'The king is dead, but not forgotten at Stamford Bridge'
Jose Mourinho’s testimonial match was staged at Stamford Bridge yesterday, with the Special One himself the only name left off the guest list.
As jeers rang out for the players identified as Chelsea supporters as the architects of Mourinho’s downfall and constant chants proclaiming Mourinho as their enduring despite his brutal sacking last Thursday, this was an occasion that will leave a lasting impression in the hearts and minds of all associated with this club.
The overwhelming support for Mourinho was not localised to confined sections of the stadium, nor was it diluted by a Chelsea display that was an echo of what they used to produce before too many of their players downed tools and refused to work for their manager.
This was a organised show of support for a manager who will always be beloved at Chelsea, even if he is unveiled as Manchester United manager in the not too distant future.
With newly appointed Chelsea caretaker boss Guus Hiddink looking on, the events on the field on this extraordinary day were instantly forgettable, with the goals from Branislav Ivanovic, Pedro and Oscar that handed Chelsea a much needed win of secondary importance compared to the soap opera occurring of it.
Even before the players took to the Stamford Bridge pitch, they must have known what was coming at them, with the names of Ivanovic, Costa and Fabregas roundly booed by Chelsea fans as they were read out prior to kick-off. Their poison was not diluted when the action got under way.
As a chant of “stand up for the special one” rippled around the stadium, virtually everyone present rose to their feet, with Mourinho tributes completed by banners and chants that continued from first minute to last.
Each goal was greeted with chants of Mourinho’s name, with cheers barely registering as Ivanovic tried to celebrate with fans who have not been impressed by his generally appalling displays this season. The Serbian defender must have been shocked by the reaction from the Chelsea fans and the same goes for Fabregas and Costa.
“Where were you when we were s***” was the collective cry from the stands, as Chelsea fans again asked the question of their fallen champions, with skipper John Terry speaking for the dressing room as he addressed the media after the game.
“All of us are in this position because we have not performed,” declared Terry. “One or two people have performed and the rest have not. This is a such a big club and we should not be where we are.
“We need to stand up now and keep turning in performances like this. Sooner or later, we will turn this around and come out on top. We have to put this behind us now and move forward.”
Chelsea stand-in boss Steve Holland offered his thoughts to the media after the game, as he gave an insight into the events of recent days.
“I told the players that they had to show they cared,” said Holland. “Clearly the supporters have a right to voice their opinion. It was difficult for everybody, but it has been a difficult few days. I am glad to part with this day and move forward.
“I have just spoken to Guus (Hiddink) in the dressing room and I don’t know if I am staying here. It is an honour to work for this club and I don’t know what will happen for me now. I am a club appointment and while Jose has been fantastic to me, so this is particularly sad.
“Jose has invited me out for a meal next week. Our relationship is excellent. Not only is he an exceptional coach, he is an exceptional person. He will not want to sit around doing nothing for the next few months and it would not surprise me if very big clubs are already trying to get him.”
You wonder whether Holland had devious intent as he replaced Fabregas and Costa in the second half, with the under-performing Spanish internationals barely applauded as they left the field with boos and chants directed at them suggesting their own futures at this club must be in doubt.
The venom directed at Costa was especially toxic. He turned in another dreadful display against a Sunderland side that made life far too easy for Chelsea, with glaring missed chances suggesting that he could well be heading out of the club in next month’s transfer window if a suitable replacement can be found.
Costa is not as good as Mourinho helped to make him look in the first half of last season, that much is evident now. In fact, his performances this season have been so poor that he is not good enough to play for any Premier League club and the sooner he is outed from Chelsea the better.
Where Chelsea go from here is open to question.
Hiddink will take over as caretaker manager on Monday and having sat through this uncomfortable and somewhat chilling afternoon of football and felt the annoyance of Chelsea fans, the veteran Dutchman will now appreciate how big a task they have taken on.
The king is dead at Stamford Bridge, but he will never be forgotten. Chelsea fans will never allow that to happen.