Jose Mourinho spoke at length after Chelsea’s latest defeat this weekend, this time to Southampton. He spoke about one of the worst starts to a season by a defending champion since the Premier League began, and his dramatic words really did quite a good job of reflecting that situation.
“This is a crucial moment in the history of this club,” he said. “Do you know why?” We don’t, Jose, please tell us.
“Because if the club sack me they sack the best manager this club ever had. And the message again is that if there are bad results, the manager is guilty. This is the message people have got over the last decade from Chelsea so this is a moment when people assume responsibilities, including me, the players and other people in the club. We need to stick together. This is what I want.”
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Okay, Jose. But is it wise—in terms of rectifying the internal situation at the club, where confidence has dribbled off into the sunset—to place the focus on your future before that of the team you are looking to help get winning again, particularly when that team winning is a precursor to securing your future?
For a long time Mourinho’s more petulant post-match swipes have seemed a little blunted by their own consistency; the individual content subsumed within the wider mosaic and thus dismissed a little more easily as “Mourinho just being Mourinho.” Since Chelsea’s bizarrely bad beginning to this season that appears to have changed. We may now have reached the third age of post-match Mourinho.
First there was the great mythologizing. Everything the Chelsea manager said in his post-Porto victory dance of a spell at Stamford Bridge was imbued with meaning and intent that always seemed pretty distant from the actual words themselves. “Oh, he’s said that Rafa Benitez is a plonker, he must be diverting our attention from the fact that William Gallas hasn’t scored in ten games, and undermining Benitez at the same time!” we collectively assumed. “It’s genius!”
It was never genius. Even if it was occasionally effective, it was never an extraordinary skill and to rebrand it as such was to misappropriate the things that were really being said, often purely emotional outbursts, very often in the hope of selling a better, more interesting story than a grown man who was being malicious for its own sake.
And so, eventually, there emerged the second age of post-match Mourinho, where everyone just got a bit tired of the digs and started ignoring them. This ended at the weekend, because although Mourinho remained wholeheartedly Mourinho in how he spoke, the context around him had shifted in a way that made it suddenly more meaningful again. Suddenly, you know, he sounded that little bit desperate.
A manager who, in an unsolicited, pre-emptive move, opens up about the possibility of being sacked, alongside suggesting that “referees are afraid to give Chelsea decisions” no longer sounds either cool or dull. He sounds like he’s struggling to control a season that is falling against him. The very fact that we’ve heard it all before is alarming for Chelsea, because the situation has become radically different. When he was winning, he could say that his rhetoric might be repetitive, but it worked. Now that he’s losing, shouldn’t there be a shift in tone? And if there’s not, what does it say?
The impression is of a manager with little idea what to do next and what do differently. As I wrote last week, three seasons in, it’s like he’s out of tricks. He’s tried dropping most of his experienced players—John Terry, Nemanja Matic and Oscar have all had their turns. He’s tried telling everyone that most of his players aren’t “serial winners.” Amongst all that, post-match lashing-out doesn’t feel like much of a power play. It feels like a steady withering-away of power via a man who can’t think how to reverse it.
The wonder we are left with is this: how do Mourinho’s players see his third-age post-match behaviour? Have they lost faith too? Certainly their performances hint at it. And there has been some speculation this week that is the case. Chelsea players have, apparently, discussed amongst themselves Mourinho’s “obsession” with the media and, really, we know what that translates into. There might well be doubts about the manager who is all “me me me” at a time when solidarity is the necessary antidote to poor form.
If this is the case, Mourinho might want to try talking about his team for a bit. Not referees. Definitely not himself and how he deserves to be “unsackable.” Why? Because it’s his team that can help him avoid the sack, not petulance, and certainly not the act of being self-centred—just ask Brendan Rodgers.
Ethan Dean-Richards is a London-based writer. Follow him on Twitter