Wednesday 22 November 2017

Special One faces fresh tests in second coming

Jose Mourinho must make some big decisions ahead of the new season
Jose Mourinho must make some big decisions ahead of the new season

Sam Wallace

His return to Chelsea begins officially at 1.0 this afternoon, when, in the Ron Harris suite at Stamford Bridge, Jose Mourinho is introduced as the club's manager for the second time.

The club's long-serving press-room steward, Brian Pullman, is on holiday so somebody else will have to serve the plate of Mourinho's favourite custard cream biscuits and then it's down to business.

The extensive interview that Jose Mourinho gave to Chelsea TV seven days ago covered the big issues thoroughly and there is none bigger than the relationship between Mourinho and Roman Abramovich.

Mourinho was clear that it was "the boss," as he calls the Russian, who made the call to ask him if he wanted to come back and that the relationship is fine.

The Special One ticked off the key questions: he is here for the long term this time; he has evolved as a manager; he will not be complacent in spite of his popularity; he is treating this partnership like a marriage and he has only ever had one of those.

Whether this new spirit of co-operation lasts is anybody's guess, but he is trying.

Yet Mourinho will want to find something else that will make an impact. The ultimate prize, the Champions League, has been won by Chelsea in his absence, so what else can he offer?

Chelsea were beaten finalists in the NextGen series (U-19s) and the FA Youth Cup (U-18s) last season and the belief is that this is the strongest group yet, although that has been said before at the club.

There is a group of at least five players who have either had a taste of first-team football, been around the squad or been out on loan who could be ready to move up – Nathan Ake, Nathaniel Chalobah, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Josh McEachran and goalkeeper Jamal Blackman.

In his first spell at Chelsea, the academy was in the early stages of its development. Now there is an opportunity for Mourinho to answer the criticism, often justifiable, that he is a team-builder, rather than a club-builder.

The fans would love to see young players thriving in the first team.

There was an improvement of sorts at times from Fernando Torres last season, and 23 goals is a decent return, but realistically he is not going to be the main man in Mourinho's team. He just does not score enough or dominate in the fashion that previous Mourinho strikers have done.

This is the manager who made Didier Drogba one of his first signings in 2004.

The difficulty is that all the potential big names – Edinson Cavani, Wayne Rooney, Stefan Jovetic – are all problematic, expensive deals that could take right up to the end of August to complete. Mourinho will want his new man ready to be integrated into the squad by July 11, when they leave for Thailand for the first of the club's two forthcoming summer tours.

A new striker will change the buzz around Chelsea immediately. Even now, with Mourinho back in charge, they look like a good bet for the league title. With an A-list centre-forward as well as Torres and Demba Ba, it would be hard to argue with them as favourites.

It was on the plane to Seattle for Chelsea's pre-season tour in 2004 that Mourinho told Terry he wanted him to succeed Marcel Desailly as club captain.

Terry recalled in his subsequent book about that first title-winning season that Mourinho said then it was the captain's job to be on the players' side.

Terry wrote: "He said: 'Even if you have to tell me something I might not like, always stick with the players'."

By September 2007, the Terry-Mourinho relationship was shaky, culminating in a row between the two around the final Mourinho game, a draw at home in the Champions League against Rosenborg. But the reasons for the Portuguese leaving then ran a lot deeper than a falling-out with Terry.

Having seen Ashley Cole and Lampard rewarded with new one-year contracts, the majority of the fans want Terry to stay.

Mourinho needs a new centre-half, as well as a striker and defensive midfielder. What he will not need is the saga hanging over his season. Best to sort it out early and take the sting out of it.

As well as Mourinho, Manuel Pellegrini at Manchester City and David Moyes at Manchester United have all inherited great squads. All will make signings. Who wins the league comes down to an infinite number of factors. Nevertheless, the coach can achieve many of those marginal gains.

In Mourinho's interview seven days ago, he made reference to the need for the club to improve, and to do that with skill and ingenuity rather than just signing players.

"People are already thinking about how many millions Chelsea are going to spend, and when I say 'improve the team' I am saying improving by work. My work has to improve players and improve the team. If I don't do that I am not happy with myself."

The post-Alex Ferguson Premier League landscape is very different. The managers of the top three start anew.

Of course, all have different advantages and disadvantages but it feels like a great season to measure the relative qualities of the managers.

Irish Independent

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