Richard Sadlier: Jose Mourinho's departure by mutual discontent looks to have been inevitable
Published 20/12/2015 | 17:07
Top professional footballers play to win. You hear that said all the time. Driven by something deep within their psyche, they know no other way than to give everything they have. It's why they reach the peak of their sport and it's how they maintain their position at the top.
In addition to their talent, they are psychologically set apart from the rest.
It turns out this is true until they have a manager with whom they have a difficult relationship. Did the Chelsea squad betray Jose Mourinho or did he abandon them? What now for the players and the manager that combined to make Chelsea play like relegation candidates?
When Mourinho spoke after last Monday night's defeat to Leicester he must have known his time was up. Or maybe he wanted to make sure it was. He is too experienced to know there is no way back from hammering his players like he did. You can say what he said in the privacy of a dressing room and possibly survive, but to do it so publicly ensured the end of their working relationship.
It seemed like a pre-emptive retaliation to a dismissal he knew was inevitable. He championed his own abilities and dismissed the resources at his disposal. He won't come out and say as much, and nobody can prove it's the case, but it felt like he has been looking to leave the club for quite some time. Is this just another example of his ability to get the result he wants?
I played in teams that had zero respect for the coaching staff, in others that idolised them, and in some that were indifferent to the majority of what they said. It doesn't happen overnight, and is never for any one particular reason, but a manager is generally finished as soon as the dressing room decides it.
Nothing about Chelsea's performance on Monday gave the impression the players were still behind their boss. Players of that talent don't play as consistently bad if they are fully motivated. You couldn't fault them for thinking less of Mourinho given how he's behaved this season, but a huge amount of responsibility is theirs in bringing about this crisis.
Twice in my career I remember senior team-mates laughing at the prospect of getting the manager the sack. Results were poor, performances were bad and the crowd were baying for blood. They achieved it on both occasions. 'He can hammer me all he likes, but it ain't gonna be me that gets the bullet.' The security of players' contracts can work against the efforts of the manager, particularly today in football when time is considered a luxury.
It's hard to imagine Chelsea's players didn't at least discuss the possibility of Mourinho being sacked in the last couple of months. Everyone else in football was doing it so why wouldn't they? It's even harder to imagine they reacted with anything other than joy when it happened on Thursday. They certainly didn't play recently as if Mourinho's future was their primary concern. Reports are starting to emerge of how unhappy the training ground had become. Maybe they will return to fulfilling the obligations of their contract now Mourinho has gone.
Players talk a lot about professional pride but it's been lacking this season at Stamford Bridge. I'm sure they'll speak publicly now about how they let themselves down. They'll say players of their ability should have done more. They'll say the supporters deserved more. They'll say many things to appease Chelsea's fans but talk is cheap when you've played so badly. So what if they may have found it difficult to work with Mourinho, it's no excuse to perform at the level they have this season.
Mourinho is one of the few great managers in football but he is a corrosive presence when things aren't going his way. This has been the most damaging episode of his career but he'll be back in a top job again soon. He could elaborate to potential employers on what he said after Monday's defeat, making the case again that he is the victim of the failings of others.
If results start to improve over time, Chelsea players will be absolved of blame and Mourinho will be scapegoated further. Even the most modest of increases in their own performances should see them climb the table, and that point will be made by others without them saying a word. Mourinho said a lot on Monday that would have hurt the Chelsea players but one remark stood out for me that should have hit them hard.
He said they should consider themselves on a par with Watford and Sunderland players this season. There's no denying he was right and the players can't blame anyone for that.