With the new Premier League season less than three weeks away, the long wait for competitive soccer is almost over. This time around, there will be no Fergie, no Mancini, nor will there be a poor fellow in the Chelsea hot seat facing impending doom. Arsene Wenger is now the elder statesman of the Premier League, and Andre Villas-Boas will be gunning for that much coveted Champions League spot all over again, and possibly more, providing that he can keep Gareth Bale away from the amorous advances of Real Madrid.
The new campaign promises to be the most exciting in years, with the managerial slate wiped clean at the top three clubs, each with a new era already in motion. All eyes are on David Moyes to see if he can keep Manchester United on course for further glory, while Manuel Pellegrini has virtually been left to his own devices, spending hearty sums on new recruits that may just tilt the balance of power back over to the blue half of Manchester again. The battle for supremacy between the northern heavyweights will surely be a highlight of the season, but this time around, their West London rivals in blue may hold the key.
Now that Jose Mourinho has returned, Chelsea are confident that they can recapture their fear factor, which, in the past few years, has been stolen by the new found wealth at Manchester City. Though the club has still continued to enjoy plenty of success since The Special One (or ‘The Happy One’, as he prefers to be known these days) departed in 2007, their hold over the domestic championship has been usurped. In the past three seasons, Chelsea have lost their way in the Premier League, and though their European and FA Cup achievements are not to be scoffed at, they will be hoping to find the title-winning consistency that has evaded them of late.
However, with a wealth of young, attacking talent in the ranks, Mourinho is confident that his team can mount a stern challenge. Juan Mata, Chelsea’s best player for the past two seasons, will no doubt continue to exert his cultured influence on games, while Eden Hazard and Oscar are gifted with prodigious talent and look certain to be shining stars in for next decade. Alongside them, Belgians Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne have returned from highly productive loans spells at West Bromwich Albion and Werder Bremen, and look set to be given a chance to impress.
As for new arrivals, Mourinho has been rather prudent in the transfer market, a surprise considering his employer, Roman Abramovic, is not shy with his chequebook. Many expected the club to break the bank for prospective targets like Radamel Falcao and Edinson Cavani, but Mourinho decided to opt for youth instead of marquee signings, acquiring German forward Andre Schurrle from Bayer Leverkusen, and Dutch midfielder Marco van Ginkel from Vitesse Arnhem. The combined fee for the pair, who are not yet the finished article, is around £27 million. Schurrle, a full German international, is a quick, intelligent attacker who can operate on the left-wing or in behind the main striker. Van Ginkel, who impressed at the recent Euro u-21 championships, is a central midfielder with an eye for goal, and is being touted as Frank Lampard’s successor.
As opposed to United and Arsenal, Chelsea have conducted their business quickly and cogently, establishing the squad for their forthcoming crusade for the benefit of social adaptation, allied with development on the training ground and in pre-season matches. Mourinho is aiming to establish his strongest side before the season is under way, giving everybody the opportunity to lay down their claim for a starting berth. Though the likes of John Terry and Frank Lampard still remain at the club, Mourinho has stated that he will use them more sparingly for their sake, and that of the new hopefuls.
Having already expressed his desire to work at Chelsea for the next decade, it seems that Mourinho may indeed be willing to give up his vagrancy and settle down for a change, trying to build an era of dominance instead of gunning for a glut of silverware in the next year or two. With his old foe Ferguson out of the picture, the Portuguese now has the ideal platform to become the all conquering force of British football.
There is also great intrigue as to whether his approach to the game is shifting, for Chelsea are not as solid at the back as they were in his previous stint, and the emphasis seems to be on attack and panache rather than solidity. Having worked at Real Madrid with eye-popping players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil, and Angel Di Maria, perhaps Mourinho’s perspective has altered a little, and he is determined to make the best of the tools at his disposal. All will be revealed soon enough, and time will tell if his second coming will be as rich and prosperous as the old days. Significantly, he has settled his disagreements with Abramovic, and the Russian will afford him the time he requires out of respect for his reputation and unwavering strength of character. What happened in the past is now forgotten. Jose is back, and he’s in for the long haul.