In 2012 Liverpool had just sacked their manager Kenny Dalglish after the club had just finished the season in eighth spot. Sky Sports were interviewing fans outside Anfield for their option of the decision. “The problem is you should never go back to a former love.” was one fans response. When asked who he would like to see as the new Liverpool manager his reply was “Rafa Benitez.” That highlights the twisted and fickle logic of the average football fan. Now Chelsea look set to welcome back with open arms former manager and self-proclaimed ‘Special One’ Joe Mourinho.
Mourinho has cast a long shadow over Chelsea since his departure in 2007. Every manager since has seemed to be fighting the legacy that he left behind and constantly having to live with comparisons to the Portuguese master. Avram Grant lost his job despite being one kick away from winning the Champions League. Luiz Scolari never won over the former disciples of Mourinho’s teachings and was sacked after six months in charge. Carlo Ancelotti was inexcusably sacked after two seasons even though he won the League and Cup double in his first season. Andre Villas-Boas was the flavour of the month in 2011 after winning a treble with FC Porto. Chelsea splashed out £13m to bring him to Stamford Bridge to oversee a changing of the guard. Only he upset too many of Mourinho’s soldiers and was dismissed after six months. Roberto Di Matteo, a former fan favourite as a player was installed as a caretaker and ended up winning the FA Cup and the Champions league. His reward was a 2 year contract, only to be sacked midway through the season. Finally Rafa Benitez was brought into guide Chelsea for the rest of the season. A decision that Chelsea fans reacted angrily to, due to Benitez’s former association with Liverpool and previous comments he had made about Chelsea fans.
Finishing the season in third spot and winning the Europa League would normally be enough to secure the job at most clubs, but Chelsea isn’t most clubs. Benitez’s position became untenable due to the fan backlash and he felt undermined by being labeled the ‘interim-manager’. It was clear Benitez was always going to be a stop-gap. The calls from fans and players a-like for Mourinho to return have been loud ever since it became clear that Jose would no longer be continuing as the Real Madrid manager. The season finished with Mourinho, himself confessing that it was the worst he has ever had. Second in the league, where they never really looked like challenging for the title. Knocked out in the Champions League semi-final for a third consecutive season and losing the Spanish Cup final, in their own stadium to cross town rivals Atletico Madrid. Add to that a hate campaign from the Spanish media and a division within his squad as he had isolated many of his senior players, including club captain, icon and fan favourite Iker Casillias. Mourinho was never going to return to the Bernbeu next season.
It’s quite easy for Chelsea fans and former players to fall into the trap of wanting Mourinho to return. Why wouldn’t they? They look back and instantly remember a period of success where they won the Premier League two seasons in a row, an FA Cup and two League Cups. But it’s easy to forget all the other drama’s that he brought with him. The clashes with referees, media and club hierarchy. The time he allegedly hid in a laundry basket so he could sneak into the changing rooms when was suspended at the time. The time a referee felt he had to retire after he received death threats after comments Mourinho had made about him. Then there was the football. People are quick to forget that even though Chelsea won titles under Mourinho they weren’t pretty to watch. They were almost boring.
This was a side that was built around its defensive solidarity and battered teams into submission. It was one of the issues that Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich had objected to the first time Mourinho was in charge. He had splashed out a large part of his personal fortune to watch flowing, attacking football but that was not what he was seeing. His ambition was to make Chelsea an attractive brand to the neutral fan, he wanted people to talk about Chelsea the same way that people did when they discussed the football of Barcelona. Yet the image of the club was being tainted by the antics of the ‘Special One’ who’s unorthodox methods were starting to cast Chelsea in a negative light. It all came to a head in 2007 in group stage Champions League home match against Norwegian side Rosenborg BK. The match ended 1-1 and was played in front a nearly half-empty stadium. It felt like the rot was starting to set in after a loss and a goal-less draw in the Premier League the draw with Rosenborg seemed to be the catalyst for Abramovich to call Mourinho into his office two days later. Mourinho left the club by ‘mutual consent’ and the club have never really moved on since.
