Chelsea and Jose Mourinho are lurching towards another crisis
The Portuguese's divisive behaviour of recent weeks - and the poor form of his team - are echoes of his controversial exit in 2007
It may not be a crisis at Chelsea but precedent tells us that one may be looming.
They say bad news comes in threes: first there was the storm of protest over Jose Mourinho’s unnecessarily brutal treatment of first team doctor Eva Carneiro and physio Jon Fearn – does anyone still believe it was some kind of deflecton tactic? - and then there was the 3-0 humiliation against Manchester City with captain John Terry hauled off at half-time.
So what next for Chelsea? Maybe that will be it. Maybe Chelsea will sign the players Mourinho is demanding – they have already got the left-back Baba Rehman and they will try again for Everton’s John Stones – and will kick-start their season with a convincing victory away to West Bromwich Albion next Sunday.
The Hawthorns is a venue that resonates for Chelsea. Matches there proved to be the end for two previous managers, Andre Villas-Boas and Roberto Di Matteo. Even last season Mourinho’s side were thumped 3-0.
No-one is suggesting Mourinho is thinking about his future or his job is in jeopardy. He has just signed a new four-year deal, although there is the question of whether that contract has empowered him to flex his muscles.
And this is not 2007 when he was increasingly unhappy and embroiled in internecine battles within the club. Back then, Roman Abramovich grew tired of his antics as the Mourinho empire eventually crumbled.
But there are parallels. Then, as now, a major factor in Mourinho’s unhappiness was transfer dealings – he wanted a central defender (again) in either Jorge Andrade or Oguchi Onyewu and the club wanted to foist Alex on him.
Terry was also part of the equation. He was suffering from back problems, his fitness was being questioned, and - sound familiar? - there was tension between Mourinho and the medical staff.
In fact, it went much further than that in 2007 – there was more infighting with the then sporting director Frank Arnesen, there was talk that Chelsea were trying to sack Mourinho’s assistant Steve Clarke and bring in a coach to work with Andrei Shevchenko. And then there was Avram Grant.
It must seem surreal now to Chelsea supporters that Grant eventually succeeded Mourinho – but then it is surreal for anyone who covered the club at that time, and who knew the depth of the acrimony, that the Special One ever returned.
But return he did and he has returned to a happier environment. Chelsea is a far less political place than the one he left. There are fewer advisers and hangers-on. Marina Granovskaia, who championed him, is now in charge of transfer and player negotiations although ultimately, of course, the final decision rests with Abramovich.
Yet, for all that, Mourinho does not look happy.
Why would that be? One important factor that may well be having an effect is that Mourinho’s father, Jose Snr, has been seriously ill for some time. It is not something he wants to talk about or broadcast but we do forget that people in the public eye have private lives and personal issues just like everyone else, and that they can influence behaviour, distract and affect decisions.
But we have to analyse the football and the messages from Sunday’s defeat to City were clear. If Mourinho had hauled off Gary Cahill – who was struggling badly - nothing would have been said. But he took off Terry - the captain, the leader, the legend. The man who played every minute of every league match last season but has not completed the first two games this time round.
Mourinho knew that would be picked up on. He wants a central defender – so here was a message in neon lights to the club. He took off the big name. Graeme Souness, the former Liverpool manager turned television pundit,claimed Mourinho was goading Abramovich. That claim seems to be pushing it a bit but, if true, it is a highly dangerous game to play.
Mourinho mounted a logical enough tactical argument afterwards – Terry is his slowest defender, he needed the pace of Kurt Zouma to play a higher line – but he knows the score. He knows the message he was sending out. And, besides, it is never that simple with Mourinho.
The man who was the league's best defender last season turns 35 in December and now looks like he is in his final season at the club. Terry had an indifferent pre-season – why did he put himself through a personal summer tour of China? – and Eastlands felt like the beginning of the end. He looks far more vulnerable.
As do Chelsea - and, maybe, Mourinho as well. His team reflect him at all times and they were not set up right at City – there was no protection for his defence with Nemanja Matic on his own. Cesc Fabregas is struggling to make any impact and appears jaded. Diego Costa is not the force he was; neither is Willian. Only Eden Hazard appears to have the ability to go past a defender and he, too, is struggling.
Chelsea’s transfer dealings also defy logic. They have not – yet – strengthened while those around them have. They have stood still and by doing so allowed others to catch up.
But most of all there is Mourinho himself. He has shown his frustration. His treatment of Carneiro and Fearn was not surprising but his inability to articulate why he behaved in that way was. He admitted last week that his squad is under-prepared going into this season because he changed his approach over the summer.
They ended last season “tired”. So he has given them more time off. But that is not like Mourinho either. He drives his players and always hits the ground running. He demands to lead from the front and not play catch-up.
There are so many questions right now and very few answers. Last Friday Mourinho was asked whether he appreciated the “power” he wields as the highest-profile manager in the world's highest-profile league.
“Power, oh word. Power? Jesus Christ! Power of what,” he said. “The only power I have is to choose the team that plays Sunday, to choose who goes on the bench, to choose what we do in the week, which exercises we do, which direction we try to take our game plan.
“It is the power I have and that is not power, it is part of my job to advise my board to do something related to the transfer market, to do something in other departments in relation to my needs and experiences. But I have power for nothing.”
But Mourinho does have power. He showed that in demoting his medical staff, taking off Terry and making it clear he wants signings. The question now is: what happens next?