‘I am the Happy One’, declared Jose Mourinho at his press unveiling in June 2013 upon his return to the English capital to begin his second spell in charge of Chelsea.
‘Calmer? I believe so.’
Fast forward a year and a half, and the Portuguese manager’s media blackout following a £25,000 fine by the Football Association of England suggests that the Special One has reverted to type. The Blues’ boss has been at his aggressive, abrasive best in recent weeks, and criticised not only referees but also football pundits working for television broadcaster Sky Sports. Mourinho was punished by the FA for his comments after the 1-1 draw against Southampton in December, with the former Real Madrid manager alleging that there was a ‘clear campaign’ against his Chelsea side. Whether one views this as mere petulance from a frustrated coach, or some sort of Machiavellian plot to influence referees, what is evident is that Chelsea fans have seen this all before.
Mourinho is a master at creating a siege mentality – something that is often talked about in the football world, but almost always in abstract terms. It is difficult to quantify it, or indeed account for how much it contributes towards a team’s success; nevertheless, it does have an effect. Perhaps Chelsea right-back Branislav Ivanovic explained it best in a recent interview: ‘This is part of the mentality to win. You need to motivate yourself. To go over the limit. Sometimes we need to feel this extra pressure.’ Mourinho’s acerbic media criticism of referees, pundits and even his own players on occasion, and his continued Cold War with the FA means that this Mourinho is not too different from the capricious and at times arrogant manager of ten seasons ago. This Mourinho might not necessarily be a calmer or happier Mourinho.
But this Mourinho is a winner.
Indeed, there is a sense of inevitability about success in Mourinho’s second season in charge at a club. It is the closest thing to a guarantee in modern football. His best successes – including his Champions League and domestic league double at Porto, his second successive Premier League title at Chelsea, his historic treble at Inter Milan and his record-breaking league season at Madrid – have come in his second year at those clubs. The 2014-2015 season at Chelsea seems to be in keeping with that trend. The summer transfer window at Stamford Bridge laid the foundations for the start Chelsea have made – the club have been at the top of the league ever since the conclusion of the first week of fixtures back in August.
Mourinho was ruthless in the transfer market, selling players he deemed excess to requirements – mainly David Luiz to PSG for a whopping £40m and Romelu Lukaku to Everton for £28m – and addressing key areas that needed strengthening in Chelsea’s first team with the purchases of midfielder Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona and striker Diego Costa from Atletico Madrid. His personal involvement in the transfer of Fabregas prompted the former Arsenal captain to choose Chelsea over any other offers he had. Mourinho also recalled Thibaut Courtois from his loan spell at Atletico Madrid, making him his first-choice keeper over club legend Petr Cech. Even before the season had started, the Chelsea manager had a head-start on his title rivals with the players the club had recruited over the summer.
Fabregas and Costa have proven to be amongst Chelsea’s top performers thus far this season and have improved Chelsea’s starting XI not just in terms of quality, but also in terms of the style of play. The physical, direct approach Chelsea adopted in Mourinho’s first spell in charge often attracted criticism and was perceived as boring by the football-viewing public. Now, however, the Portuguese manager has his team playing some of the best football in the league. Chelsea is a completely different team stylistically to what it was a decade ago. The Blues – who are the top scorers in the division – have scored some truly breath-taking team goals, most notably against Burnley at Turf Moor and Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.
This side may not be as strong defensively, but is far more fluid and subtle in attack with the likes of Eden Hazard, Fabregas, Oscar, Diego Costa and Willian. At their best, Chelsea press high up the pitch, recover the ball quickly, and slice open teams – something Mourinho envisaged a season ago and is putting into practice this term. The league leaders have been an attractive side to watch for the most part this season, and it appears as though Mourinho has managed to strike a balance between attacking intent and defensive stability.
What is truly worthy of appreciation though, is that unlike last season – when the Blues manager shelved his plans for a more expansive approach after conceding seven goals in successive games against Stoke City and Sunderland – Mourinho has managed to improve results whilst improving the style of play. Chelsea are five points clear at the top of the league with easier fixtures remaining in comparison to their closest title-rivals Manchester City and the Blues’ manager has kept up his incredible record of not losing a single game to the top four sides in the league since his return to south-west London.
The Special One has also maintained his record of reaching the Champions League knockout stages in every season he has participated in, as his Chelsea side finished top of their group to earn a Round of 16 tie against Paris Saint-Germain. In further positives, the Stamford Bridge outfit are a mere ninety minutes away from winning their first silverware after Mourinho’s return, as they face Tottenham Hotspur in the Capital One Cup final on the 1st of March at Wembley. As it did ten years ago, the League Cup could well spur Chelsea on to achieve greater things further down the line this season. The only real disappointment in Chelsea’s campaign thus far was the humiliating defeat at home to Bradford City in the fourth round of the FA Cup. Mourinho claimed responsibility for the loss, saying ‘I should be ashamed. The players should feel ashamed. It’s a disgrace.’
In contrast to previous jobs he has had, Jose Mourinho seems a far more settled manager now. That sense of stability and a long-term view of his role at the club is perhaps what has prompted him, in part, to promote academy players from within the club’s ranks to the first team this season. The likes of Andreas Christensen, Dominic Solanke and Ruben Loftus-Cheek have made their debut for the senior team this season, whilst others including Isaiah Brown and Mitchell Beeney have made the first-team bench. Kurt Zouma, only 19 when he joined the club, has progressed impressively under Mourinho, and has recently staked a claim for a regular first-team spot with his solid performances against the likes of quality opposition in Liverpool and Manchester City. Whilst he isn’t quite ready to be heralded as the master of integrating young players into the first team, Mourinho has shown the academy that there is a pathway into his team for young talent with the right attitude and work ethic.
As the business end of the season approaches, Chelsea are well placed to achieve their targets come the end of the season. The club have further strengthened in the January window with the signing of winger Juan Cuadrado from Fiorentina, funded for the most part by the sale of Andre Schurrle – with the German having a half-season to forget for the Blues. Mourinho will hope that the ruthless efficiency his club are showing in the transfer market translates to the pitch for the remainder of the season.
‘I believe we can do it. We really believe we are going to do it’, said Mourinho of his team’s title chances in a BT Sport interview in December. Given how his side has performed this season, it’d take a brave man to bet against him.