Now that he’s settled back in to life at the bridge are we firmly in the era of Jose 3.0?
First there was Jose as the Special One during his first stint at Chelsea, riding into press conferences with the confidence of someone who gets to write his own headlines. Then there was Jose the eye poker at Real Madrid, dropping legendary players to make a point and speaking to the press only to tell them he wouldn’t speak to them. Chelsea fans may have thought they were getting version one. They might have hoped that they weren’t getting the second. Instead they’ve ended up with someone in between the two.
The attention ahead of their visit to Tottenham on Saturday has focussed on the supposed rivalry between Mourinho and Andre Villas Boas, one that apparently came into being after AVB stepped out from his mentor’s shadow. Jose’s probably glad for the shift in focus. Before the hype started for ‘The Master Vs The Apprentice’ questions were being asked with increasing frequency about Chelsea’s poor start (by their standards anyway; it’s worth remembering that they topped the Premier League for twenty four hours last weekend). He’s brought the creative excuses that don’t really stand up to scrutiny with him from Madrid, blaming the age of his young eggs in the Champions League loss to Basel when the average age of the team he picked was twenty seven. It sounded good though.
He’s moved on now to blaming the change in style he’s in the process of implementing. It’s common knowledge, although never actually been confirmed, that Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich wants to have his club change to a more pleasing on the eye style. Roman apparently of the opinion that an investment of over a billion pounds should buy you whatever you want. Mourinho’s comments have been all but an admission that he’s been tasked to it. Dealing with Jose on current form is like dealing with the secret service, every question just leads to another question. For example, if he’s been tasked with developing a more aesthetically pleasing playing style what’s with his treatment of Juan Mata?
Last season’s player of the year has been ostracised more than any other player, left to contemplate League Cup matches and little else. As an on form Mata would walk into any team in the league it’s difficult to reason with Jose’s decision, especially to the extent to which he’s been left out in the cold. Mouriho’s reasoning is that because he has Oscar (after all Brazil’s first choice at number 10 in a country that is blessed with them) he has no space for Mata. This is based on Oscar covering more ground without the ball than Mata would. There seems to be no chance of him trying to include both, as even as pragmatic a coach as Rafa Benitez did on many occasions last season. What seems odd about it is that at Madrid Jose would always include Ozil as well as two other attacking midfield players like Di Maria or even further forward with Cristiano Ronaldo. Either he believes that he could get away with it with the quality of the competition in the Spanish league or he’s making some other point that we can’t quite see yet. Time will tell.
Speaking of Benitez Jose has been, taking any chance he can get to chip away at the reputation of his predecessor as Chelsea manager like it’s 2005 all over again, starting with taking Rafa to task for having the temerity to win a competition in the Europa League that they shouldn’t have entered in the first place. Jose’s been doing this since he came back, running through his greatest hits in an attempt to get his lost mojo back, like a Fleetwood Mac reunion, dusting off that old material. He’s gone back to some of his less successful newer stuff as well, rekindling his rivalry with Pep Guardiola before the European Super Cup Final then talking about how his whole career he’s been the victim of a UEFA conspiracy (which means he’s done pretty well to win two European Cups). It can only be a matter of time before he starts looking around for more eyes to poke.
Jose used to only manage but create expectations. He was a master at it. His first press conference in England where he declared himself special is proof enough of that. The first season at Chelsea he told the players before the season started that they’d win the league when they played Bolton away in April. Then they did just that. He used to be a master of bringing the pressure on himself to take it from his players. Now he’s struggling to manage the increased expectation his return has brought and it’s showing in the way his team’s performing (for an example of someone managing it better look at Manuel Pellegrini at Manchester City, telling the press before the first game that he had the league’s best squad at his disposal and if they didn’t win it was his fault). Jose used to have the press eating out of his hand. Now it’s not that easy and you can see it rankling. They’re like a separated couple that have gotten back together because they couldn’t remember why they broke up in the first place. Now they’re at that awkward stage of not wanting to be the one who brings it up first.
Which brings us to AVB. Ever since he came to England he’s been billed as a kind of Jose Mark II, Diet Jose, Jose The Next Generation. They came up through the same clubs and were even both mentored by Bobby Robson. Even the theory that they no longer get on is that they’re rooted in an Oedipal struggle to replace/subjugate each other. The worsening of their relationship, although more has been made of it than should have been, has added an extra spice to a game that didn’t really need any. At the start of the season Jose was already talking about Tottenham being one of the main challengers for not just the top four but for the title. Chelsea gazumping Willian from under Tottenham’s noses when they plainly didn’t need him still needles (although given the form of the Brazilian since he signed Spurs may have gotten the better end of that deal).
AVB and Spurs should have more reason to complain about a new style bedding in. Since bringing in their new signings and adjusting to the loss of a certain Welshman they’ve looked close to the real deal, more solid than they’ve been in living memory, reminiscent a little of Mourihno’s Chelsea, the first version. They’ve only conceded once in five games and that was in a closely fought derby with Arsenal, the other league leaders. In a league that promises to not have a runaway winner being defensively sound and efficient going forward may be enough to win it. Right at this moment that sounds more like Tottenham than Chelsea.
It’s not inconceivable that Chelsea could finish fifth or below. Someone out of last season’s top four and Spurs will have to and Chelsea finished sixth as recently as the season before. The match on Saturday will go a long way to proving which is more likely out of these two teams to miss out. With the pressure and attention being on the managers I’m going for a low scoring draw. And for Spurs to finish ahead of Chelsea at the end of the season.