When Chelsea FC take on Portuguese giants FC Porto on Wednesday in the final group game of the UEFA Champions League, a lot more than just three points is at stake
We have long since entered uncharted territory with Roman Abramovich and the Chelsea FC board. That Jos Mourinho is still in a job has come as a surprise to many, while others have hailed it as proof of a concerted change in the club’s philosophy — an attempt at finally establishing order, ironic though it may seem, after a decade of tumult and disorder.
The Premier League fixture against Liverpool FC was billed as the game. Do or die. In or out. The Blues found themselves on the wrong end of a 3-1 scoreline at Stamford Bridge, and Mourinho found himself still in the Blues’ managerial hot-seat, granted a ‘stay of execution’ according to several of the daily newspapers in England.
A defeat to Stoke City followed soon after, and after what seemed like a mini-revival, Chelsea FC hit rock-bottom, losing to newly-promoted Bournemouth 1-0 in front of a stunned home crowd. Now, the papers say, it really is do-or-die time for Mourinho.
The Portuguese’s situation is much like a rubber-band stretched to its elastic limits — taut, yet somehow still stretching as it is pulled from either side, somehow still intact even as people wait for the inevitable snap.
That ‘snap’, if it does come, will undoubtedly have repercussions on the current season for the Blues, but more saliently, it could shape the very identity of the club going forward.
The stakes have never been higher for Chelsea FC
If Chelsea contrive to lose to Porto on Wednesday and consequently exit the Champions League, Abramovich could well be forced to call time on Mourinho’s second spell in charge of the club. However, the billionaire owner must do so with extreme caution and consideration, learning from history to predict the chain of events that could follow.
People use the terms ‘fate’ and ‘destiny’ interchangeably, and believe in the theoretical concept to varying degrees. Ask Blues’ legend Didier Drogba for instance, and the Ivorian is likely to say that it was his destiny to win the Champions League for Chelsea FC against seemingly insurmountable odds. What is more interesting, however, is the chain of events after the win that has led to this moment in the club’s history.
The arrival of Eden Hazard in the summer of 2012, for instance, would hardly be possible if there was no Champions League football at Stamford Bridge. The Belgian has emerged as a talisman for the club, and the Premier League title win in 2015 would be that much more difficult had it not been for the former Lille attacker’s invaluable contributions.
The club, as a whole, have been more prudent in the transfer market, moving away from the capricious climate of the early years of Abramovich’s ownership — seemingly charting a course for calmer waters.
Now, however, is the truest test of the Chelsea FC’s commitment towards stability. Sacking Mourinho now could trigger a chain of events that could lead to the club struggling to bring back the glory days for years to come. For Mourinho, terrible season though he may be having, remains one of the best managers in world football.
The fans’ backing of him at every opportunity also suggests that there is faith that the Portuguese can turn the club’s fortunes around, no matter how bad the situation may be.
Sacking Mourinho would be like pressing the ‘reset’ button
After Mourinho departed in 2007, the Blues hired a total of 7 managers in 6 years, winning just one Premier League title in the process. Notably, it was a period of English football when Manchester City were not a force to be reckoned with, nor did ‘mid-table’ teams have the finances to be ambitious in the transfer market.
Perhaps most importantly, although the revolving door of managers brought in one man after another, the Blues had one of the strongest ‘spines’ in the league — Petr A?ech, John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba — that could galvanise and lead the squad.
Not only is the make-up of this squad very different, there is also the question of the club academy’s golden generation — players like Jeremie Boga, Andreas Christensen, Dominic Solanke, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Charly Musonda among others — who have the potential to represent the club at the highest level some day.
Following a period of relative calm, sacking Mourinho now, whether or not Chelsea FC lose to Porto, would be pressing the ‘reset’ button. Only this time, the dangers of instability in the managerial position are far greater.
The stakes against Porto on Wednesday, then, are as high as they could possibly be. If the Blues were to go through to the knock-out stages, it could finally begin a revival of sorts, which could be further helped by additions in the January transfer window.
The consequences of a loss, however, will be far greater than the loss of just three points or an exit from the Champions League. Whether or not Chelsea FC fans like it, the club hierarchy have reportedly already discussed Mourinho’s position, and a defeat could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
Ostensibly, Roman Abramovich’s patience has already been stretched to its limits, and much like the rubber band, there will be a breaking point. There always is.