It’s always wise to point a camera at Jose Mourinho. Train a camera on the man, and he’ll pay you back with some remarkable scenes. Such was the case on Sunday as a revived Fernando Torres pounced on a cataclysmic piece of defending from Manchester City and their beleaguered goalkeeper Joe Hart to score and give the Blues their biggest triumph of the season, a 2-1 home win over their title rivals.
As Chelsea’s bench exploded forward, Mourinho took his joy backwards, jumping over barriers into the stands, where he was mobbed by fans. There were hugs and kisses and pure joy that the made the job of a safety steward both untenable and irrelevant.
It was Stamford Bridge in perfect harmony. Turns out, Mourinho jumped into the stands to try to celebrate with his boy, who was sitting behind the home dugout, but the Special One surely didn’t mind a few intruders into the father-son reunion.
After the final whistle blew, the Chelsea supporters stayed behind to salute their team, who put in a capable, if not scintillating, performance against City. Their winner may have been born from luck, but it didn’t matter. The pictures were of fans in love with their team and their manager, and of a team and manager that loves them back.
Now, just think back a few months and try to think of Rafa Benitez jumping into the stands to celebrate a late Chelsea goal. He wouldn’t have been touched. Not assaulted, but certainly not hugged. Benitez’s path through the stands may have represented a parting of the Blue Sea.
Benitez’s first game in charge of Chelsea after taking the reigns from Roberto Di Matteo last year was at home against Manchester City. The teams played out a dull 0-0 draw, and Benitez was booed and demonstrated against with a kind of desperation not seen at Chelsea Football Club since the days of Ken Bates and rampant hooliganism.
Chelsea made great strides last season. They started the process of blooding young stars in the first team, while jumping from sixth to third in the league table. The Blues won their second consecutive continental crown, the 2013 Europa League trophy.
And yet, the feeling around Cobham and the Bridge last year was a sort of toxic tug and pull, as Chelsea fans wanted to support their team, and not their manager. There were many Blues fans that loved the players, but couldn’t fathom cheering on Benitez, the man they had railed against for so long with such venom.
The fans weren’t fully behind the team, and how could they be? With Benitez, the seeds of hate were set too deep to full spray-paint with Royal Blue. Benitez and the supporters tolerated each other, if that, especially after the Spaniard’s rant at The Riverside.
It created for a strange atmosphere for the players, and the Bridge wasn’t the fortress it had been in the past season. The conflicting form of the team matched the conflicted feelings of the fans.
Only something drastic would get the supporters completely back onside. That drastic measure was the return of Mourinho. The timing worked out perfectly. Both Mourinho, whose reputation had been sullied and bruised with his last year at Real Madrid, and Roman Abramovich, realizing the mistake he made with Rafa, needed each other for redemption.
Mourinho, as expected, has been entertaining, dark, baffling, funny, and really really good. Chelsea are playing with the sort of shape and identity that the last three managers of the squad have only dreamed of.
But it’s helped that everyone is, as the Adidas slogan goes, all in. Fans, players, owner, all in. The weight of Chelsea FC is behind this team, and Chelsea FC has a lot of clout.
Mourinho’s reputation has helped keep everyone onside. If anyone else had loaned Romelu Lukaku out to Everton without a recall clause, or all but exiled young Belgian starlet Kevin De Bruyne, people would be grumbling and ringing their hands. But with Mourinho in charge, the questions have been softer and unassuming.
Mourinho went one better, and shut down fan favorite Juan Mata, but even that decision hasn’t rankled supporters too much – they are able to see the logic of their manager.
Jose is smart. He did what Di Matteo did when he took over from Andre Villas-Boas, and got the senior players onside. Frank Lampard and John Terry are both playing bigger roles this year, while Gary Cahill has also been reincorporated into the team.
Chelsea are entering an important stretch: They can gain Premier League momentum with a relatively soft November slate featuring games against Newcastle, West Brom and West Ham, and take hold of their Champions League group when Schalke comes to Stamford Bridge the week before the international break.
It’s hard to bet against this club right now. The swagger is building.
After Torres’ goal, it was pure euphoria. Compare that to Tottenham, where Andre Villas-Boas, who himself had problems with the Chelsea faithful, criticized the home supporters after Spurs’ poor 1-0 victory over Hull City, and you have the difference between the two clubs. Same thing at Manchester United – when the fans aren’t happy, it’s harder for players to focus, it’s harder for managers to coach, and the negativity reverberates around.
Chelsea FC no longer have that problem. They are a club united, and the sky could be the limit this season.
Editor’s note: Read our news, analysis and opinions about the Blues on our Chelsea team page.