Wednesday 26 July 2017

Chelsea fans jeer players for failing Mourinho

Chelsea interim manager Guus Hiddink (left) with Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire
Chelsea interim manager Guus Hiddink (left) with Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire

Dion Fanning

Stamford Bridge isn't a stadium renowned for its atmosphere, but it can do mutinous rancour better than most. When Pedro scored Chelsea's second goal after only 12 minutes yesterday, the home fans responded, not with celebration, but with a taunt.

'Where were you when we were shit?' they chanted at their own players. They chanted it again when Oscar scored a third from the penalty spot.

They wanted to find those responsible for the betrayal of Jose Mourinho and every goal was an indication that the dreaded player power was the main suspect. The better Chelsea played, the more culpable the players were. The only way you could prove you were not a witch was by drowning.

If the booing of Rafa Benitez when he was appointed was a jolt but not a surprise, the venom which with the Chelsea supporters turned on their own players yesterday was remarkable.

"Clearly the fans have a right to voice their opinion," coach Steve Holland said afterwards, which was the only thing he could say.

When Chelsea conceded a goal in the second half, the crowd seemed to be strangely reassured. Every sign of weakness was also a sign of integrity.

The crowd had begun the afternoon by booing Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa when the teams were announced, and their chants for Jose Mourinho were only interrupted in the opening minutes when Branislav Ivanovic put them ahead.

Holland said he was pleased with the contribution of Fabregas and Costa, and he appeared to blame social media for the players' roles as scapegoats in The Fall of Jose Mourinho. This was the post-Mourinho world at Stamford Bridge, but how his spirit lingered in the acrimony and mistrust.

Their new interim manager Guus Hiddink was watching from Roman Abramovich's box, while in the stand technical director Michael Emenalo was reportedly verbally abused by some Chelsea supporters.

If Chelsea's players wanted to win hearts and minds, they went about it the wrong way by playing well. Defeat would have been the only way to persuade the supporters of their loyalty to the old manager.

"We let them turn the style on," Sunderland's manager Sam Allardyce said afterwards, but the idea that there may have been two teams out there, with one playing less poorly than the other, was lost on the home supporters who felt they were witnessing the confessions of the conspirators in front of their very eyes.

Chelsea players were greeted warmly enough when they came out for the warm-up, and it seemed that maybe the crowd would decide to move on and absolve the players for the greater good. "They haven't said who the scabs are yet," one fan beside the press box said presciently. Soon the crowd let the players know what they thought. They chanted mainly in favour of Mourinho but there were was always an undercurrent of suspicion.

Holland was happy for the game to be over and to take three points. A defeat would have moved Chelsea into the relegation zone. Moving away from there permanently will be Hiddink's first priority.

The new interim coach talked to some players on the pitch, and then met with Holland in the dressing room. Holland said it had been a difficult time, but added he would be having dinner with Mourinho this week. "He is an exceptional coach but he is also an exceptional person."

Holland expects the exceptional coach to be in demand, and it may be that Mourinho swaps a relegation battle, which is alien to him, for an unlikely title challenge with Manchester United.

"There will be big clubs who want him," Holland added, before saying he expected Mourinho to be back in work very soon. The fans of his old club will continue to pine for him, but it remains to be seen how long they will distrust those they hold responsible for his downfall.

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