In the end, the only real surprise about yesterday’s announcement was the level of excitement it managed to create, given the entire world knew what was happening and even more than roughly, when it was going to happen. And yet still, social media erupted, whilst the poor Sky Sports News anchors became inundated with calls and emails of people sharing their opinions (of varying expertise). The inevitability of the news obviously doing nothing to restrain the anticipation, yesterday our club made surely the most intriguing managerial appointment that English football has seen for a very long time.
Speaking from a completely personal perspective, the way in which my perception of my own support and interest in Chelsea football Club changed so drastically, mostly in terms of what I now feel is reasonable (and safe) to expect, before he had even said a word, very much helped to confirm my own hypothesis that Jose Mourinho has created (within the Premier League) the most extreme cult of personality in world football, perhaps even in all of modern sport.
His unique character coupled with a relentless intensity makes it impossible for anybody to feel indifferent towards him, as a person or as a professional. And as a result, most opinions about him tend to be pretty passionate one way or the other. And whilst people think that the media loves him because his quirk and his wit makes a reporter’s job easy, in my opinion the real reason for the press’ obsession with him is that he represents a challenge no other manager seems capable of offering. There is a subtext behind everything Jose says. Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes it isn’t but the care with which he chooses and delivers his words never changes. His intelligence and enjoyment of psychology make him insistently interesting in my opinion and I think quite evidently in the minds of football writers all over Europe, whether they like him or not.
His first interview as Chelsea Manager since 2007 was aired yesterday by Chelsea TV at 6:30pm. Full transcript here: http://bluechampions.com/2013/06/03/jose-mourinho-the-second-coming/. Of course, the whole thing is worth a read/listen but I thought there were three things really worth pulling out and discussing:
The first was his own highlighting of how ironically poorly he had concealed his own happiness – in other words – how happy he was! With his unveiling at Chelsea the first time around (and at both Inter and Real) he was a man who had it all to prove to himself and to a whole new sporting culture that is talents corresponded to his ego. Now however, that he has completed his own personal ‘Grand Slam’ of league titles across Europe, and his ‘formation’ as a coach is complete, for the first time he can embark on a challenge without having anything specific to prove to anybody or without any specific opposition to target. He can simply turn up to work at a club he already loves, in a culture where he feels “loved” and comfortable and simply do what he loves doing for a living. Whether that’s enough to keep him motivated and ‘happy’ in a job for very long could possibly be debated. Right now however it quite obviously is a very attractive proposition.
The second thing worth noticing was the explicit statement, “I’m more ready to be in a club and stay for a long time”. This, followed by the doubtlessly mediated repetition of the word “stability” I think showed that a repeat of his usual 2/3 year cycle wasn’t on the agenda this time around. Not a novel statement of intent given 12 months ago he verbally committed himself to Real Madrid until 2016 but this time the notion has notably more credibility given, as he went on to explain, “this is the first time in my career that I’ve arrived at a club that I already love. To be at the same time a Chelsea fan and a Chelsea manager is a new feeling for me and it’s a fantastic feeling”.
What will have been the most propitious part of this answer for Chelsea fans I’m sure will have been Mourinho’s clear acknowledgment that long term stability, with him at the club, wouldn’t just be favourable but actually necessary for him to do his job here successfully. This is the youngest squad he has ever had and in order to maximise their potential so they can reach “a high point in their evolution”, they will need constancy, which the club expects him to provide. Even if, as usual, he hits the ground running and wins major trophies straight away, he’ll know that the potential of this group to improve will still be immense, and that’s where the motivation to build a legacy at Chelsea should lie.
One final issue to take from yesterday was his emphasis on the importance of having 4 or 5 players still here from his last spell in charge, or as he calls it, “the beginning of the winning Chelsea”. He said a few times that he likes the current “profile of the squad” with the mixture of talented youngsters and veterans/club legends. The ability of the likes of Cole, Lampard and Terry to contribute on and off the pitch cannot be called into question – Mourinho’s history and loyalty to the latter two in particular however, may however, represent his greatest challenge in helping Chelsea to fully embrace the changes they’ve been moving towards since 2011. The character and leadership of Terry and Lampard was paramount to the successes of his first stint, but now with neither automatic first team choices, he needs to find a way of continuing the good work Benitez was doing, slowly fazing them out, yet keeping them on side.
If he was to end up being undermined by the player power that his management style essentially created seven years ago – the irony may just be too much. Fortunately that famous clip of Marco Materazzi crying with Jose in Madrid after Inter’s UCL win, despite having been given next to no playing time in Europe that season, shows that when it comes to man-managing older players, Mourinho seems to know what he’s doing.
His first press conference will be on the 10th of June. You’ll be able to read a full review and analysis here next week.