Opinion: The Return of ‘The Special One’- Has it worked so far for Chelsea?
José Mourinho divides opinion when it comes to how a world class manager should behave. My view of a manager is that he is a role model and should carry himself with respect and dignity. That seems to be the exact opposite of what Mourinho does. From getting physical (poking Tito Vilanova’s eye) to name calling of colleague managers and players of opposing clubs, Mourinho always seems to be in the news for the wrong reasons. The other thing about Mourinho is that he finds it difficult to be gracious in defeat and congratulate his opponents. He almost always finds excuses for his defeats and those mostly at the receiving end of such behaviour are match officials. Of course, governing bodies like the FA and UEFA are not spared in this onslaught.
However, one aspect of Mourinho’s career that is not in much dispute as his behavior is his tactical ability and winning mentality. He has won the league in four different countries across Europe (the only manager to do so), won the Champions League twice with different clubs in different countries and was the first person to be named FIFA Coach of the Year, among an avalanche of other personal awards.
His critics have sought to water down his achievements by claiming he has been able to achieve that much because he always has access to unlimited amount of funds. This assertion is not entirely true. He conquered Europe with a Porto side that did not have access to a bottomless pit of money. In any case, assuming without even admitting that this assertion was true, what it means is that the man is effective and shows returns for money spent- and that is not the case all the time. There are numerous examples to prove that spending money does not guarantee success. After all the investments of the Abu Dhabi group at Manchester City, it took them the last minute of the last game of the 2011/2012 season before they could win the league, on goal difference I must add.
The following season, they outspent Manchester United yet finished the league 11 points behind them and losing the FA Cup to a relegated Wigan, ending the season without a trophy- something that never happened to Chelsea in Mourinho’s first stint with the club. Last season, Tottenham Hotspur finished 5th in the premiership. They spent £100m this season and ended up been 6th. The examples of Real Madrid and Barcelona in the last decade are also not far-fetched. Another criticism of José Mourinho is his style of play and football philosophy. He has been accused of been too defensive-minded and making the game boring. Well, this is also not true- at least that is what the facts say. For a man who is accused of been too defensive, it is important to state that he holds the record for most goals scored in a season in Spain. The 121 goals scored in the 2011-12 season is a La Liga record.
And the La Liga is a league that had seasoned great attackers like Ronaldo, Raul, Zidane and Figo, and Ronaldinho, Eto’o, Henry playing together for a team in one season. It is important to note also that, in the season this record was made, the top goalscorer for his club, Ronaldo, was not the top scorer for the league. At this point, one may be tempted to agree with the saying that, there are lies, damned lies and statistics. But one cannot make any intellectual argument without recourse to data- facts, figures, statistics. So no matter the perceptions about the man, the facts point to him been an astute manager with an astounding winning record.
Against this backdrop, the euphoria and ecstasy that greeted his second coming was understandable. But that also came with expectations. Expectations of improvement. But is that what we have seen this season?
Last season saw Chelsea finished 3rd in the league (after been 6th the previous season). They also reached the semi finals of both the League Cup and FA Cup. They won the Europa League and were finalists in both the World Club Championship and European Super Cup. They achieved all those by playing more games than they have this season amid managerial instability, with the interim manager being loathed by the fans. This season, the fans have a manager they call ‘one of us’, who had the opportunity to do preseason with the team and do all his recruitment.
At the end of the season, Chelsea finished 3rd in the league (same as last season), exited both the FA and League cups at the 5th round stage, got to the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League and also lost the European Super Cup (same as last season). So after spending £100m in player recruitment, bringing back the Special One and making him the highest paid coach in the country, as we say in typical Ghanaian parlance, ‘did Chelsea go or did they come?’. Clearly, Chelsea has not improved this season- and that is to put it lightly. To be frank, they have retrogressed.
Mr. Mourinho has sought to put a positive spin on this season’s failure by claiming he was ‘rebuilding’ the team. Did he need a year of rebuilding when he took the premiership by storm and won back to back titles? Did he need rebuilding when he went to Italy or Spain? In any case, what kind of rebuilding did he have in mind when he sent out a striker on loan who goes ahead to outscore all of his strikers in the same league and replaced the club’s best player for 2 seasons running with the ‘Egyptian Messi’?
But Mourinho doesn’t just stop at using the word ‘rebuilding’. He comes up with his own facts and figures to support this claim. In his post-match press conference after defeating liverpool 2-0 at Anfield, he said they are happy because whoever wins the league (whether Liverpool or City), they would have beaten the champions back to back. So Mr. Mourinho is made the highest paid coach in the country and given £100m to spend on player reinforcements just to beat the champions back to back? Very interesting!! He also said at the time of that interview that they finished last season 14 points adrift the eventual champions but were still in the title chase at the time. To him, that was also a sign of progress.
The season has ended and Chelsea have finished 4 points behind the champions. This analysis by Mourinho is really funny. It’s just like comparing yourself to a dwarf and saying you are tall. This is a season the Manchester United family would like to forget as quickly as possible. Using them as a yardstick of measurement is a little bit disingenuous, in my opinion. Why doesn’t Mr. Mourinho look at it from this angle- Liverpool finished 14 points behind Chelsea last season, Chelsea brings back The Special One, spends £100m and finishes 2 points behind Liverpool. The points accumulation argument is really not a smart one. Tottenham accumulated 72 points last season and still couldn’t make it into the top 4- and that is the first time a team has accumulated that amount of points and could not make it into top 4 in the history of the premiership. Fact is, Chelsea finished 3rd this season, same as last season (no improvement! ).
For someone who is also so concerned about personal records, I think Mourinho should be worried that for the first time in his career, he has finished outside the top 2. He also lost his unbeaten home record in the premiership this season to Sunderland, yes Sunderland. Since day 1 of his return, he has also sought to downplay the significance of the Europa League title. Yes, Chelsea got to the semis of the Champions League this season compared to a group stage exit last season. But Chelsea won an European title last season, something which did not happen this season. Nobody remembers who came second. Fact is, in the hierarchical scheme of things Europa League title is second to the Champions League title. I don’t know where the ‘Champions League semi final trophy’ ranks.
However you want to look at it, The Special One has returned to preside over a relatively failure of a season for Chelsea. Putting a positive spin on it and calling it ‘rebuilding’ is disrespectful to the intelligence of Chelsea fans and Abramovich’s investment.
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