The whole spectrum of Jose Mourinho’s character is in full view at the moment. These past few weeks I think, serve as an ideal acid test of the level and extent to which fans of the football club support the methods of the Portuguese. Generations down the line, a review of the last two weeks would be a good snapshot for historians to study, to get an idea of what being a fan under a Mourinho regime was like. Even by his own tempestuous standards, the past fortnight has been ‘full on’.
There have been cancelled press-conferences, abandonments of live interviews, the public calling out of certain television pundits and the relentless slamming of the FA for its inconsistencies in its punishment of sides (and their players), all in the name of some made-up conspiracy. Then again there have also been last minute winners and dramatic semi-final victories on top of some impressive results which have amounted to an unspectacular, yet steady accumulation of points, to see us happily and comfortably at the summit of the league table.
Whether you believe the recent sulking and antagonising of his (perceived) rivals, is all carefully planned bravado, or just the cold instincts of a tactician chasing down the prize his career desperately requires, in order to maintain its trajectory into the historical echelon of coaches held in the highest of regards – few would bother to deny that there is a clear desired affect behind the Chelsea coach’s actions. Generally, men don’t create the feuds he has throughout his career unless they enjoy conflict and they tend not to enjoy conflict unless they’re good at it; unless it spurs them to work and to prepare until failure seems all but impossible.
The fact of the matter is that Mourinho is this current frame of mind, or mode of battle if you prefer, just isn’t a particularly nice person. Though no one supposes that being liked sits anywhere near the top of his agenda. The general view is that by welcoming contempt from authority and from his rivals, he is bringing together his squad, and hardening their resolve to prove victorious through all of the scorn their success will inevitably attract.
Whether or not you approve, ultimately, will come down to whether or not you believe Mourinho is equally capable of motivating his side and winning trophies without all of the rudeness, dourness and hypocrisy which cerements his public persona whenever a season begins to assume greater levels of seriousness; or whether you believe this irascible competitiveness is an immutable part of what makes him and has made him the success that he is.
And if you do approve, the length of time your support will endure, must eventually boil down to the price you place on success. Those who strongly believe a club should aim to embody sporting values in its approach to competition are more likely to tire of the Portuguese’ methods at a faster rate (as his Real Madrid squad did in 2013). Those who think success is the only thing which matters in defining the tradition of a club (though, achieved within the rules and broad spirit of the game, of course) are unlikely to ever find a more suitable leader for their team.
I place myself in the camp who firmly believes Mourinho doesn’t need to be an arsehole to be a winner. Though I’m less convinced that he believes that could possibly be the case. I’m also of the opinion that his behaviour need not be divisive as it often portrayed. He might be inconsistent, discourteous, and even classless at times, but he’s never malicious or hateful or derogatory. And though many find his repetitive whinging dull, but I find fascinating the psychological advantages he’ll derive from sometimes embarrassingly crude reactions in front of the camera.
I don’t agree with everything he says; I don’t always think he’s the best ambassador for the club, or the league or even the sport but I’ll always carry immense respect for his talent, admiration for the conviction he carries in his own methods and appreciation for the fact that everything he does is geared towards the sustenance of continued success at Chelsea Football Club. There isn’t another manager in the world I’d feel more confident in bringing home what already feels like a looming fourth Premier League Trophy…
Here are just five observations on the quality of the work the Portuguese has done this season, amongst all of the whining. Five small pieces of evidence in support of his bid to be regarded as the cleverest/most reliable deliverer of league titles on the continent…
- Team structure – The word ‘balance’ is an extremely popular term in the analysis of squads and line-ups. Though you’re very rarely provided with concrete suggestions over how it is to be achieved, you’re rarely far away from a reminder on which teams suffer from a lack of it. Man Utd and Liverpool clearly lack balance. Arsenal are need of a stronger ‘spine’ whilst City look disjointed without Yaya Toure in midfield. Not once this season however, have Chelsea been accused of looking uneven or incoherent. A lack of rotation might have cost us points on one or two occasions, but the familiarity and blend of qualities in the manager’s masterly assembled first choice XI have outweighed by far the cost of accumulated fatigue until now. Everyone has a set role in the team, even those who aren’t regulars on the pitch. The squad might be thin as a result but the advantage of the cohesion and the distribution of responsibility from which Mourinho’s team building has resulted, will almost certainly prove decisive.
- Promotion of youth – Though rarely lauded for his perseverance or trust in young players, this season he’s shown that with the required stability and talent to work with, he’s willing and happy to use the club’s youth players where possible. Dom Solanke, Andreas Christensen and Ruben Loftus-Cheek have all made first team debuts this year, while Kurt Zouma looks very close indeed to becoming a mainstay in the team. Coupled with his work developing Raphael Varane at Real Madrid, he isn’t wrong when he says the French FA have an awesome prospective partnership to thank him for.
- Careful game management – His ability to turn games in his favour with a clever tactical switch or substitution is well evidenced and documented but perhaps his even greater ability is to coach games which have already been won, and to guide/organise his team to protect a lead in a way which demands as little energy is wasted as possible. When you’re chasing multiple trophies throughout the English football season, the accumulation of those comfortable wins are almost priceless.
- Signing Cuadrado – Whether the Colombian is a natural fit or potential long—term Chelsea player is debatable. But what’s clear is that he freshens up the one area of the squad which perhaps was lacking some variety. The World Cup star might not be as potent as Andre Schurrle was in front of goal, but he is more direct, more active in the game, more versatile and more useful against a deep defence also. Provided he adapts quickly he should be useful during tricking fixtures or periods of the season. His signing nulls the only possibility our title chase had of really becoming stale, offering at last some genuine competition to our usual attacking midfield triumvirate.
- Management of big games – It’s been pointed out many times that English football has a strange attitude when it comes to defensive football. Commentators are quick to point out defensive shortcomings or naiveties in a team’s approach, and yet they seem equally quick to criticise any trace of negativity in a top side, with a tone of offence which suggests what they’re seeing is totally antithetical to the spirit of the sport. These criticisms often also carry the hint of a suggestion that Mourinho’s tactics are deplorable for their simplicity – though, recently many of the country’s most highly regarded managers have succeeded in making the Portuguese’ ability to set up his side to defend, look extremely difficult indeed. Results like the draw at home to Man City won’t hang around for long in the memory but it’s performances like those which can make a team so formidable over the course of a league season. And Mourinho’s ability to produce such results time and time again that means no one is putting serious money against his Chelsea side becoming champions this May.