completely free roles. But since Benitez took over, the club has very much lacked any sort of identity on the pitch, external to the identity of its players. We haven’t counter attacked, we never pressed particularly high up and we were certainly never a possession based team. Overall, tactically, under Benitez I think Chelsea have been pretty bland. This won’t be an issue under Mourinho for very long I feel. He will make Chelsea solid and lethal on the counter attack – Eden Hazard in particular could be turned into a world-beater by Jose’s tactics. That he will solve will this issue (if you even choose to see as an issue) is not in doubt – only how long it will take is the question as far as I’m concerned.
Finally, what is it Chelsea fans can expect in the long term? Everyone knows he doesn’t exactly leave his clubs in great shape and he’s never stayed in a job for more than three full seasons. However, there exist so many reasons why I think things could be different this time around and why Mourinho might stay with Chelsea long term. Most importantly, the Chelsea job at this moment in time is a totally different challenge to any he has ever taken on before. In every job he has had since 2004 he has benn given the same mandate – to win the league and to win the Champions League at pretty much any cost. This summer he’ll have different priorities. Of course he will still be expected to challenge heavily for every available trophy but the main challenge for Mourinho this time is to build. In as stable an environment as he could reasonably hope for, with a supportive backroom and a largely adoring fan base, the Portuguese’s directive will be to take one of the greatest assortments of young talent in European sport and to turn them into a world-class side.
We know Mourinho ‘doesn’t change’, but what we don’t know is what happens when his situation changes. At a club which he loves and where he knows he can be happy long term, with resources, a loyal fan base and group of world class players whom he can instil his principles into early, does the prospect of Mourinho lasting longer than three years or thriving without confrontation seem that unlikely? Not at all in my opinion.
Chelsea and Mourinho need each other at this moment, but it’s still an absolutely fascinating move. Next year’s Premier League season will be so much more interesting than 2012/13, for a lot of reasons, but none more so than the return of the world greatest coach. Bwin.com currently has Chelsea at 3.50 to win the league with the Manchester clubs at 2.90. I can’t wait to see what happens.