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.