Mourinho: I'll resign if players turn against me
Chelsea 1 Southampton3
Having dared Roman Abramovich to sack him, Jose Mourinho has issued a similar challenge to his players. Amid reports that the dressing-room has turned against him, the Portuguese said if it had, he would resign.
Responding to claims that his players are no longer responding to him, Mourinho - who left Real Madrid in part because of a players' revolt - said: "People can say what they want. You should really ask the players and not go with sources and fake sources, and the players told a friend, and the friend told the agent, and the agent is not happy with me because I don't play his player.
"You should go straight to the players. Get our media office to arrange a table at Cobham (Chelsea's training ground) next week.
"John Terry doesn't go to the national team, Diego Costa doesn't go, Ramires doesn't go. Ask them.
"If they tell you they don't trust me, (that) is the only thing that can make me resign. The only thing. But not fake sources. The players at the table, face to face."
No-one expects this meeting to be arranged, or the players to speak out if it was. A former Chelsea manager, Gianluca Vialli, once wrote that in England players never criticise a manager until he is gone.
Terry, recalled for Saturday's defeat by Southampton after a month on the sidelines, kept to script when he said: "We have the best manager who we remain behind and we remain together. I have seen managers come and go and if anyone is going to get us out of this hole it is going to be Mourinho."
It was Mourinho who put his future on the agenda by stating that he would not quit and the club should not sack him as they would not find a better manager. It was time, Mourinho said, for Chelsea to stop sacking managers at the first bad run.
Abramovich was at Saturday's game and attended an informal board meeting afterwards but, while the team's recent slump was discussed, there is no question of sacking Mourinho.
The last time Chelsea began a season this badly, in 1979, they did fire the manager, but Danny Blanchflower, though a great player, was a novice boss, not a serial winner. That team, boasting Ray Wilkins, Ron Harris and Peter Bonetti, finished bottom of the old First Division, but no-one expects that to happen this time.
Mourinho, who insists Chelsea will finish in the top four, blamed his team's predicament on a loss of confidence and biased refereeing.
"They need luck to arrive at half-time winning two or three-nil," he said. "Not to feel this pressure, panic and negativity - decisions against, unlucky, mistakes. Time will bring it but I don't know if it will be next match or in three games' time."
This might make sense if it were not that, in mid-September, Chelsea scored 10 times, conceding one, in beating Maccabi Tel Aviv, Arsenal and Walsall. Even when they subsequently went 2-0 down at Newcastle, they drew.
These are seasoned, successful players. Their confidence should not be so fragile that, in Mourinho's analysis, "the first negative thing that happens the team collapse".
This suggests there are more fundamental problems than just a loss of confidence.
Chelsea staggered over the line last season, the team eking out wins, exhausted by Mourinho's reliance on the same core group of players in all competitions, even in a Champions League dead rubber.
With no major tournament, most had a quiet summer and they should have returned feeling refreshed.
To Mourinho, however, being relaxed is dangerous. He has spent most of his career picking fights - with owners, referees, governing bodies, journalists, even fans and, this season, medical staff.
It is as if he needs a sense of grievance to motivate himself but, while it may work for Diego Costa, this mentality can be exhausting to live with.
With players, Mourinho's management is increasingly more cold shoulder than arm round the shoulder.
The spine of his first team - Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba - loved their manager and went to war for him.
This time there seems more distance, with some, like Kevin De Bruyne and Andre Schürrle, finding tough love too tough.
Lampard and Drogba have gone, Terry may soon follow. Mourinho seems to have decided, in a division where most opponents now have a player with the pace Saido Mané used to destroy Chelsea on Saturday, that he is past it.
Chelsea's crisis took the focus away from an excellent Southampton performance as Northern Ireland's Steven Davis cancelled out Willian's opener with his first goal for club or country since January 2014 before Mane and Graziano Pelle struck. (© Independent News Service)