There really aren’t many signs or symptoms left of a club in crisis that aren’t visible at Chelsea right now. On top of the disastrous results, the manager’s steady stream of fines and suspensions for poor behaviour, not to mention a lawsuit from a former club doctor, has significantly added to this sense of profound disarray. Even that Stoke City steward briefly threatening to press charges against Diego Costa seemed to fit the flow of events quite nicely.
As many defeats in 15 days as we endured in the entirety of the last league season has solidified the situation into one of full disaster recovery. There are no longer any expectations of achievement this year – all efforts must now go into salvaging the season. 90% of which I’d guess is dependent upon finishing in the top four; the other 10% is about keeping the group united, so that next summer’s inevitable refreshing of the squad isn’t dictated by any feelings of bitterness or resentment.
Already however, the sense that things are turning sour is impossible to ignore. There are lots of reasons as to why we’re struggling, though nothing explains a malaise quite this deep, except for the obvious answer that the dressing room has broken down, and with it, team spirit and motivation has evaporated. Last week’s alleged anonymous claim that a certain player would ‘rather lose than win for Mourinho’ was a clear turning point – the point at which it became impossible to deny a rather obvious unpleasant cause to our unpleasant sufferings.
I think it’s fascinating however that the apparent effect has only been to strengthen fan support for the struggling manager. I also think it should be a huge source of pride the way the vocal home support has stuck so resolutely behind Mourinho; their retained faith in the Portuguese being just about the only thing holding the fan base together. Had trust in the manager evidently disintegrated the board may not have had the opportunity to stick by him for so long (not that fan opinion has ever noticeably influenced Roman before…)
But the sad fact of the matter is that whilst the fans have tolerated the results and whilst the board have shown themselves willing to show unprecedented patience, the beneficiary of this consideration is hugely letting himself down. After talking for so long about the need for stability there’s an irony that the one person threatening that stability right now is Mourinho himself. His frustration at the situation is derailing his chances of creating the legacy he wants to achieve. And if he isn’t careful, he may find that he’s wasted a level of leniency that hasn’t been shown to a Chelsea manager for a very long time.
I still very much hope Mourinho is allowed to see out the season, if for no other reason that I’d be fascinated to see how he reacts in the summer. With Petr Cech, Romelu Lukaku, Mo Salah and Kevin De Bruyne all performing fantastically for their current clubs, and with Matic, Costa and Cesc all struggling desperately for form, for the first time since returning, Jose’s transfer business is being questioned/doubted. I don’t buy this revisionism, personally. I think his assemblage of this group was superbly thought through, and now its only weaknesses (its thinness) has cost us in the long run, and the club’s failure to strengthen (the way we’re told Jose was keen to) has left us paying the price.
Big changes are clearly necessary. And after having taken so much pleasure in watching this group of players, it would be hugely difficult being made to choose (should it come to that) between them and the manager, but ultimately, it is no choice at all. Nobody in the squad has a record to match the Mourinho’s in the sport. No single player (with the exception of the captain) is as visibly committed to reversing the situation and to achieving long term success with the club. After the work he did building a title winning squad (refreshing 75% of the team) when he first returned – I don’t see any reason why he can’t do it again.
Alex Ferguson’s remarks about Chelsea in his latest book, I thought were interesting. His pointing out that the constant sacking of managers had created a dangerous culture of player power I think was fair. Unfortunately for this current group, there are no characters in their midst on the same level as Drogba, Lampard, Cole or Ballack. Only Terry remains and I think it’s safe to assume his loyalties remain firmly with the coach.
Though it looks unlikely, if Jose does last the season, any players he gets rid of for having deemed not good enough or not committed enough to the cause, I wish them a hearty good riddance. At this stage the alternatives to sacking Jose simply don’t seem worth taking. Even if someone like Hiddink were able to come in and stabilise the campaign, at the end of the year when a lot of money is sure to be spent, why take the risk of entrusting the job to someone other than the man who has twice spent money building title winning teams at the club?
In football (and in the Premier League especially) this is the kind of logic that only gets you so far. A few more bad results and Guus’ phone will be ringing for certain.