Comment: Chelsea have become the Millwall of the Premier League
In a week of medical mayhem a fan of a rival club piped up to say Chelsea were “inherently evil.”
Jose Mourinho will not care about mischievous efforts to compare his outfit to North Korea, but they indicate a problem for the champions.
Mourinho’s successful return to Stamford Bridge is only going to accentuate Chelsea’s role as the Millwall of the top tier.
Supporters of other teams routinely beat up on Chelsea, deriding them for their so-called mechanical football and willingness to shut down the entire second-half of a Premier League campaign to preserve a lead. They jump on every hissy fit by Mourinho and cast John Terry as the anti-Christ of the English game.
The inscrutable Roman Abramovich is forever stuck with the title of speculator-arriviste in chief. More than the Glazers at Manchester United; more than Manchester City’s Sheikh Mansour, (probable) absentee host for this weekend’s clash of the 2014 and 2015 champions.
All of which is a pity, because Chelsea are not characterless automatons managed by Machiavelli. Eden Hazard is the league’s most dynamic player and Cesc Fabregas its leading facilitator. The pirate Diego Costa is always good to watch, for his goals and truculence. Ramires, Oscar and Willian are hardly water carriers and Nemanja Matic is the best deep destroyer and re-distributor working in England.
What they lack, of course, is a high ideal. Louis van Gaal talks of his “philosophy”. Wenger has his grand design. Manchester City are committed to lighting up East Manchester with positive play. But Mourinho disavows the over-arching vision. He gets his kicks from having colder blood than his enemies: from being more rational and scientific. Realpolitik is his game.
Nobody other than a Chelsea fan is going to rush to the television to see Mourinho’s mind express itself on the pitch. Again, however there is plenty to enjoy, even if Chelsea’s need not to fall five pints behind City after two games is bound to instil caution in the visitors to the Etihad Stadium.
Mourinho cannot comprehend that anyone would find this objectionable. The answer, as always, is for United, City, Arsenal and the rest to throw his occasional negativity back in his face through sheer force of creative enterprise. Against West Brom on Monday night, City looked ready to try.
As a student and ally of Putin, Abramovich was never going to chase popularity in England, even when he briefly craved champagne football. Power is his mother tongue. While Chelsea have pursued financial sustainability with great corporate zeal they have never bothered with an unwinnable war to convert English neutrals to their cause.
The outlaw swagger was acquired during Mourinho’s first spell in charge and never really altered, even under the urbane Carlo Ancelotti.
The siege mentality that sustained United during the Sir Alex Ferguson years was gentle by comparison. Mourinho goes much further than crying - ‘everyone’s against, we’ll show ‘em.’
He starts fires and flare-ups right across the spectrum of club politics, refereeing, governing body bias and now even Rafa Benitez’s waistline and the Hippocratic duty of doctors to attend to the injured as fast as their legs will carry them.
Gnawing at him, too, despite his denials, must be Chelsea’s sluggish work in the transfer market this summer. Brilliant sellers of late (David Luiz - £50m!) Chelsea have been less proficient at the buying end. All the energy so far has been expended on taking a punt on Radamel Falcao and buying a left-back (Baba Rahman) and centre-half (John Stones).
We assume transfer agitation and resentment at Mourinho’s end, especially after Petr Cech’s sale to Arsenal. If it guides his actions now, the familiar third-season friction scenario may yet be kicking in. As of today, it seems unlikely.
Amateur psychology has exhausted itself. The acres of speculation about what drives him to cross the road to pick a fight is yielding few new insights. We are now at the point of saying Mourinho is a troublemaker simply because he is. And not always does it express some brilliant devious purpose.
Last weekend’s attack on Eva Carneiro (doctor) and Jon Fearn (phyiso) and subsequent demotion from the bench for non-existent crimes was self-defeating. It inflicted reputational damage on Mourinho himself and Chelsea as a sporting club. Two employees were punished for doing their jobs too fast; for obeying to the letter of football’s protocols for helping stricken players.
Mourinho has been cast as a megalomaniac many times before. Control freakery is often a feature of clever management. The problems start when a manager veers into malice, as he has in this instance. Offering Carneiro and Fearn the manky carrot of a return some time in “the future” only compounded the original injustice.
Don King’s promotional mantra in boxing was – “Create confusion.” Hide reality in a fog. But to those who argue Mourinho picked on his medical staff to divert attention from a mediocre performance against Swansea it is worth pointing out that the game was drawn, not lost.
It was the first Premier League fixture of the season. Although John Terry and Gary Cahill were sliced apart by Swansea there was no urgent need for Mourinho to spin or obfuscate.
Part of the cost of all this is that it makes football look addicted to personalities, controversy, news spin-offs. Sometimes you wish the game would just speak for itself. And it has plenty to say in this first big collision of the new campaign.
There is an older Chelsea – a wider community – that Mourinho does not own. Nor should he seek to drag it into his feuds without considering the consequences for all the staff who labour to create a modern, positive environment.
If there is some private concern eating at him it damages Chelsea to make irascibility his mode of being. Conflict may be normal to him – his natural fuel – but the cost of patronising Rafa Benitez’s wife and punishing unfairly Chelsea’s medical staff is cumulative, and real.
The public will never cheer a Chelsea title win, but Mourinho is giving them fresh cause to jeer. A shame, this, for players and the staff.