When Jose Mourinho arrived at Chelsea in 2004, fresh from having won the Champions
League at Porto, his charisma and managerial brilliance breathed new life into
the Premier League.
In his first season he won Chelsea their first championship in 50 years and broke up the Manchester United and Arsenal duopoly that had shared the previous nine titles.
Moreover, beginning with his infamous declaration of himself as ‘The Special One’, he kept the media onside with a perfect blend of mischievousness and directness.
However, since his return to Chelsea his confidence seems diminished and some of the gleam has rubbed off his mystique.
In contrast with the great start he made in 2004, when he remained unbeaten in the league until October, his 2013 Chelsea team struggled through the autumn, losing at Newcastle, Everton and Stoke and needed a controversial last-minute penalty to scrape a draw at home with West Brom.
Throughout this period Mourinho appeared rattled and lacking the chutzpah of nearly a decade ago repeatedly declared that his ‘young’ squad (with an average age of over 28) should not be considered title contenders as they are undergoing a period of transition.
His decisions, such as dropping Juan Mata (Chelsea’s player of the year for the past two seasons) and replacing Ashley Cole at left-back with right-back Cesar Azpilicueta rather than making tactical sense had the mark of a man trying to stamp his own unique authority on the team.
The same can be said for the eventual sale of Mata to rivals Manchester United - albeit for a club-record sum of £37m.
Chelsea’s form has improved considerably since December; however, Mourinho’s public persona has remained somewhat unconvincing and hypocritical.
Firstly, in late December, he moaned about the supposed gamesmanship of Arsenal players, particularly Mikel Arteta, during Chelsea’s draw at the Emirates Stadium.
This from a man whose Porto team angered many with their own brand of negative tactics as they conquered all before them on their way to the UEFA Cup and Champions League in 2003 and 2004.
Mourinho’s Orwellian doublethink culminated last Wednesday when after Chelsea failed to break down West Ham resolute defence, he compared his opponents cautious tactics pejoratively to ‘19th century football’.
Another double standard from a man who has orchestrated some of the modern games greatest defensive performances, particularly his Internazionale’s rear guard at the Nou Camp in the 2010 Champions League semi-finals.
Perhaps the roots of this change can be found in Mourinho’s confidence-draining last season
at Real Madrid. With the exception of the Supercopa de Espana the season he dubbed ‘the worst year of my career' ended without a trophy and was dominated by infighting as the Portuguese manager fell out with key players - notably Iker Casillas but also Sergio Ramos,
Pepe and towards the end Cristiano Ronaldo.
Once it became clear that he was to leave Real Madrid, it is widely assumed that Mourinho wanted to take Alex Ferguson’s seat at Old Trafford. However, he wasn't wanted at United either, they were not convinced he was the man to continue the stability they had enjoyed under the Scot for over 20 years. So Jose ended up back at Chelsea, claiming that this was the move he had always wanted.
In reality perhaps little has changed, in spite of his impressive trophy haul in his first stint at Chelsea; he certainly wasn’t above carping when things didn’t go his way.
He famously complained that Tottenham had parked their team bus after their defensive tactics earned them a draw at Stamford Bridge. He also once called Arsene Wenger a voyeur partly to deflect attention away from Chelsea’s Carling Cup elimination to Charlton in 2005.
Perhaps most damning of all following a defeat at the Nou Camp he accused referee Anders Frisk of inviting Frank Rijkaard into his room at half-time, an allegation that was unproven and led to UEFA referees' committee chairman Volker Roth, labelling the Portuguese manager an ‘enemy of football’.
His Chelsea team are still very much fighting on three fronts and come May Mourinho could very well be adding to his extensive medal collection.
Sport can make hypocrites of fans, players and managers alike as we seek to defend our teams and deflect blame elsewhere. Maybe Mourinho is simply indulging in a few mind games that will be quickly forgotten if he is lifting his third Champions League or Premier League trophy at the end of the season.
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