“Pressure is being a refugee. I enjoy my job, it is a pleasure and an honour to be in charge of Chelsea, even if the results are the worst of my career. I am not feeling pressure. The results are not adapted to my quality and my status but I am coping well with the situation. I am the best man for the job. I don’t think there is a better man to come in and do it.”
That was the bullish Jose Mourinho back in September when Chelsea were 16th – just above Tottenham – and, we presumed, a matter of days away from recovery. This was clearly a ridiculous blip, a troublesome hangover, and most were still reluctant to rule them out of a title challenge, even with Manchester City already 11 points ahead. After all, if one man…
Indeed, Chelsea followed the defeat to Everton that precipitated those quotes with a 4-0 cruise against Maccabi Tel Aviv and then a 2-0 win over Arsenal that cannot entirely be attributed to Diego Costa’s piratical shenanigans. It at this point that you suspect Mourinho was having superb fun, revelling in a situation that would see him eventually cast as hero for rescuing a title challenge from a seemingly impossible situation. This would be a new string to his bow; he would become a man who could ‘turn things around’, truly a precious commodity in football.
Even a month ago when Paul Merson was one of several blind acolytes to suggest that Chelsea – now again in 16th and 13 points behind fourth-placed Manchester United – could still finish in a Champions League place, Mourinho may well have been quietly amused. This scenario could still end in unprecedented glory. Finishing fourth from this position against the collective might of disgruntled players, biased referees and an increasingly intolerant media would be a far superior achievement than Arsene Wenger or Louis van Gaal plodding their side into second or third.
For a man oft accused of never being asked to triumph over adversity, that disastrous start to the season could have been a gift. Ruthlessly marching to the title was lovely but recovering to finish fourth would showcase his supposedly unparalleled talents as a man-manager. And then there would be another title challenge with an again-remarkable set of players happy to credit Mourinho with their rejuvenation.
But now – after back-to-back defeats to Bournemouth and Leicester – is this still fun? Is there any possible way that this story can end well for Jose Mourinho? There is no longer even vague hope of redemption. Mourinho is not Alan Pardew; he will not be given credit for lifting a poor, downtrodden side into mid-table by May. With every week and defeat that passes by, this looks more and more like Mourinho’s fault rather than his problem to solve.
As it stands, Mourinho is still the man who won the Premier League title seven months ago; sack him and there will still be many crying ‘sacrilege’. Former players are still regularly calling him the best manager in the world, pundits still ask who could possibly do a better job (right now there’s a 400-strong list) and Chelsea fans are still almost universally united in their support of the finest manager in their history.
“Some of his decisions have been bizarre and it looks like he’s lost the faith of a percentage of the players, but he is selecting World Cup winners and players who were tipped as potential Balon d’Or winners. If they are being outshone by Wes Morgan I’m afraid that the responsibility lies with the player, not with the man on the touchline,” says one Chelsea fan on MailOnline.
True enough. But when eight or nine players all simultaneously lose their form, it is inevitable that questions will be asked of the manager. They are being asked. Every single day. Right now, the blame is being split between Mourinho, the Chelsea board and the Chelsea players, but that pie chart is changing every day, and not in favour of the Portuguese. Even if it’s really not his fault – and surely even his staunchest allies would not completely absolve him of blame – why can’t he put it right? Shouldn’t the best manager in the world be able to find a solution?
It was easy to laugh at Mourinho’s talk of “betrayal” after the Leicester defeat but it’s also possible to have a little sympathy with the man when he says: “Is it frustrating to see what they are doing in training and what they do in matches? Clearly yes.” Mourinho’s strengths are in preparation and yet for whatever reason the message is being lost between training ground and pitch. There can only be speculation about whether that failure is wilful on the players’ part but right now that does not matter. Right now there is only one man whose reputation is being eroded. Players are forgiven a poor season if their teammates are equally as bad.
Mourinho insists that he wants to stay at Chelsea, but what possible positive can be drawn from this season? Barring Champions League triumph – still bizarrely predicted by many still clinging onto ‘if one man…’ – this season is a write-off. But Mourinho is still the best manager in the world to enough people – including the majority of club chairmen – that Chelsea’s title defence can be shrugged off in December as a blip. But will it be shrugged off in May? Will it be shrugged off in September when new players perform just as badly as old, discarded players?
Chelsea executives are apparently spending nine hours discussing whether Chelsea would be better off without Mourinho; it takes less than nine minutes to conclude that Mourinho might be better off without Chelsea.