There’s been an anomaly in Jose Mourinho’s persona since his return to Stamford Bridge, two months ago.
Mourinho walked out of the Santiago Bernabeu vanquished – the Portuguese manager was on the losing end of another Champions League semi-final – his third consecutive exit at that stage, and fifth in seven attempts throughout his career.
Mourinho was the subject of an emotional post-match press conference, slyly speculating his future.
“I know in England I’m loved,” Mourinho said.
“I’m loved by the fans. I’m loved by the media that treats me in a fair way, criticizing me but giving me credit when I deserve it. I know I’m loved by some clubs, especially one,” he said.
It was clear that the 50-year-old manager had his eyes on a return to Stamford Bridge, and it became a reality June 10th, but we witnessed a different side to Mourinho at his unveiling. The media was expecting the confident, egotistical, treble winner that graced the Premier League, nine years ago, but they welcomed back a man that was keen on expressing how happy he was – officially dubbing himself the ‘Happy One.’
Considering his time at Madrid was quite theatrical, it was a perfect alibi for Mourinho to sell to the world. The Portuguese manager was targeted by the Spanish media, disliked by a portion of Madridstas and fell out with several players in the dressing room, thus leading to his downfall at Madrid. So a scenery change would essentially benefit the Portuguese manager, especially at a club that Mourinho has reiterated he’s fond of.
But anyone that’s followed Mourinho’s career across Europe knows that he’s a calculated thinker. He’s always a step of most psychologically, and his actions are often pre-meditated. Despite being slightly above average tactically, Mourinho has always made up for his tactical deficiencies with his man-management skills, methodological approach and his ability to win matches in press conferences.
For all of the positivity Mourinho is preaching, it’s difficult to believe that he’s being honest. One can mature, and the Portuguese manager has, since his departure in 2007, but this is simply all an act – one to potentially ease the large amount of pressure the ‘Happy One’ faces. His modesty to declare that the league is a six-horse race, and to avoid stating that his side can win the league is canny, but subconsciously, he’s aware of the situation that he has stepped into by returning to Chelsea.
Like he did in 2004/2005, Mourinho returns to the Premier League during a transitional period – on top of that, the two Manchester clubs have also made managerial changes – thus handing him a slight edge. With the pandemonium that took place last season at Madrid, his return to the Premier League was predictable, but it must be said that Chelsea was his last destination. United overlooked Mourinho as they wanted stability, yet he could flourish on the other side of Manchester with the funds available, but City were in the process of ridding the bad seeds out of the club, and Mourinho wasn’t the man to start a new era at the Ethiad, based on the conflict at Madrid.
Chelsea was the only logical place for Mourinho to go, and some see it as a safe move, this is potentially the biggest challenge in the ‘Happy ones’ career. Mourinho acknowledged that he underachieved last season, and was eager to address it to the press after Madrid’s Copa del Rey defeat to rivals Atletico Madrid.
“This is the worst season of my career with a title that is not sufficient to satisfy Real Madrid and therefore it is a bad season,” Mourinho said.
“With a final, a semifinal, second place in the league and the Supercup, what for many would be a good season, for me is the worst,” he added.
However, it wasn’t a surprise to see Mourinho fail in his third season at Madrid, considering it’s the longest managerial tenure he’s sustained since his first stint at Chelsea. Frankly, it’s been unknown as to whether Mourinho can achieve success past his three-year cycle, seeing as he’s never been at a club past that mark.
At Chelsea, Mourinho introduced a 4-3-3 in a league where most teams played in a 4-4-2. The Portuguese manager believed that the extra man in midfield was vital, as it allowed his side to dominate the midfield, with an extra passing outlet. Mourinho was focused on his side’s organization as a unit, as they often sat deep without the ball, and were keen on playing conservative, mainly on their travels, when they took the lead.
It was a perfect fit for a Chelsea side that didn’t possess a no.10, but possessed a physical presence in midfield, a legitimate centre forward and pacy wingers. Mourinho’s first two years in London was a success – he claimed the Premier League twice, and also added a few domestic trophies. Mourinho’s third season at Chelsea was faced with several injury issues, an over-reliance on talismanic striker Didier Drogba and a determined Manchester United, that was beginning to find their stride. Mourinho still managed to win a domestic double that season, but United ended his dominance, and the manager left the club by mutual consent at the start of the 2007/2008 season.
We’re not sure if the Portuguese manager would face such an issue at Inter Milan, where he won the treble in his second season, but with the sudden decline the players sustained in the third season, Mourinho chose the right time to head to Madrid. Since Mourinho left Inter, the club has failed to come close to the success that they achieved during the Portuguese manager’s tenure.
