Their worst start to a league season in 37 years has left Chelsea FC with a lot of soul searching to do, and Jos Mourinho’s interview following the Southampton game has forced the club to confront some harsh truths about their approach over the past decade
By answering a question that wasn’t asked and addressing the woolly mammoth in the room following his side’s defeat to Southampton on Saturday, Jos Mourinho did a fairly unique thing for an under-pressure manager. Generally, most beleaguered managers are reluctant to entertain questions from the press about their future, much less broach the topic themselves.
The Portuguese has never been ‘one of the bottle’ however, and his bullish declaration of his intent to stay as well as his challenge to the Chelsea FC hierarchy to sack him was either an incredibly foolish move or an incredibly bold one. Whether or not they were the the ramblings of a manager who feared for his position after a particularly damaging defeat, there was a piercing honesty to some of his words.
Predictably, much of that meaningful message was overshadowed by his wearying narrative about referee bias against his side, something Mourinho has been peddling ad nauseam since his return to the English capital to take charge of the Blues for a second time. Although his claim that referees are afraid to give decisions against Chelsea FC was risible, his comments about the club’s approach and his assertion that the club finds itself in a ‘crucial moment’ provide food for thought.
Mourinho has never before been in a situation such as this in his managerial career, while the last time Chelsea FC made a start that was this poor, they were relegated to the second division. Indeed, given the club’s track record, it is a surprise that Mourinho still finds himself in the job. If it were any other time and any other manager, perhaps the Blues’ faithful would already be welcoming an interim manager with an all-too-familiar sense of foreboding.
Mourinho’s second stint in charge, however, was meant to be different. The 52-year-old has reinforced his desire to stay at the club for the foreseeable future, and the club’s decision to offer him a four-year contract at the start of this season is an indication that the Chelsea FC hierarchy are on the same page. Presumably, neither predicted that the situation would be so bad just months after the same squad and manager waltzed to the Premier League title.
“I think this is a crucial moment in the history of this club,” Mourinho said following the 3-1 defeat to Southampton at Stamford Bridge. “You know why? If the club sacks me, they sack the best manager this club had.”
Both of those statements ring true. However, the former is by far the more significant one. Roman Abramovich has brought unprecedented success to the club since he took over in 2003, and along with Manchester United, Chelsea FC have been the most successful club in the country in that period. The Stamford Bridge outfit have also seen fit to change the manager multiple times in this duration — decisions that they have not immediately come to regret.
However, the club’s success has come despite the state of flux in the managerial position rather than because of it. The collateral damage of having a revolving door of managers has seen the youth academy largely ignored, as captain John Terry still remains the only graduate to have established himself in the Blues’ first-team.
Quite simply, the club’s nightmare season is the sternest possible test of Abramovich’s willingness to truly make a long-term commitment. Although the results have been well below what anybody associated with the club expects, the billionaire owner must realise that there is more to be lost than gained by sacking Mourinho at this stage.
The Portuguese is right when he declares himself as the best manager the club has had. However, more saliently, he is the best manager the club could have at this point in time. His lack of experience of being in such a dire situation may count against him, but the bottom line is that Mourinho is one of the best coaches in the world.
Strip away the mind games, the jibes at rival managers and the complaining about match officials, and what remains is a very intelligent coach with an almost-unparalleled ability to identify and address the minutest details in an attempt to fix issues within a team. Mourinho’s track record speaks for itself and Chelsea FC will know that they could live to regret any hasty decision they might make now, given the chances of the former FC Porto manager returning to the club for a third time are virtually non-existent.
The Chelsea FC manager also raised another extremely important issue — that of the club’s implicit message to the players in sacking a manager. Mourinho opined after the Southampton defeat: “The manager is guilty. This is the message, not just these players, the other ones before, they got [the message] during a decade. This is a moment for everybody to assume their responsibilities. To stick together. This is what I want.”
While the issue of ‘player power’ was always associated with the Chelsea FC squad of recent years, for Mourinho to reference it in the manner he did was remarkable. Not only did it send a direct message to the owner and the club about their approach, but also to his current playing squad. Indeed, Abramovich has always chosen to back his players rather than the manager, most evident in the sacking of Andr Villas-Boas, who never quite managed to get the club’s senior players on his side.
This time, however, the trigger-happy Russian must back his manager. For there is no magical solution to the current problems at Chelsea FC. There are far too many issues in the first team that need ironing out. To borrow a phrase from Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal: it is a process. There is no guarantee that a manager coming in at this point could steady the ship given the Blues’ players look totally bereft of belief.
Not only does it make sense from a football point of view to stick with a manager the players know and trust, but there is an obvious financial downside associated with sacking a highly-paid manager that has just signed a four-year deal. Another obvious reason to want stability at the helm is the number of supremely talented young players that Chelsea FC have on their books at present.
Although things have never been this bad, Abramovich must keep faith with the man that has brought his club more success than any other in its history. The Russian has never been a man of many words, but his actions have spoken loudly for him. He must now choose the right course of action for the club and its long-term future: backing Jos Mourinho.