Steven Downes — a Chelsea season ticket-holder for 20 years, but stopped going when Rafa Benitez was made the club’s manager — looks back over the ups and downs of Jose Mourinho's career at the football club.
The end, as they always are, was inevitable. Chelsea fans have long had a song which ends with the inexplicable chant: “And Leicester!” And when Chelsea lost at Leicester on Monday night, time was up on Jose Mourinho’s second coming at Stamford Bridge.
The greatest manager in Chelsea’s 110-year history leaves unfulfilled, and probably unlamented in the end. His second spell in the Premier League far more sour and less successful than when he arrived, straight from taking Porto to the Champions League title, with a swagger and arrogance that was the envy of other clubs, and possibly more importantly, of other fans.
But this time around, Chelsea’s owners had tired of the club becoming the most hated in the land, and the seemingly constantly bickering, with the manager playing the blame game with his players, with the pitches, with ball boys… For all hardened Gooners’ complaints about Arsene Wenger and the lack of the title, the Frenchman’s long and dignified period in charge at Arsenal has won the grudging admiration and respect of football fans elsewhere. Mourinho long ago rendered that impossible at Chelsea.
And that is a crying shame. The “One Of Us” banner at the Shed End really does did mean something to Chelsea fans, just as much as the “King of Stamford Bridge” banner for the all-time hero Peter Osgood still does.
For Mourinho managed to do what no one else could, no matter how much money was lavished on team acquisitions by the owner, Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, and that was to deliver the English league title in the club’s centenary season, 2005. And then he did it again the following season, too. Manchester United’s iron grip on the Premier League was broken by Mourinho, no one else.
His first sacking, after a falling out with the owner, was the big mistake. This time, maybe not.
Mourinho had got his start in football management as a translator to Bobby Robson, the much-loved, probably over-rated England manager who could barely speak English properly, never mind Spanish, when he took over at Barcelona. So when Mourinho, young, bronzed, stylish and charming, arrived in England for his first season at Chelsea, full of confidence after leading a relatively obscure and under-funded Porto squad to the biggest prize in football (for that is what the European Cup now is), he probably over-estimated his command of the language. It was to cost him dear forever more.
“I am a special one,” is what he said, with good reason.
The misreporting of this as “The Special One”, with the added oodles of arrogance which it delivered to Mourinho’s reputation, was to hang around his neck ever more. And Mourinho never really won over the opinion-formers writing on the back pages after that. It became too easy for him to fulfil their description of him appearing bitter.
He departs London around £8m wealthier — that five-year, £40m contract extension signed a couple of months ago was good business by his agent, another more-money-than-sense move by the Chelsea board, who are now seeking their 11th manager in 10 years. But Mourinho leaves unfulfilled. He never did win the Champions League with Chelsea, as at one time seemed to be his destiny.
Mourinho’s downfall is symbolic of the corporatism that has overtaken English football, with its majority shareholders from Russia, or America, or China, and the 50 quid a game tickets. The dignified and comparatively expansive 150-word Chelsea statement announcing the departure — listing Mourinho’s achievements, heralding him as the club’s best, and thanking him — was another sign of that.
When the news of the sacking was announced yesterday lunchtime, I was at an awards lunch with around 400 sportswriters and sportsmen and women, at which Brian McDermott, the coach to the all-conquering Leeds Rhinos rugby league side, and a former boxer, remarked, “You can win belts, but you can't win class.” He was talking about another sporting controversialist, but it could so easily have applied to Mourinho in his second spell in west London.
How, after all, could a manager who bawls out the team doctor in front of tens of thousands of fans and on live TV, be expected to condemn Diego Costa for his excesses on the pitch?
Truth to tell, while Chelsea might have won the league in 2015, the side’s form, and latterly the results this calendar year have been in decline since January. Some of last season’s star performers’ loss of form continues to be inexplicable.
Certainly, Mourinho did not know how to turn round the under-performances of Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas and a previously rock-solid defence which now finds itself played around by Leicester City. He’d lost confidence in party animal Costa and had no reliable goal-scorer in the squad as back-up, and he was denied the cash to lure John Stones from Everton to rebuild the ageing defence around John Terry, the too-powerful player who he blamed for his previous departure in 2007.
As the Mirror’s perceptive football writer, John Cross, wrote this morning: “He tried the carrot, the stick, criticism and praise. Nothing worked.”
According to Cross, a Stamford Bridge source said, “The first time, the players would run through brick walls. Not this time. They’d lost faith.”
But it was the off-field situations which made Mourinho’s position untenable for the board. He has had team doctors fired before, but this time round, with Dr Eva Carneiro, his many enemies in the press box, and in the dressing room, were able to portray him as a misogynist bully.
Ferran Soriano, Manchester City’s very corporate chief executive, has said of Mourinho that, “His method generates media conflict almost permanently and it is also a potential source of conflict within the club.” Chelsea’s board has an expensive new stadium to build. They’ve decided to start re-building at the training ground today.