In his second innings at the helm of Stamford Bridge, Jose Mourinho has shown a sense of pragmatism that eluded his dealings with Chelsea’s fanbase the last time he was manager. For a manager renowned for cultivating an us-versus-the-world philosophy, the new Jose Mourinho isn’t afraid to put his own fans under the scanner.
An Arsene Wenger might hesitate to even gently tell off his club’s supporters, given their penchant for waving ‘Wenger Out‘ signs in his face. Sir Alex Ferguson would have burst a vein if he detected anything other than unquestioning loyalty from the partisan crown behind him. But Jose Mourinho, who is routinely serenaded, from the upper echelons of Stamford Bridge isn’t seemingly bound by the rules that govern his counterparts. For it takes either supreme confidence or incredible courage to insinuate that one’s fans are lacking in vigor and passion and demand more.
It would ordinarily be the sort of thing Kanye West might say.
But Jose Mourinho seems to have earned the right to demand Stamford Bridge crank up the volume. It isn’t the first time he’s made this assertion. But what the irrepressible Portuguese genius has done, is lend credence to taunts from other clubs that Chelsea’s faithful are comprised almost exclusively of “plastics“: fair-weather fans with questionable loyalties, backing the club only because of its recent successes under the Abramovich era.
This time Mourinho may have crossed a line, by not only publicly berating Chelsea’s supporting act, but by committing the cardinal sin of comparing Chelsea’s crowd support, or lack thereof, with that of Liverpool’s famed partisan atmosphere at Anfield. Liverpool’s roots as a working-class city and a working-class club mean that Anfield channels some of that working class angst into its atmosphere. On the other hand, Chelsea with its support based in the relatively well-off boroughs of London lacks the potency and sense of urgency that seem to characterize Anfield’s atmosphere.
Liverpool’s current fortunes, as it fights for a spot in the top third of the league, also lends itself to an overwhelmingly partisan, chest-thumping show of force. It is human nature to seek to project confidence and fervor when one is grappling internally with serious questions. Mourinho may have a legitimate grouse that Chelsea’s dominance in the league, over the likes of Liverpool, demands an atmosphere that outdoes or at least rivals Anfield’s. What he forgets is that the lukewarm atmosphere, characterized by tepid applause, is a function of the complacency that has set in among Chelsea’s faithful. In other words, they expect Chelsea to win.
When Liverpool goes a goal down, its supporters have every reason to believe their team will not recover in time. Their roaring encouragement is meant to disguise that underlying fear. When Chelsea goes a goal down, its supporters are stunned that a side with the talent the Blues have at their disposal could find themselves in such a situation. What Liverpool’s fans see as business as usual, Chelsea’s supporters consider an awkward and unfamiliar situation that they haven’t the faintest clue how to react to.
The style of play, for both teams, is also a factor. Liverpool does not dominate the pace and flow of a Premier League game, in the manner this current Chelsea side can. It is far easier to maintain an atmosphere of intensity when you know the tide has turned in your team’s favor. For Chelsea’s supporters, that distinction is harder to ascertain. The Blues retain possession and play their best football in the middle of the field, and tend to break down their opponents by slowly chipping away at the defense. It’s harder to cheer a team like Chelsea that slowly suffocates the life out of its opponents, than it would be to cheer a team that vacillates between short bursts of all-out attack up front and some desperate defending at the back.
Jose Mourinho has every right to commend other clubs for any characteristics he would like his own to appropriate, but his frequent refrains of comparison between two clubs of different cultures does Chelsea a massive disservice. The Chelsea manager first made his thoughts about Anfield known in 2005 after a Champions League semifinal, when he admitted he had fallen for the “power of Anfield“.
Liverpool are not the only team Chelsea have been unfavorably compared to. Jose Mourinho once claimed his side felt they were playing in an empty stadium, after the Blues beat Queens Park Rangers at the Bridge. There was no acknowledgment from the Stamford Bridge favorite that perhaps Chelsea’s fans were relatively silent because they never considered the Rangers worthy-enough opposition. As far as they were concerned, the result was always a foregone conclusion.
Thanks to Mourinho’s admonishment, Chelsea’s faithful are likely to make their voices heard in the next leg of this fixture. They are likely to give him more than the 25% he claimed he craved for. But Mourinho will know he is skating on thin ice and has already made considerable claims on the goodwill that Stamford Bridge has always had for him. You can bite the hand that feeds you, so much.