There are two types of people in this world, those who love Jose Mourinho and are now circling the wagons, and those who hate Jose Mourinho and are currently gathering at the precipice, gleefully waiting for the main event. There’s no middle ground. There is only good and evil, black and white, us and them. This is of course part of the Mourinho method.
But for Chelsea fans, it goes beyond more than just that. For us, it’s personal. It’s love.
“When I go there and I sit in that dugout, I am Chelsea, I am not Jose Mourinho.”
How else could we explain that after posting historically bad results not just for the Roman Abramovich Era, but since just about the last time Chelsea were relegated from England’s top flight in 1987-88, Jose Mourinho is still in charge? At a club where the average life expectancy of other managers has been less than 12 months since 2003, Mourinho has now amassed, in over five seasons spread across two stints, the third-most games managed (311) in club history. And while the first stint ended in acrimony between owner and manager, even that relationship has seemingly become one of trust, respect, and cooperation well before Mourinho made his triumphant return in 2013.
For the fans, it wasn’t necessarily love at first sight. It was love earned, cultivated, and forged in the fires of Old Trafford, Highbury, Anfield, and of course Fortress Stamford Bridge. His predecessor, Claudio Ranieri, affectionately known as the Tinkerman, was well liked (despite the fiasco of Monaco), and the brash young Portuguese replacing him was still a relative unknown at the time, despite his run down the touchline at Old Trafford and subsequent Champions League triumph with FC Porto. He announced his arrival with the now famous “I have top players and I’m sorry, we have a top manager. Please do not call me arrogant because what I say is true. I’m European champion, I’m not one out of the bottle, I think I am a special one.” We knew it was time to pay attention. And so did everyone else.
Of course, as we’re learning currently, arrogant words have to be backed up by equally arrogant results. Mourinho wasted no time in molding Chelsea to his liking, not only bringing in a select few of his best from Porto and adding a surprising name in Didier Drogba, but ensuring that the players inherited from Ranieri stepped up to be the best. The core that was developed over the new few seasons would form the basis of Chelsea’s successes for the next decade.
And successes there were, plenty. In his five full seasons (so far), Mourinho has brought Chelsea three Premier League titles, three League Cup trophies, an FA Cup, and even a Community Shield to display at the very back of the trophy cabinet. By far the best and most successful manager in club history, he’s only ever had one full season at Chelsea without a major trophy, his first one back at the club in 2013-14. It’s easy to win the fans with consistent success alone. Add in charm, confidence, and an unrelenting desire to be the best, and the fans are yours forever.
People often talk about philosophies and identities in soccer. Pass-’n’-move, tiki-taka, playing the game “the right way” and so and so forth. Mourinho has only ever been concerned with one thing, winning. Winning in any way possible. Winning with goals, winning with clean sheets, winning with effort and grit, winning with guile, winning with mind games, winning with media games, winning with conspiracy theories. Winning. From day 1 at Chelsea, he created this identity for the club. The Cult of Winning. And if you’re Chelsea, you’re in the cult.
Over time, memories tend to fade, and we remember mostly good things. By the time Mourinho left in 2007, perhaps some were tired of his antics and sideshows. The half-empty Stamford Bridge for Mourinho’s final match back then could certainly stand in testament of that. But as it so often happens, you don’t really know what you have until he’s gone, and by the time the revolving door of the Chelsea manager’s office stopped, almost six years had passed.
They weren’t terrible years by any means — another league title, a few more FA Cups, and even a most unlikely Champions League trophy to add to the collection — but there was a sense that the scorched earth policy of buying-selling-firing was providing diminishing returns. Stability became the new mantra, and who better to put in charge to oversee that than the man who created the previous generation of winners in the first place – the man who truly made Chelsea into what it is today, taking all the money provided by Chelsea’s no. 1 fan and putting it to the best use possible.
Mourinho’s love for Chelsea never really faded, he would no doubt claim. He knew he was loved here, and told reporters as much when his time at Real Madrid was ending. When he came back, he came back as “one of us” as “The Happy One” ready to be together forever; or, at least 10 years, whichever might come first. We didn’t needed a Fergusonian “your job now is to stand by your new manager” rallying cry or celebratory group hugs with the manager, a la André Villas-Boas, to know what to do and how to feel.
Mourinho is ours, and you can’t have him. You can borrow him, but he’s ours. He is one of us. When he speaks of his desire to win, it’s not just as the manager but as a fan of Chelsea. He was Chelsea. He is Chelsea. And we love him for it unconditionally.
But could we Chelsea fans have a breaking point as well? Just about everybody in the media, and certainly on Twitter, wants to sack Mourinho — yesterday, if possible — and would love nothing more than to see the best manager in the world get his comeuppance. Could Chelsea fans slowly relent in our resolve to defend and keep against all odds one of our own as well?
Mourinho’s first departure was seen as fallout from a power struggle at the highest level. Nowadays, the struggle and the abuse seems to be on a much more public and a much more personal level. Off-field incidents have dominated the headlines since preseason, and unlike in seasons past, results have not been good enough to balance out that drama. Worse yet, all this nonsense, all these fights that he’s picking with the medical team, the referees, other managers, The FA, pundits, reporters, media, and even his own players, all this is entirely self-made and seemingly frivolous. There’s enough perceived anti-Chelsea bias in the media and governing bodies to easily fuel our sense of togetherness — we may be paranoid, but that doesn’t mean they’re not out to get us — why add so much more drama to it that it becomes overwhelming? The team and the fanbase is threatening to crumble under the weight of all that’s gotten piled up, and while players remain united publicly, results aren’t improving.
“I love Jose Mourinho, but…” seems to be an ever-increasing refrain among the masses huddled inside the wagon circle. For a man who can generally do no wrong with Chelsea fans, that’s a worrying development.
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