Tuesday 22 October 2019

James Lawton: He can be a very naughty boy... but Mourinho may be Chelsea's Messiah

Sometimes it seems less like a job application than a disordered craving, but the word hardens that Jose Mourinho will soon enough be back at Stamford Bridge. He says he craves love, the kind he believes is guaranteed in West London.

There will, after all, be plenty of it to spare from the emotionally doomed regime of Rafa Benitez. Yet does the move really make sense? Have the wounds which were so raw when Mourinho walked out six years ago, beaten down by owner Roman Abramovich network of cronies and the eroding of his managerial authority, finally healed?

Maybe these questions miss the point, however. Maybe it is that Mourinho now realises that at Chelsea there was always the perfect antidote to those cuts and slashes delivered by the oligarch.

The barbs, and the unwanted signings of such as Andriy Shevchenko and Michael Ballack, came from the owner's belief that he owned everything at Chelsea, every brick and every man, including the self-titled Special One, but it was only after he began to rebuild his aura, first in Milan, then Madrid, that Mourinho realised he had something that Abramovich was never likely to possess – the regard of the people.

Certainly, the Chelsea fans understand the value of Abramovich's patronage. They don't need telling that his money has carried them to a level of competition about which they could not previously have dreamed.

But it is hard to connect with a remote oligarch, who sits in his eyrie in the stand surrounded by bodyguards.

Mourinho was not only the hugely successful manager, he was the leader, the dream-maker who could deliver – short of an early repeat of his first Champions League triumph with Porto – on so many of his promises.

The mutual love was palpable. When Mourinho won his second straight title he threw his medal – and his blazer – into the crowd. The medal was later sold at auction for £21,000, but, from the perspective of his standing among the fans, the gesture was worth a thousand times its weight in gold.

Chelsea needed a messiah, and so too, to a somewhat lesser extent did Internazionale, for whom Mourinho won his second European title. But this was never the case at Real Madrid, which leads us to the core of Mourinho's thinking – and emotion.

Mourinho has always craved the salute of a crowd, ever since the miseries of his failure to establish himself as a professional player. When his father, the coach of his lower league club in Portugal, picked him for the first team, the owner said if he ever did it again he could expect the sack.

It is a story easily lost in the astonishing mound of trophies built by Mourinho in Portugal, England, Italy and Spain – one that came so close to being augmented this season by another Champions League triumph with Madrid, one which would have made him the only manager to win three such titles with separate clubs.

But then Mourinho realised soon enough that the personal acclaim he has always needed was never going to be easily gained at the club which held the record number of European Cup wins and had already been acquainted with quite a number of Special Ones of its own creation. Early in Mourinho's regime, the honorary president, and still in the minds of some the greatest player of them all, Alfredo di Stefano, rebuked Mourinho for his failure to understand Real's tradition and style.

On the terraces of Chelsea, so hungry for success, Mourinho could win as he liked and, if Abramovich quickly made it clear he wanted something more refined, the compact, power game built around the furies of Didier Drogba and the drive of Frank Lampard, was enough to make the coach a folk hero along the Fulham Road.

He also had his hard core of support in the dressing room, led by Lampard, who now, interestingly, is apparently about to be finally offered an extension to his contract shortly before his 35th birthday. In the Bernabeu, there has never been anything like such rapport, with Xabi Alonso alone among the frontline players showing any significant degree of respect to the coach. Certainly, it was noticeable that in the wake of this week's aggregate defeat to Borussia Dortmund, Cristiano Ronaldo was pointedly indifferent to Mourinho's situation.

When you look at it from this perspective, the idea of a hero's return to Chelsea begins to make a deal of sense. When he first arrived at Stamford Bridge he was presented with a hypothetical set of circumstances that might work against his success but quickly pointed out that this was a script with which he was not familiar.

Didn't everyone know, he was appearing in a different kind of movie and that, of course, he was the star?

The big question of concerns the possibility of a new kind of partnership between the star and the owner of the studio.

For some time we have had insistent suggestions that the relationship has improved, and there are also reports that Mourinho is so eager to return he might even accept the absence of Champions' League football if Benitez should fail to hold on to a top-four place.

Nor, we are told, would the apparently growing influence of football director Michael Emenelo be the kind of provocation provided by Avram Grant when he was appointed to the role without consultation with Mourinho.

When you add this to the theory that even Abramovich acknowledges that the sacking of the Champions League-winning Roberto Di Matteo and the appointment of Benitez was misadventure and devastating to the spirit of the club, there is still more reason to believe that the re-installation of Mourinho will come soon enough.

Paris Saint-German are also contenders and with resources to match those of Chelsea.

Do they, however, also wield the unlikely power of love? Bizarrely no doubt, it may well be the key.

Irish Independent

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