If history is any guide clubs should be careful in giving into the wishes of the fans. You only have to look at Charlton Athletic as an example. This was a club that had been established in the Premier League for many seasons but many fans felt the club needed a change after many years under Alan Curbishly. They got their wish in 2006 when Ian Dowie took over, what followed was relegation to the Championship that season. At Newcastle United the fans called for club hero Alan Shearer to take over as manager in 2009 to try to save the club from relegation. But the Geordie legend, who had no previous managerial experience, was unable to turn the tide and the club was relegated for the first time in 16 years. The same fate may now face Stoke City who have now parted ways with Tony Pulis after seven years in charge. Wolverhampton Wolves is another example where the fans called for a manager to be sacked, when in ’06 the club bowed to fan pressure and sacked Mick McCarthy only to have no back up plan. His assistant Terry Connor was promoted but was out of his depth and the club was relegated with only five wins all season. The club has now found itself relegated from the Championship after two more managerial changes failed to change the clubs fortunes. While Hull City have been promoted under Steve Bruce who was in the running for the Wolves job, but was rejected after fans opposed to his appointment on twitter.
To lump Mourinho into the same class as these managers would be unfair to Jose as he is undoubtable a much more talented manager then these examples. Yet there are other things to consider with Mourinho. He has never been known to bring through youth players and relies on big budgets to help his teams progress. His second season at Inter Milan, when they won the treble, they bought Diego Milito, Thiago Silva, Lucio, Samuel Eto’o and Wesley Sneijder for around €62 m. At Real Madrid he also opened the check book to bring in players like Mesut Ozil (€15m) Angel di Maria (€25m) Sami Khedira (€12m) Fabio Coentrao (€30m) and Luka Modric (€30m). Even his previous time at Chelsea wasn’t cheap and now in a time when UEFA are about to implemented their financial fair play rules the pennies have to be accounted for. It doesn’t seem that Chelsea will be able to dish out for as many players as Mourinho may be used to to. Having said that he has more than enough talent to work with within the current Chelsea squad. But will he be able to resist the temptation to put his own stamp on the squad that he may feel doesn’t reflect the type of players he would usually works with? Already David Luiz is being linked with a move to either Barca or Real Madrid as it’s felt Mourinho questions his defensive abilities. That would be a big blow to the club as Luiz is the type of player the club hopes to build its future image around and by all accounts many within the club see him as the next Chelsea captain.
He also seems to continuously need to create some sort of animosity towards some sort of protagonist. Whether it be a club official, match official, opposing manager or journalist. He seems to thrive off it, or even creates it as a defense mechanism as a way of deflecting blame should something go wrong. Whenever he does this it doesn’t just reflect on him but the club he represents. Real Madrid’s fans became divided in their opinion of Mourinho as they felt his actions were starting to cast Madrid in a bad light. Just look at him poking Tito Vilanova in the eye as one example. Another aspect of his managerial career is that he never stays for an extended period at any one club. It was this trait that counted against him when it came to being considered for the Manchester United job. United wanted someone who had a track record of a prolong period at one club and a history and trying to bring through youth players from the academy. Two aspects that Mourinho doesn’t process but David Moyes does.
Should he take the Chelsea job the task that he will face will be tougher than the first time he came to English football. Chelsea aren’t the only club with a sugar daddy this time. Manchester City have arguably a larger check book and are looking to regroup after a disappointing season. Manchester United aren’t a team in transition like when Mourinho first came and they will be lead by a man eager to prove he is up to the task. If Arsenal follow through with their promise to sign some big personalities they’ll be a threat and Spurs look like they’ll keep Gareth Bale and should come back stronger next season. Then there is always the shock value, teams are eager to have a go at the big boys now. A Swansea or a Norwich beating a big four club is not that big of a shock. It’s not like in Spain where the rest of the clubs virtually just try not to get thrashed by either Real or Barca, smaller clubs generally set up to attack the big boys when they play at home.
So while it may be heralded as the return of the messiah when Mourinho confirms the worst kept secret in football and returns to Chelsea. Chelsea fans should tread lightly in their exceptions for next season. Because whilst it may seem like a good idea at the time to run back to a former love, hoping to recapture the glory of the past, you just might be reminded why you parted ways in the first place.