Even for a character as notoriously baffling as Josè Mourinho, it’s tough to understand quite what he’s been playing at this season. A week that began with the self-styled nark insulting, undermining and demoting his medical staff for hurriedly treating an apparently injured Eden Hazard, and incorporated for no reason whatsoever a pop at Arsène Wenger in the build-up to Chelsea’s trip to Man City, ended with The Special One fifth from bottom having been roundly smashed 3-0 by his nearest rivals.
In a transparently desperate attempt to encourage Roman Abramovich to sign John Stones, Mourinho substituted captain John Terry for the first time ever, effectively accepting defeat in a must-not-lose game. Third season cracks, in-fighting with staff, a significant drop in form, sending the owner a message with team selection – isn’t this all a bit 2007? Is history repeating itself for Mourinho at Chelsea?
September 2, 2007: Aston Villa’s Zat Knight and Gabby Agbonlahor condemn Chelsea to their first defeat of the season. The Blues’ next two fixtures, at home to Rosenborg and Blackburn, bring just two draws (1-1 and 0-0 respectively), with the reluctantly recalled Andriy Shevchenko completing 90 minutes in both.
A tense exchange between owner and manager later, allegedly in a corridor following the Blackburn draw, and that was that. Mourinho walked away from Chelsea by mutual consent with three years left on his contract.
Mourinho spent most of the summer in 2007 missing out on transfer targets to his immense frustration. Chelsea’s arrivals from that period read like a who’s who of Stamford Bridge peripherals: Alex, Tal Ben Haim, Juliano Belletti, Fabio Borini, Florent Malouda, Jacob Mellis, Danny Philliskirk, Claudio Pizarro and Steve Sidwell.
Looking back, it’s astonishing that Premier League champions would bolster their squad in such an unambitious way, but then the same can be said of this summer.
Asmir Begović, Radamel Falcao and Baba Rahman represent the only significant incomings for Chelsea so far this summer: Stoke’s keeper, Man Utd’s back-up, loanee striker and Augsburg’s left-back.
Efforts will no doubt be redoubled to purchase Everton’s Stones in light of Chelsea’s hammering at City, arguably their worst ever big game performance under Mourinho, but even then, what do these signings suggest of the club’s ambitions?
Capable as all four are, this strikes me as a list of players likely to contribute minimally to another crack at the Premier League this season – certainly not the kind of top level talent required to improve Chelsea’s poor Champions League performance.
Recipe for disaster
Dani Alves was Mourinho’s number one target in 2007. Stones is of course 2015’s equivalent, though this late in the window, like Sevilla, Everton will probably refuse all but nonsensically massive offers. Is this the hint we’re looking for? Is Chelsea’s failure to land Stones Abramovich’s fault? More importantly, does Mourinho perceive it that way?
Petr Čech’s defection to Arsenal, outlawed by Mourinho, allowed by Abramovich, left little doubt as to who truly is The Special One at Stamford Bridge. As Pat Nevin commented in 2007 in the wake of Mourinho’s departure: “If you put someone of that ego […] in charge and then you tell him you’re not quite in charge, then I think [it’s] a recipe for disaster”.
Documentary film-maker Adam Curtis describes the self-deluding practices of today’s politicians experiencing the recession of power to larger, more dominant institutions: “In response, they reinvented other parts of the world they thought they could control into incredibly simplistic fables of good versus evil”. This is the sort of behaviour we’re currently observing in Mourinho.
Bereft of boardroom control, Mourinho has reshuffled his subordinate medical staff, hauled off his allied captain, and antagonised easily beatable Wenger. None of them deserved it, but crucially, none will respond. It’s classic bullying: insecurity externalised and expressed aggressively at those least likely to challenge.
Much like in 2007, Mourinho is bound to feel short-changed by his owner’s transfer assistance this summer. For a double Champions League winner of seemingly boundless self-confidence, it must truly sting to doubt your own ability to genuinely compete in Europe especially with so many rivals managing top clubs. If Mourinho takes defeat so consistently badly, he’s likely to find self-doubt intolerable.
Failure to improve results and failure to land Stones would engender animosity from both owner and manager. History shows Mourinho would be prepared to leave Chelsea if he doesn’t get what he wants.
Moreover, Abramovich would not be afraid to let him.
Written by Chris Smith
Follow Chris on Twitter @cdsmith789
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