It’s something that has been gently and quietly whispered amongst some fans of Chelsea FC, mooted by those who are interested in a wider debate, and pondered amongst the few that question but do not dare appear publically treacherous or mutinous. Can Jose Mourinho coach a team to be beautiful?
This six part series will examine Jose Mourinho’s history as one of the most successful coaches of the modern era; intertwine, analyse and chart the Chelsea revolution under owner Roman Abramovich; and explore the answer to the question: Can Jose Mourinho coach a team to be beautiful?
Part V -The Return of the Special One
On June 3rd 2013, Chelsea Football Club announced that Jose Mourinho had been appointed for a second time as the club’s manager. Still an immensely popular figure, Jose was welcomed with open arms by the Chelsea faithful and by British press.
He arrived back in England with Chelsea in need of his influence. The team still had the steely, albeit ageing, backbone of Petr Cech, John Terry, Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard and Michael Essien from his first time at the helm. The ‘Barcelona-esque’ signings of David Luiz, Oscar, Juan Mata and Eden Hazard had given Chelsea flair.
There had been no secret of Roman Abramovic’s desire to have ex-Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola in charge at Chelsea following the Spaniard’s year long sabbatical; the signings of these diminutive playmakers were almost in preparation to tempt Pep to Stamford Bridge. In reality, though, once Guardiola confirmed he was ready to return to football and replace Jupp Heynckes at Bayern Munich, there was only one choice for Chelsea.
In his first media interview with Chelsea TV, Jose Mourinho told supporters: “It was an easy decision, I met the boss, the owner, and I think within five minutes after some short and pragmatic questions we decided straight away. I asked the boss do you want me back, and the boss asked me do you want to come back, and in a couple of minutes the decision was made.
“It was a difficult moment, September 2007, because I love it here and I have a big connection with the club, and also for the club it wasn’t easy. But if you analyse it in a cool way, emotions apart, it was fantastic, because my career after that, I had everything I was aiming for in my career. I wanted to win the grand slam, to win in England, Spain and Italy. I did it; I got all the trophies in three countries. I got my second Champions League too.
“Now we are back together and we are getting together at a great moment for us both, so I think we are ready to marry again and be happy and successful.
“The profile of the younger players with long-term space for improvement and development, I like very much that kind of profile. I’ve come with a four-year contract so if I read the situation with the immediate age of Hazard, Oscar, Luiz and these boys, I think it will be good for me to work with them and good for them to work with me. Together we can improve and make a better team than we have now”.
The first season back saw investment in the squad with the additions of André Schürrle, Willian and Samuel Eto’o. A still misfiring Fernando Torres was given a stay of execution and made up the trio of strikers alongside Demba Ba.
Chelsea slipped easily back into the Mourinho mould. A hard-working defensive unit, matched by power in the midfield through Ramirez and Mikel allowed the attacking trio of Willian, Hazard and Oscar to flourish behind either of the forwards.
Although being used by Mourinho, David Luiz was finding himself frequently criticised by the media. Juan Mata – Chelsea’s back-to-back Player of the Year – was becoming an increasingly marginalised figure and new recruit Schürrle was also finding minutes hard to come by.
It was clear that, despite the abundance of talent at his disposal, Mourinho still was not comfortable in giving his attacking players licence to roam forward. Hard work and commitment was the order of the day, with even the mercurial Eden Hazard receiving public criticism.
In eerie similarity to the treatment of Joe Cole in Mourinho’s early stint, the public destruction of Juan Mata was difficult to witness. Rafa Benitez the previous season had recognised that his playmaker did not have the capability to press like Oscar, so he gave him a free role behind Fernando Torres, allowing him to flourish. Although, it was on the understanding of his teammates that he provided the goals and assists as they had to do Mata’s running for him.
