Most Chelsea fans from London to Lagos are dancing, chanting, and cheering the appointment of Jose Mourinho. After the six and half years since he left, the man, the myth, the Special One has returned from his stint on the continent to his beloved Blues. While his return to Chelsea may have been the worst kept secret in football, it has been met with no less joy from Chelsea fans. Many see Jose’s return as a chance to finally give the club some much needed stability and continuity. It seems the revolving doors of SW6 may finally remain shut. Smiling and admitting it is difficult for him to not get too emotional, Mourinho revealed himself in an exclusive Chelsea TV interview. Naturally, he looked as comfortable as ever in front of a camera.
While his return has been met with deserved approval and jubilation, it is important to reflect on the task Mourinho has in front of him. Chelsea has a young squad and, stylistically, it’s very different than the one he left in 2007. The well oiled, power machine of the mid-late 2000’s has been replaced with a flashier, speedier, less powerful model. The new squad is not better or worse than its predecessor, merely different. An industrial workhorse midfield has been replaced with a creative fulcrum of three playmakers. The dour and defensive displays that irked Abromovich towards the end of Jose’s reign will no longer be an issue with the likes of Hazard and Mata in the squad. Chelsea will be a different beast for The Special One to tame. That said, after leaving Chelsea he proved that he is not a one trick pony. Success with Inter and, to a lesser extent, Real Madrid has shown him to be a capable and flexible manager, regardless of his squad.
While his time at Inter can be seen as an undeniable success, some skeptics cringe at his recent departure from Real Madrid. While his season was less than ideal, I personally think a fracture between himself and the club was inevitable. Mourinho is a manager whose emotions and relationships define his style. He is the modern man manager. Whether it’s Essien calling him “daddy” or his tearful goodbye to (the rather unlovable) Marco Materazzi, Mourinho has a special bond with his players. For this, his players love him. Mourinho creates a familial atmosphere within his squad. While, unavoidably, there are starters and squad players it is always a “team first” mentality. This ideology is at odds with the ‘Galactico’ mindset at Real Madrid. During the past decade, the club had postured itself as a home of super stars. They’ve been guilty for appearing a collection of talented individuals more than a team. I’ll admit, inferring too much about Mourinho’s fallout with club legend Iker Casillas was a slippery slope. However, it seems clear enough Casillas did not buy in to the ‘club first’ mentality that is so central to the Mourinho ethos. From this thread of dissension, the squad’s ability to buy in to the “Mourinho way” began to fray. With defeat at Atletico Madrid in the Copa Del Rey, it had finally unraveled.
That all said, that will not be the case at Chelsea. Their lack of managerial consistency in the Abromovich era has left them ravenous for identity. They got a taste of direction under Mourinho in his first managerial stint, and haven’t come close since. With Chelsea, Mourinho does not need to peddle his ideology to the club or its fans. They’ve bought in to it years ago and have craved its return ever since. Similarly, they have no divisive characters in their dressing room. The infamous “old guard” that has (allegedly) been responsible for so many managerial departures were Mourinho’s original go-to players. Best of all, the squad is filled with young and unshaped talent. Chelsea’s current side begs for Jose’s leadership and relational managerial style. It is a mouthwatering prospect to imagine how the likes of Hazard and Oscar will develop under his tutelage. This is a squad that he has an opportunity mould in to something special; something in his own image.
During his interview, Mourinho made several comments alluding to his extended future at the club. Since first taking the helm at Porto, he has failed to stay at a club for longer than three years. Mourinho is returning to Chelsea after winning what he has dubbed, “The Triple Crown,” a self-made term for winning league trophies in England, Spain, and Italy. He has accomplished what he set out to do on the continent, which was to win trophies with Europe’s biggest clubs. This go-round, however, Mourinho referred to his return to Chelsea as a “different kind of project. One with a different dimension;” a marriage, if you will. This seems a logical next step in Mourinho’s career arc. He has proven he can win anywhere with any squad in any league. Now he must prove he can succeed in the long term.
His admiration and begrudging respect for Sir Alex Ferguson is well known. The managers are both equally knowledgeable and talented. However, there is one thing Ferguson has that Mourinho lacks: a legacy. Sir Alex is synonymous with Manchester United. He brought them success, and with that he has become synonymous with their success. Ferguson had a dynasty. The growth and success of this Chelsea dynasty is the next sensible step in Mourinho’s quest to become the best manager of all time.
For Chelsea fans, there can be nothing more thrilling than The Special One at least intimating this type of long-term dedication to the project. As a club searching for direction and stability it makes perfect sense for Chelsea. For a manager who’s looking to take the next step up in the pantheon of managerial achievement, it makes perfect sense for Mourinho. With a squad as talented as Chelsea and a manager as talented as Mourinho, it is truly a special time to be a Chelsea fan.