Tuesday 23 January 2018

Mourinho looking more like Broken One as cracks start to show on smooth veneer

Jose Mourinho
Jose Mourinho
James Lawton

James Lawton

His hair is cropped down military-style. His eyes blaze. He is still playing the starring role in the movie of his own creation but there is a big question to be asked about Jose Mourinho.

Has the Special One become somewhat less so with his decision to break that cardinal rule of football, and so much of life, that says you should never go back?

In his first run at Stamford Bridge, his greatest strength was the certainty of his conviction. He didn't so much issue proclamations as pieces of stone.

Didier Drogba, who soon returns to Chelsea for Galatasaray in the first phase of Champions League knockout stage, defined that Mourinho succinctly enough this week when he said: "He adored winning and he transformed good players into great winners. Under him, we thought only of winning. He made me one of the best strikers in the world."

DISRUPTED

Anyone who saw the big man from the Ivory Coast storm the high ground of football, and who felt Mourinho's anger when Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich signed his faded pal Andriy Shevchenko and disrupted the system that depended so hugely on Drogba's power and willingness to run all day, will understand the force of the tribute.

It was not so easy though to square that picture of Mourinho with the indecisive character reacting to another shock defeat, this time in the League Cup at bottom-of-the-table Sunderland.

Or to convince Chelsea's currently misfiring, and apparently dismayed, striking corps of Fernando Torres, Samuel Eto'o and Demba Ba that they are in the charge of a man who knows how to make front men believe in themselves.

Drogba was always the first name on Mourinho's team sheet. Now the nod for one of Torres, Eto'o or Ba seems to be a matter of whim.

They have scored just five Premier League goals between them as such strikers as Sergio Aguero, Luis Suarez and Romelu Lukaku bask in white-hot acclaim at Manchester City, Liverpool and Everton.

By the time of this week's latest reverse, after defeats by Everton, Newcastle, Stoke and Basel, Mourinho seemed to have replaced the old bravado with something resembling a siege mentality.

It is true, of course, that as a supreme pragmatist -- and the man who last season came so close to becoming the first manager to win the European Cup three times with separate clubs -- he has rolled the wagons into the circle before with great effect.

Most notably he did it when leading Internazionale to stunning victories over Barcelona and Bayern Munich on the way to his second Champions League prize.

Yet while reeling from the Sunderland defeat and maybe anticipating more problems at the Emirates on Sunday against the league leaders Arsenal smarting from their pounding by Manchester City last weekend, Mourinho had never sounded quite so defensive.

"Maybe the way to rectify our situation is not to concede so many goals," he said.

"We lose goals and the opponents come alive. If I want to win 1-0 I think I can because it is the easiest thing in football. It is not so difficult as you don't give the players the chance to express themselves."

Could this really be the man lauded by Drogba as his ultimate inspiration -- or one who has at his disposal such luminous attackers as Oscar, Eden Hazard and the apparently disaffected and soon to be transferred Juan Mata?

The question takes us back to that deeper one: has the Special One lost his best touch somewhere along the way?

Maybe it happened at Real Madrid where, despite all the promise of those brilliant bouts of Ronaldo-led counter-attacking, he essentially failed after his shining years at Porto, Chelsea and Inter.

Maybe something was broken there. Perhaps it was that soaring sense of immortality when he looked into the mirror each morning.

Certainly there were emphatic reports from Madrid that Mourinho was thunder-struck by the news that Manchester United had overlooked him in favour of the more modestly pitched career of David Moyes. Sources in Madrid said that for 24 hours, the Special One could hardly bear to open his curtains.

At Old Trafford, the word was that Mourinho's front-running position had been eroded, utterly, by his frequently wild touchline behaviour in Spain.

It cannot have helped that the consolation prize of a return to Stamford Bridge only came after Pep Guardiola dismissed Abramovich's overtures on his way to Bayern Munich.

Now, many are asking if United and Chelsea finished up making a horrible mess of the football equation.

How much wiser, this argument runs, for Moyes to have brought his earnest, team-building ethos to a Chelsea of considerable talent but a crying need for a period of stability -- and for Mourinho to unfurl his circus act beneath the big top of United.

REHABILITATED

In the wake of Alex Ferguson, Mourinho might have quickly rehabilitated a buffeted self-regard on the kind of stage he most relishes.

Instead, he has to retrace the steps which once took him into open warfare with the paymaster of Stamford Bridge. For the moment, certainly, the chore seems to have robbed him of much of his old self-belief -- and certainly that apparently unquenchable knack of winning as a routine way of life.

Certainly something else he said this week was a thousand miles away from the best of his bravado.

"We are going in one direction," he said, "and it is the right one. But it is quite frustrating. We may have to take a step back in order to be more consistent in defence.

"I don't want to play more counter-attacking football but I am giving it serious thought."

Arsenal's Arsene Wenger knows enough about Mourinho, and has no doubt tasted defeat at his hands more times than he cares to remember, to be on his guard this Sunday afternoon.

He may just sniff a whiff of ambush for a team who were so sweetly drawn on to the punch at the Etihad Stadium last weekend.

Yet Mourinho, plainly, has his own problem and one that has maybe never been quite so perceptible before.

He is talking a lot about his leaking defence. Others must wonder if the problem is rather nearer home.

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport