Special Happy One Jose Mourinho’s return to Chelsea F.C. was a big story in the offseason, and could just be the biggest coaching change during the summer break. While his first tenure at the club was a standout success, his second is meeting with jitters right from the off-set. Be it shocking results away from home or the players sidelined individually due to performance and adaptation issues, this time things look a wee bit too different for Jose Mourinho than the last time. Let’s see what those seeming differences are.
In 2004, when he chose to captain the ship, it was an FFP-free era. He was given a string-less transfer kitty by the owner, Roman Abramovich, to bring in as many players he wanted who fit his mould completely. In came Drogba, Carvalho, Ferreira, Robben, Tiago and Cech(a Ranieri signing, actually). All these were in, or were nearing, the primes of their respective careers. He had John Terry and Lampard as well, already, who fit the narrative. Later seasons saw the influx of Del Horno, Essien, Ballack and Shevchenko, all of whom were plying their trade at the very top already. This set of mentally-matured players needed a leader, someone in the mould of an elder-brother who could help them raise their level of playing and leading them to victories and trophies.
Comparing it to the present, he has to content himself with the likes of Eden Hazard, Oscar, Ramires, De Bruyne, Juan Mata, Fernando Torres and company. John Terry, Frank Lampard, Samuel Eto’o, Ashley Cole and Fernando Torres are way past their primes. Branislav Ivanovic, Petr Cech, Juan Mata, Willian, Mikel and Ramires are at or very near their respective primes. One could argue that David Luiz, Eden Hazard and Oscar, among others, are close, but no, they are still quite a way off their projected World-Class potential.
So Mourinho, who last time around had to act as a supportive elder brother to his troops, now has to assume the role of a guiding parent, or as Michael Essien likes to say, the ‘Daddy’ role for his young and not-so-mature bunch of players. While many in this squad could reach heights the previous guard didn’t, they require time, support and maturity, which Mou is on hand to deliver. These are rough diamonds, who have to be, and duly shall be, chiseled and polished into billion dollar stones, or should I say, Ballon D’Or contenders by Mou.
TIMES HAVE CHANGED IN THE PREMIER LEAGUE :
Last time around, Liverpool were a Top-4 contender, Arsenal had the transfer record of half a dozen Oreo packets, Manchester City were the noise-less neighbors and Sir Alex was commandeering Manchester United.
Now, Liverpool are, well… Liverpool, except being stewarded by an amazing ex-Chelsea backroom coach and sit comfortably in the top 2 week on week, Arsenal have broken the banks to buy Ozil and also buy Arsene a better zipper, Man City have made more noise than a cluster of windmills and Man United are struggling for a Top-4 finish this time around.
From being a straightforward 4-horsed race, the fight to the title has broadened. Now teams like Tottenham and Everton are genuine CL-spot contenders, WBA, Swansea, Southampton and Norwich can take points off your team if their concentration lapses for a moment. Things have become fiercely competitive and cutthroat in England now. One cannot count games against the less-fancied teams as guaranteed 3 points. There is in face, nothing such as a game you are guaranteed to win.
Therefore, while managers had to plan for the big games and let the team roll on its own in the past, now they have to dissect teams and build gameplans of every fixture, and for a team like Chelsea, there are way too many games per season. All this stressful work takes a toll on the manager, and Mou has to do well to get past these rigours with enough desire left to motivate himself, and more importantly, his players.
EVOLUTION OF THE TACTICAL GAME :
Last tenure, Mourinho had to pull off a single tactical gem to outwit most PL teams, who rolled out with the standard British 4-4-2. Hear what Mourinho had to say regarding his usual formation in the last tenure :
[sws_blockquote_endquote align=”” cite=”Mourinho to ‘The Italian Job’, courtesy Michael Cox” quotestyle=”style02″]Look, if I have a triangle in midfield – Claude Makelele behind and two others just in front – I will always have an advantage against a pure 4-4-2 where the central midfielders are side by side. That’s because I will always have an extra man. It starts with Makelele, who is between the lines. If nobody comes to him he can see the whole pitch and has time. If he gets closed down it means one of the two other central midfielders is open. If they are closed down and the other team’s wingers come inside to help, it means there is space now for us on the flank, either for our own wingers or for our full-backs. There is nothing a pure 4-4-2 can do to stop things. [/sws_blockquote_endquote]
Since then, the EPL has undergone some sort of a tactical renaissance, with almost no team playing in a 4-4-2 nowadays. Managers like Rodgers and Martinez experimented with three at the back, Laudrup went ahead with aggressive possession-based football, Steve Clarke built a WBA team that was reactive as well as proactive, Rafa Benitez and Tony Pulis were, well… Rafa Benitez and Tony Pulis, Andre Villas-Boas and his ‘projects’ are doing great as well. Man City have brought in one of the game’s finest tacticians, The Engineer, Manuel Pellegrini, whom Jose had quite a number of face-offs with in the former’s previous tenure at Malaga.
So this time out, things are bound to be a bit different for Mou, aren’t they? Here’s what he said prior to Chelsea’s pre-season, again, quotes courtesy Michael Cox.
[sws_blockquote_endquote align=”” cite=”Jose Mourinho” quotestyle=”style02″]We will play 4-2-3-1 in the first game, my favourite system, though sometimes I change the triangle and play with one in front of the defenders and two players up,” Mourinho said. “Other times I play with double midfielders and a number ten. This is a team where we have not one or two but three or four players who like very much to be a number ten: [Kevin] De Bruyne likes it, Oscar likes it, [Juan] Mata likes it, [Eden] Hazard likes it. It is a natural system for all these players to play.
But in another match I could change it. If we are losing, we might need to have two pure strikers. It is something we will work on because I would like to have this capacity to have it ready to play, independent of the players we have. Naturally, we will have four at the back and in my team, the attackers are attackers. Some guys say we play 4-2-3-1, blah blah blah blah, and sometimes the attackers have a defensive job so it is more like 4-5-1. But it is not 4-5-1, it is 4-3-3.[/sws_blockquote_endquote]
Also, shedding light to Mourinho’s flexibility would be the fact that he oscillated between a 4-3-3 and a 4-1-2-1-2 at Chelsea last time out, 4-3-1-2 and 4-2-3-1 at Porto and Inter, and as is expected for Chelsea, a 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 for Real Madrid.
He has even fielded three at the back twice this season already with Chelsea, most notably in the 3-1 win at Norwich last matchday, when the formation change, with the score locked at 1-1, worked wonders as the two subs, Hazard and Willian stole the show, scoring the two goals.
PAST EXPERIENCES :
Last time out, Mou was a manager who had to show the world that his CL win with Porto was no flash-in-the-pan. While he did do so right away, he is not under similar pressure to prove himself this time out. A historic treble at Inter, when no Italian club had ever done that prior to that, knocking Barca off their perch and setting a points record at Madrid and now Mourinho is a transformed man. From being the Special One, he is now the Happy One, or if his recent quotes are to be believed, the Stable One.
[sws_blockquote_endquote align=”” cite=”Jose Mourinho” quotestyle=”style02″]The moment I finished at Chelsea, I projected my new challenges – to win in Italy, to win in Spain and to win every title in all three countries. After that, I have moved on to another phase, where I know where I like and where I want to be and where I want to dedicate myself fully to a club.
So, in this moment of my career, my challenge is to give everything I have to one club and stay in that club for as long as that club wants because, from a personal point of view, there is no more motivation for adventures or for new experiences.
My motivation now is to build stability for this club and it is something new also for me that I want very much to do.[/sws_blockquote_endquote]
This could only be good for Chelsea, because if there ever was a manager who would be afforded time to build a dynasty, it had to be Mourinho. Despite their past differences, Roman Abramovich cannot deny that Mou is the world’s best manager and his best bet at creating an era laden with titles and star players under the tutelage of a single manager. So now, I’m inclined to believe the nomadic journeyman in Mou is dead and he is heartily willing to turn this team-in-transition into a team of legends, scattered with many trophy wins. Honestly, the idea of Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, Lukaku et al working under the tutelage of Jose for the next decade gives me ecstatically wild orgasms, don’t you get them?
CHANGING SCENARIO OF PLAYER POWER :
As was discussed earlier, now most of Chelsea’s big-names have headed out, duly replaced by younger, more dynamic, more technical hobbits and half-men. Earlier player power was touted to have caused unease in the dressing room, but this time that shouldn’t be the case. What Mourinho has in his disposal are youngsters willing to learn and improve, both individually and as a team. This time around, therefore, things are bound to be a bit more smoother than before in terms of player power issues behind Jose’s back in the dressing room.
For example, see how sportingly Mata took the drop from the squad, going about improving himself and eventually getting the spoils of being the numero uno #10 once again. Keep your eye out for Kevin de Bruyne to do the same and get into Mou’s good books. In a squad where 6 World-Class playmakers are vying for 3 squad spots, such tiffs and eventually the player rising up to the challenge and pleasing Mou would happen much more often.
While such differences are not expect to daunt the Happy et Special et Stable one, there are bound to be several minor hiccups en route to Mou leading this team to greatness, as could be seen by the fact that in title winning seasons 2004-05 and 2005-06, by the current matchday Chelsea had clinched top spot to never let it go leading on to title wins. Currently languishing in third spot, Chelsea are widely expected to be right up there fighting for the title come April-May. But Mou has more than that to do, as he is expected to build a dynasty that matches that at United under SAF and Barca under Rijkaard and Pep. If you want someone to thrive in a ‘pressure cooker atmosphere’, Jose Mourinho is your man and I have no qualms as I say Jose could turn this bunch of kids into world-class match-winners.