Sunday 21 January 2018

Mourinho all at sea in search for stability

Jose Mourinho is not accustomed to such a lean spell and is struggling to adjust
Jose Mourinho is not accustomed to such a lean spell and is struggling to adjust

Sam Wallace

It was only 28 months ago that Jose Mourinho sat in the directors' lounge at Stamford Bridge on a June afternoon and explained that if Chelsea were ever to establish a long-term plan for success, perhaps to build something beyond the modern trophy-hunting machine, then they needed stability.

"With Financial Fair Play, and Chelsea wants to go in that direction, you also need stability," he said that day. "You cannot change manager and philosophy every few years.

"For me, as a manager, it's something I want to experience. It's a different situation, but it's something I want to live."

In the words of the new Chelsea manager then, he had money and he had titles, but what he needed was a challenge, and the club at that time - three seasons without a Premier League title, fresh out of the Rafa Benitez era - sought new horizons where young players were developed in a more sustainable future.

More than two years on, and amid the perfect storm of Mourinho's biggest crisis at Chelsea since his 2013 return, the question remains the same.

Not whether he is a good coach, or can win whatever battle he is fighting with the Football Association but whether he can make good on that early mission statement to change the way he manages, and not to walk away while the building smoulders.


Of course, that relies upon the goodwill of Roman Abramovich but at times like these, with a worse league start after 10 games for Chelsea than David Moyes' Manchester United of 2013, and clinging to the encouraging aspects of a League Cup elimination at the hands of Stoke City, this looks like the sternest test of both men's resolve.

Could Abramovich and Mourinho ever demonstrate the perspective to say that a Chelsea manager can be afforded one bad season?

For a man as addicted to winning as Mourinho, who, aged 52, threw himself on the damp Wembley turf in celebration of his third League Cup in February like a three-year-old in a ball-pit, that might be a difficult thought to assimilate.

For a man as addicted to sacking managers as Abramovich, it might be simply yet to occur.

Against Stoke City on Tuesday night, Mourinho did an unusual thing by his standards: he sent on Bertrand Traore, the 20-year-old Burkina Faso prodigy whom the club have sent on the usual loan carousel, and the Brazilian Kenedy (19).

It might be he felt he had no choice but to use the young players he had brought with him but sometimes the worst times force a new way of thinking.

It has become ever clearer that Chelsea have done just about everything to foul up their summer transfer trading with a series of misjudgments that left them with a collection of largely compromise signings who were no one's first choices and in some cases wholly unsuitable.

To compound the problem, Mourinho embarked on some mistakes of his own, none worse than the demotion of the team doctor Eva Carneiro, which still looks like the worst kind of scapegoating and has been a source of embarrassment ever since.

We return to those early days of Mourinho's 2013 return when, in Jakarta on pre-season, he was able to reflect on his own position in football.

"I have to be an example for everybody in many aspects. . . conduct, support - be there for everyone when for some reason they need me," he said.

With three FA misconduct charges since January, and the Carneiro episode hanging over him, it might seem fanciful now, but at the time it was Mourinho attempting to accept a place for himself in the game outside of the usual imperative to win three trophies a season.

The reality is the Premier League is becoming a harder title to defend, a more crowded platform of contenders and a great deal more competition on a weekly basis from mid-table sides that have lifted themselves out of mediocrity. The title has changed hands each time over the last seven seasons.

It is a different beast to the one that Mourinho encountered in 2004, with Arsenal then the club to beat and United entering the leanest years of Alex Ferguson's Premier League period. Now it is a £5.134bn arms race, a division in which the smaller clubs have much more sophisticated approaches to survival and the demands of a richer, more international tribe of owners are ever greater.

Chelsea, like United, can afford a season outside the title race.

They can even survive one outside the Champions League if their owner is prepared to tolerate it.

Then the question comes back to Mourinho and whether he can handle the effect a season like that would have on his own sense of himself.

Perhaps it would make him a more tolerant man, less given to the swipes at Arsene Wenger or the disproportionate punishment for those prepared to challenge him, like Carneiro.

Because, as he said two years ago, there can be no stability at a club without a long-term philosophy and as he walks into another conflagration that might see him walk out the door, you do wonder whether he knows yet what that long-term philosophy might be.

Irish Independent

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