Under Mourinho, this was not the case. Pushed out in the wide right position, there was then the pressure of tracking runners and having a greater defensive responsibility. With Hazard also learning the lessons of working hard for the team, Oscar was deployed in the number 10 role. By Christmas, Mata could take no more; he had sustained enough and it was time to move on. Manchester United bought him for £37 million – a record Chelsea sale.
There was a sadness surrounding the move with many Chelsea fans flooding radio stations expressing their anger and frustration at Mourinho’s decision to let him go.
Juan Mata later told Spanish paper El Pais “…he came and I started to have a few minutes. For better or for worse, we had no relationship, no dialogue. I was not happy, but always gave the maximum and was respected by my peers. Then United came looking for me, I wanted to play at the World Cup and I did not think twice”.
The arrival of defensive midfielder Nemanja Matic from Benfica – ironically a player Chelsea had let go as part of the David Luiz transfer deal two years previous – showed exactly what the boss thought this Chelsea were missing, power and physicality.
This shift away from the light-footed Mata to the forceful Serbian, only highlighted to the fans that Mourinho had made a definitive shift from the wishes of the owner. The persistent media reports linking Chelsea with a summer move for combative Spanish striker Diego Costa, again proved that Jose wanted to have a stronger, more physical presence in his team.
The summer of 2014 was a big transfer window for Chelsea; veterans Ashley Cole and record goalscorer, Frank Lampard, were allowed to leave the club. Lampard ]seemingly signed with New York City FC, yet controversially joined Premier League Champions Manchester City on loan for the season. David Luiz was sold to Paris St Germain for £50 million and the exciting Belgian prospect, Kevin De Bruyne, had been sold to Wolfsberg due to his unwillingness to adapt to Mourinho’s message.
Champions League Final hero, Didier Drogb,a was re-signed on a one year contract and Queens Park Rangers forward Loic Remy arrived for £8.5m. Out went Demba Ba, Eto’o and Torres as the boss looked to add potency to his attack.
Mourinho also got his wishes with Diego Costa – signed from UEFA Champions League finalists, Atletico Madrid, alongside full back Filipe Luiz – and the marquee signing of ex-Arsenal midfield maestro, Cesc Fabregas, from Barcelona.
Chelsea began the 2014/15 season playing superb football, racking up 33 points, and scored 30 goals in their opening 13 league fixtures. Diego Costa started excellently, scoring a record seven goals in his first four league games, surpassing the tally set by Micky Quinn and Sergio Aguero, with Cesc Fabregas becoming the first player in Premier League history to record at least one assist in six consecutive games.
In November, Chelsea had gained an eight-point advantage over second placed Manchester City. A winter wobble, however, saw defeats away at Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur. Further dropped points meant that, by New Years Day 2015, Chelsea and Manchester City had matching records with Chelsea topping the League purely by alphabetical order.
From then on, Chelsea went from strength to strength. The gap widened and by the end of April, the Blues had opened up an unassailable 13-point lead. Chelsea were on the verge of becoming the Champions of England for the first time since Carlo Ancelotti’s reign in 2010.
In the big matches, though, a familiar criticism was being made about this dominant Chelsea team. Why did Mourinho set his players up in such a negative fashion for the big games?
For a team that had played such expansive football in the previous months of the season, being sent out to play in a defensive manner, gifting possession to the opposition and being seemingly content to sit back and hit teams on the break, was concerning Chelsea’s fans . This was a tactic that brought results, but is it the right way to operate if you want a team to be respected for being Champions? It is without doubt been proven to bear fruit in the form of Premier League points, but will this be an approach that will win over Roman Abramovich in the long term?
The pragmatic Mourinho team of 2004-2007 saw Jose’s time as manager ended under a grey cloud, as the disagreements between himself and the owner over the playing style, eventually led to his departure. Will this time be different? Can Mourinho really break his mould to give Abramovich what he craves?
In Part VI: A look towards the future for both Mourinho and Chelsea. Does he possess the coaching skills to make a team play positively and dominate the big matches? Does he have the desire and drive to promote youth? And can he curb his natural instinct and make Chelsea beautiful?