At the beginning of the season I thought (having started a new job which involves long hours) not having any time to blog would be a real disappointment, having enjoyed writing and sharing opinions on this page for so long. As it happens however, not having any free time has been somewhat of a relief – not having to worry about finding a positive spin or a nice turn of phrase to apply to the absolute dross that we’ve been made to sit through this season. Frankly it’s been nice to think about other things.
Honestly, I haven’t seen the point in writing also, when I, like seemingly every professional sports writer in the country, have no convincing answer to give for why things have gone as badly as they have. At the beginning of the slump, way back in September, problems were obvious and I’m not sure any serious new problems have arisen. They may have become exacerbated as form and motivation have tailed, but even so, how things have snowballed into such a dire situation, is beyond my ability to understand. And plainly, it was beyond the understanding of Mourinho as well.
Looking back, the turning point in the season, or more specifically the point at which the aim of the season shifted to one of pure damage limitation, was the defeat at Stoke City. My opinion was after that game that the manager still shouldn’t be sacked, regardless of how the season played out from that point – for the simple reason that I trust his talent far beyond that of the players. Few, if any of them, will come close to achieving what the Portuguese has over the past dozen years; even fewer, depressingly, have shown a fraction of the commitment to the club that the manager has. It’s clear for the entirety of the campaign, where the fans place the blame for the results thus far; Mourinho’s name has been sung as loudly and as often as that of any player’s.
I’m not however, particularly shocked or dismayed at today’s news – that Portuguese has left the club for the second time. I think for once the label of trigger-happy or narrow minded being aimed at Roman Abramovich is not fair. After all, the Russian tolerated the bad results even longer than Huw Jenkins did with Garry Monk at Swansea. Simply, Monday night’s interview was the deal breaker. Jose’s criticism of the player’s that they had betrayed him was convincing evidence, if not plain proof, that the mutual respect between him and his players had vanished. As much as I would have been in favour of giving him full licence to refresh and re-build the squad next summer, it looks as though personal relationships had disintegrated, to the point where every month more would have been poisonous to the club. By May, things could have been broken beyond repair.
What next for Mourinho?
These four months will forever be a huge black mark on his career/legacy. The speed of the demise of a title-winning team he had built largely himself, I think has and will forever cement his reputation as a short term coach. If ever he was going to build a legacy at a club it would’ve been at Chelsea this time around. Whatever deficiencies exist within his style of leadership, or man-management or technical coaching which cause his sides to falter so much after two years, will likely never be addressed at this stage. I’m not sure he’ll even try to address them. I’m not even sure he should.
It’ll be fascinating to see now if he was true to his word about staying in England. The way things are looking there could very well be a vacancy at Man Utd next year (if not sooner). If that offer is not forthcoming however, would he actually resign himself to a genuine mid-table side? It’d be fascinating to watch. With PSG almost certain to coming knocking again, I’m not sure he’d be able to resist adding a few more easy league titles to his stack.
What next for Chelsea?
The season now is surely unsalvageable. The best I think we can hope for is to re-find our form, push as far as we can in the two major cup competitions and generally do all we can to make sure we start next season with a united squad and with a good amount of forward momentum. A safe and experienced pair of hands is what we need in other words. And luckily one of the safest and most experienced pair of hands in the world seems to be on his way, with Guus Hiddink favourite to take on the job in an interim role for the second time.
Unforgettably, last time the Dutchman took charge he won the FA Cup, most likely would have won the Champions League but for… well, you know what for; and also pushing Man Utd all the way after such a horrible start under Luis Felipe Scolari. That obviously won’t happen again this time. The squad is much worse, less experienced and the league position is far weaker. The expectations are nowhere near the same. If he can achieve a top ten finish and bring the stars of the team back to form over the next five months, I think that will constitute another job well done.
And after Hiddink? For many obvious reasons, the first choice and the name being thrown around the most is that of Diego Simeone. I think he would be great for Chelsea and in a lot of ways, I think Chelsea would be good for him. His achievements at Atletico Madrid have been phenomenal, not just to reach the heights he did in 2013 but to maintain the club as a major force in Spanish and European football has shown the extent of his talent, but now, it feels like the time to move on, if, as we are told, he does have ambitions to coach elsewhere.
With Chelsea next season he would have the chance to work with a squad that is still young, will need re-building, will include players with whom he is very familiar, and importantly, for the first season at least, expectations will be relatively low, giving him chance to make whatever changes he should wish to implement. And from the club’s perspective, his youth, his ambition and his talent, in combination with his emphasis on all the things which have brought Chelsea success over the past decade (great defending, hard pressing, quick counter-attacking play) makes him surely the ideal candidate.
It hurts to see Mourinho leave, but I think the disappointment this time around has been softened by the feeling of inevitability which preceded this decision. For all his talent, he couldn’t handle the situation. He might have worked harder than any of the players; he might have a greater understanding of the game than any of them and more passion for the club. Ultimately however, he was the one who couldn’t cope, emotionally, with the situation. He had to go. At least in a couple of years time after he’s won the league with Man Utd, we know things will wrong the season after.