To profess that Jose Mourinho is a man who divides opinion is as bigger an understatement as you’re likely to come across in modern day football.
The self-proclaimed Special One is egotistical, arrogant, wiley and unerringly confident, but ultimately he is brilliant. His methods are unconventional and his demeanour is at times infuriating, but there’s none who can question the results which are reaped solely because of the big decisions he makes.
Mourinho at Chelsea
Having returned to the Premier League with his reputation far stronger than it was when he first took over at Chelsea way back in 2004, there was little sense in questioning the only man who has truly stood up to Roman Abramovich’s might in the Stamford Bridge boardroom.
His five-year sabbatical from west London saw him collect six major trophies (Super Cups excluded) at Inter Milan and Real Madrid, and following Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement he was lauded as the most complete manager on the planet, arguable Pep Guardiola aside.
Yet after a rocky first season back in charge of the Blues, which culminated in a disappointing, trophy-less campaign, questions were posed as to Mourinho’s true influence. The aura of invincibility had been damaged by Manchester City’s romp to the Premier League title, and the prospect of Abramovich wielding the infamous managerial axe was moved from the ‘impossible’ category to one labelled ‘perhaps feasible’.
Naturally the big decisions Mourinho has made his name from getting spot on were scrutinised more than ever, and you don’t have to look too hard to find a perfect example of the 51-year-old’s judgement being called into question by the majority.
The case in point, and one which perfectly backs-up the theory that Mourinho isn’t the slightest bit afraid of upsetting people to get results, surrounds his decision to offload Romelu Lukaku this summer. At the time, coming off the back of a season wherein Fernando Torres, Demba Ba and Samuel Eto’o had failed to deliver the goods, it was conveyed as being tantamount to madness.
Lukaku had enjoyed spectacular successive loan spells with West Brom and Everton, and his Didier Drobaesque physical capabilities had long seen him earmarked as a final third-destrier set to ravage opposition defences for years to come.
All but Mourinho expected the young Belgian to waltz back into the Chelsea first-team upon his return from Goodison Park this summer. All but Mourinho expected him to be central to the club’s plans for the future.
As has been illustrated on countless occasions over the course of his career though, Mourinho is unpredictable, unorthodox and undeterred by the opinions of virtually the rest of the footballing world. In his mind Lukaku was not good enough to be the spearhead of his attack and, regardless of the evidence pointing to the contrary, it was best for both parties for him to be sold permanently.
The element which baffled fans and critics alike at the start of the season was the reasons for the Chelsea boss’s apprehensions. The inner-workings of Mourinho’s mind on this particular call remained a mystery, and there were plenty who chastised him as a result.
The risk factor
In the end Lukaku was sent back to Everton for good, with The Toffees paying the £28million reflective of his quality and potential to ensure the deal went through. At the time Mourinho was left with Diego Costa, Fernando Torres and Drogba. Costa was an untried entity in England, Torres was a proven flop and Drogba’s best years were a distant memory.
On the face of it getting rid of Lukaku, who was the only proven Premier League goalscorer Chelsea had was ludicrous. Journalists swarmed over Mourinho’s decision and predicted it would soon come back to haunt him before too long, I was one of them.
Decision come good
Fast forward to the present and yet again it seems as though the odds have been spectacularly defied; they now favour Mourinho. Having been wrapped up in Everton’s dreadful start to the season Lukaku looks to have lost all the confidence and hunger which made him the terrific asset he has been for the past two seasons.
Roberto Martinez’s men have offered little to indicate that they are ready to build on last year’s successes and mount a serious challenge for Champions League spots, and the most notable difference can be found at the feet of Lukaku.
Last term the young forward bagged 16 goals in 33 appearances across all competitions, and also assisted six. Such form was markedly better than that of Torres, Ba or Eto’o, and in general cemented his tag as being one of the most exciting players plying their trade on English shoes.
In comparison, this season he’s played ten times across all competitions for Martinez, and only managed to find the back of the net twice. Two goals in consecutive matches against West Brom and Crystal Palace offered hope that he might quickly rediscover the form of yesteryear after a slow start, but now, heading into next Saturday’s clash with Aston Villa, Lukaku has gone four games without a goal.
Not only that but he appears to be missing the same drive which made him such a handful to defenders during his previous loan spells. Pot-shots fly wide, attempts to win personal duels with centre-backs are brushed aside and that eagerness to hound and harry opponents into making mistakes isn’t as readily on show.
There are differences, of course, but over at Stamford Bridge Mourinho’s charges aren’t suffering in a similar fashion. Costa has taken to Premier League football as though he were made specifically for it, and any lingering doubts over the time it would take for him to adapt were extinguished soon after he donned the shirt for the first time.
The Spain international looks the complete package, firing on average a goal every 65 minutes, whilst Lukaku could only promise to be in years to come. At the moment, at least, that promise appears in danger of being unfulfilled.
At the very most Mourinho can be accused of looking out for his own skin at the expense of Lukaku’s development. One season without a major trophy is acceptable thanks to his history, but two seasons and Abramovich would duly begin to sharpen the guillotine.
Regardless of his ways and means though there’s very few who can now criticise his decision. It may have been done for the wrong reasons, and seemed offensively bizarre at the time, but Mourinho’s opinion-dividing character has come up trumps once again.