All around the world, there is crisis. The economic crisis in Greece. The humanitarian crisis in Syria. The financial crisis in China. And in SW6 there has been another crisis brewing over the last weeks: the Chelsea crisis. What has happened over the last month?
Like with the economic crisis in Greece and stock market crisis in China, the footballing crisis at Chelsea HQ follows a similar path. With any boom comes a bust. The bubble pops. Greece had a decade of elaborate spending; pop. China had a few years of substantial stock market growth; pop. Chelsea secure the league and Capital One Cup in emphatic style last season; pop this season.
And yet, like with these two mentioned, the problems are all of our own doing.
(1) Short pre-season
Mourinho opted to give his players a substantial period of time off, partly in reward for a triumphant season, but also partly in recognition that previous summers have been short owing to many of Chelsea’s stars playing international matches at the World Cup or respective competitions. This summer was a chance to rest, a good five or six weeks for substantial rest. But the generous gesture may be a blessing in disguise, for Chelsea have looked sluggish and certain players have lacked match sharpness. Opening-day jitters are expected, but to drag this poor form onto Matchday 5 is intolerable.
(2) Eva Carneiro
Mourinho has been a PR hero for Chelsea over many years, protecting the club and his players, often at the expense of himself. However, he has dropped a real clanger here, one which he no doubt deeply regrets.
What appeared to be innocuous words about his medical staff, calling them out for racing onto the pitch to treat a tired Eden Hazard, has blown up into a sexism row. Women do not understand football, they interpreted. Mourinho is just making an excuse to get rid of female distractions.
The bottom line is a medic is a medic and is qualified in their practice, and the calling out was wrong by Mourinho, but if it were two men it would have been no more than a line in a newspaper. Instead we have overblown mass attention on Carneiro who is said to be taking legal action. This was a needless drama and even more shockingly handled, at a club not exactly great with handling big racism or sexism issues.
Chelsea were not slow off the mark, they were purposefully complacent. The list which Mourinho had of players he wanted in for this season, which he says he gave to his seniors in April, was no doubt tossed in the bin, with Roman Abramovich keep to save some money for the future stadium extension plans.
The thinking was that this was a squad and a manager who are already at the top, and need no additions. Mourinho insists that staying the same is going backwards in this world, which has elements of truth, so the shocking start has no doubt exacerbated his cries for new personnel. Stones (another PR disaster), Pogba and Griezmann were the big names rumoured; instead we have Pedro, Rahman and Djilobodji. The transfers were rash and passive, with Chelsea reacting only if a player left, contrary to the very active style implemented last season, starting the summer straight away with Costa and Fabregas, who had the pre-season time to buy into the Chelsea way. Coupled with bad luck to Courtois and the selling of Cech, the whole transfer dealings of this summer have been a shambles.
Whilst Mourinho does have some sense in saying that you go inadvertently go backwards if you stay put, the other part to his words must be addressed to himself. New blood or not, these are world-class stars with fantastic previous seasons and good experience. Mourinho himself is a manager with world-class pedigree and a substantial track record and trophy cabinet. Why is he letting this happen?
In part, it can be put down to continually tried-and-trusted, but very rigid, methods. The defence-first methodology has come up trumps many times through Mourinho’s career and he undoubtedly believes in it. But with an evolving world, more focus should be on attack. This very passive approach relies too heavily on nicking the one goal from a set-piece or counter-attack. Furthermore, it rarely comes, because teams are now well-drilled against the Terrys and Cahills.
The defence-first approach does not kill opponents either psychologically. Manchester City can score plenty in a game due to nicking one early, the opponents getting deflated and the Citizens scoring more. Chelsea hold out, and with time gives the opponents more belief. Damningly, if the opponents actually break the deadlock, you can often see Mourinho go into panic mode. For such a good strategian, there is rarely a Plan B. Mourinho boasted of one this pre-season — the 3-4-3 — but it is a desperate attempt to lump the ball forward and home a penalty is won. There is no rhythm and no culture, and Chelsea scraped away with it towards the end of the last season, but it is not working now.
Mourinho talks a good talk but everyone knows he does not trust youth, and it is this lack of variety which is astounding. Mourinho trusts his core men so much that you can never really get a look-in into the first team. Moses was the best player in pre-season: loaned out. Ivanovic has had a shocking start: no Rahman. Matic has been poor: no alternatives. Fabregas lacklustre: always starts. Hazard lacking creativity: he is the star man.
There are alternatives. Cuadrado and Moses could have filled the right-wing spot, but no, Chelsea must spend. Upcoming youngsters could deputise for Terry or Cahill, but no, Djilobodji and Hector must come in. The line-up rarely changes week-on-week. You can see why the likes of De Bruyne and Lukaku were frustrated. For a team in form, that is fine. For one that is not, it smacks of ignorance and irrational belief.
With any boom, there is a bust. But with any bust, there is government policy and steady growth, eventually leading to new highs. Greece will need to sort themselves internally and spend less. China will need to be more transparent and find new income streams. Chelsea need a bit of both.