Wednesday 25 April 2018

Mourinho points at return to old ways with jibe at 'crying' Gunners

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 23: Jose Mourinho manager of Chelsea gives instructions during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Chelsea at Emirates Stadium on December 23, 2013 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 23: Jose Mourinho manager of Chelsea gives instructions during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Chelsea at Emirates Stadium on December 23, 2013 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Paul Hayward

Jose Mourinho's return to English football has not been smooth. All across the game you hear people theorising that he is not the same man who left these shores in September 2007. He is not diminished, exactly, but seems less decisive and sure of his destiny.

His post-match barb that "Arsenal like to cry. It's tradition" in response to complaints about John Obi Mikel's tackle on Mikel Arteta pointed to a man returning to the type of persona that so typified his first stint in England.

"Football is for men -- or women with fantastic attitude," he added with the sort of mischief that -- as well as Chelsea's style last night -- suggested a return to the old days.

Mourinho occupied the coaching zone from the kick-off last night, writing notes, jabbing his finger at positions he wanted his players to occupy and throwing his arms wide with frustration. His expression was grave and often grumpy. He was trying to shape the game in his image, as he did so often during his first spell in charge of Chelsea.

Maintaining his nine-game unbeaten record against Arsene Wenger was one motivation. Mourinho (below) would view that sequence as a vindication of his own less romantic view of how the game should be played. But the contradiction in his second reign is that his brief was to generate excitement while his instincts are telling him to return to the old ways.

Chelsea's line-up spoke of a craving for clean sheets and a touch less melodrama. While Juan Mata and Oscar watched from the bench John Obi Mikel, Frank Lampard and Ramires were all available to help screen Mourinho's back four.

With Mourinho urging them on, Chelsea were noticeably more intense in their hounding of Arsenal's players, with Mikel fortunate to stay on the pitch after a dangerous lunge at Arteta.

For a few weeks now there has been a growing sense that Mourinho is becoming bored by the abstract notion that Chelsea must evolve into a thing of beauty. Art for art's sake was never his philosophy. Why should he start now?

His first five months back in the Premier League have been packed with mysterious utterances and thinly political statements. Only this week he laid out his own 12-year plan, culminating in the Portugal job. No other leading manager looks this far ahead. Certainly no employee of Roman Abramovich has ever felt so confident.

At the same time Mourinho told us he had taken a pay cut to return to London. One more thing: he was at pains to point out that he left Spain because "he wanted to" and not because Real had given up on him bringing them a coveted 10th European Cup.

We ought to mention too the decision to let Romelu Lukaku join Everton loan; his coded grumbling about his shortage of reliable strikers; the marginalisation of Mata and David Luiz; and finally his loss of faith in Ashley Cole, who again played backup here to Cesar Azpilicueta, a right-back by trade.

By any standards this has been a highly eventful second coming, with more than the usual quota of uncertainty when a charismatic manager returns to a club he left under a cloud. The hard bit is knowing whether the humbling experience of trying (and largely failing) to tame the plutocrats of the Bernabeu has left some permanent scar on him.

PUSH

Chelsea fans expected him to resume where he left off and push the other big managers around. There is no deep crack in his management technique or in Chelsea's prospects for the second half of this campaign.

But there is not the old feeling that he knows exactly what he is doing and where he wants to go, unless it is back to functionalism. In the last few days Mourinho has called the "1-0 win" "the easiest thing in football", as if he would be much happier winning that way.

Now is the time for Chelsea to know their best team and know their style of play. Those basic conclusions will be harder to reach if Mourinho has a low opinion of too many of these players. For the first few months he recited the mantra of change, of putting things right, of reprogramming players previously coached by Rafa Benitez.

Now, he radiates impatience that his team cannot guarantee him the defensive solidity of his title-winning years.

Last night Chelsea certainly showed the intent -- and tackling -- of a team who will care less and less about artistic merit as the season wears on.

Mourinho wants domination first and his post-match comments suggested a man who had decided to park 'the Happy One' tag he gave himself in pre-season and return to the character for whom success was all that mattered. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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