His time at Madrid was similar, but now the Portuguese manager had the difficult task of challenging arguably the best team to ever play the game, in Barcelona. In fairness, the Portuguese manager disrupted Barcelona’s dominance, as they began to challenge them, and eventually defeating them on a few occasions. Mourinho’s side peaked in the 2011/2012 season where they set a La Liga record, claiming 100 points and scoring 121 goals in the league alone. Many began to tip Mourinho to start his reign of dominance in the Spanish capital, but a year later he saw Barcelona equal their 100 point record, finishing 15 points behind their league rivals.
Mourinho’s side was flashier than the team he possessed at Chelsea, and he also had the creative players available to play in his preferred 4-2-3-1. Conversely, like his tenure at Stamford Bridge, the Portuguese manager failed to evolve as a manager or give his side a tactical identity. Madrid was shaped to be a counter-attacking side, which suited them, based on the players at their disposal, but Mourinho didn’t have a plan B.
Mourinho’s squad was superior to most, so he could afford to rely on moments of brilliance from his star players – but his side began to build an over-reliance on Cristiano Ronaldo, similar to Drogba’s in Mourinho’s third season at Chelsea. The Portuguese manager’s 72% winning percentage, the highest of any Madrid manager, along with his three consecutive Champions League semi-final appearances, overshadowed his inability to hand the side a new identity.
This deficiency was exposed more so in the Champions League, as Mourinho failed to defeat any elite opposition he came across – albeit all of these showdowns took place in the semi-finals. His barbaric tactics against Barcelona was his downfall in 2011 – he had no match for the imperious Toni Kroos in 2012 – and disjointed side were humbled in 2013, despite coming close to completing the comeback.
Top-class managers thrive in these situations, which leaves many questioning whether Mourinho’s can still succeed at the top level, yet making his return to Chelsea vital. The Portuguese manager may well be auditioning for the Manchester United job if Moyes doesn’t succeed, but he’s also out to prove that he can succeed beyond his three-season cycle.
“My feeling is the trophies will arrive naturally without obsession, they will arrive naturally, based on the stability because there is big empathy between the different sectors at this club,” Mourinho said.
“I also want to show people I am stable, but you can be stable and also emotional. Chelsea need some stability. In this moment, the club is ready for that and I am ready for that,” he added.
Mourinho now faces a huge challenge in restoring his legacy on a domestic and European front, and it’s surprising to see the Portuguese manager neglect some of the issues that his side possesses. Chelsea currently has an abundance of young, creative attacking midfielders, but their double pivot isn’t convincing and they lack a top-class centre forward. Based on the large amount of inferior sides in the league, Mourinho might be able to succeed without bolstering his midfield, as a striker has been his top priority.
Similar to Benitez’s tenure at Stamford Bridge, Mourinho will stress the importance of defending as a unit and organization, but the Portuguese manager has already made a significant alteration in his attack. This season, we’ve seen Oscar play in the no.10 role that he thrived in with Brazil at the Confederations Cup – pushing Juan Mata out wide or to the bench. Mata has flourished in a central position – it’s allowed the Spaniard to be put in the same conversation as Luis Suarez, Gareth Bale and Robin van Persie, and arguably become a world-class player.
But Mata’s defensive work has made him a liability over the years, and Mourinho is facing a similar conundrum to his time at Madrid. Toni Kroos’ performance in the 2011/2012 Champions League semi-final influenced Mourinho into purchasing Luka Modric during his time at Madrid – a midfielder that could provide creativity, but could also complete his defensive work, by pressing a deep-lying playmaker and forming a midfield three when needed. Oscar can complete the latter, but his ability to find pockets of space to receive the ball, and allow the other attackers to penetrate is significant. Chelsea now has depth in their attack, but keeping/getting the best out of the Spaniard is also an issue Mourinho needs to iron out.
Nevertheless, his time at Chelsea will be assessed not only on the amount of trophies he claims, but also on his ability to give his side a tactical identity and provide flexibility. The Portuguese manager possesses a side filled with a great balance of young talent, and experienced veterans, and failure to succeed, will definitely leave many critics questioning his ability at the top level.
Mourinho’s first big test comes at Old Trafford, where he’ll square off against David Moyes, the man that Sir Alex Ferguson preferred over the Portuguese manager. The Portuguese manager has enjoyed his fair amount of success at Old Trafford and will look to send a message to not only the rest of the league, but to Moyes and the Manchester United board.
In hindsight, Mourinho’s return to the Premier League has given the league a new source of excitement, and with the departure of Ferguson and Roberto Mancini, it also sets up new rivalries.
The Portuguese manager has embarked on his toughest task yet that will see him attempt to ensure continuity and win trophies- thus handing him the opportunity to prove that special individuals can also be happy.