What to expect from Mourinho's first season back
So he’s back. Jose Mourinho, announced on Monday afternoon with a single “delighted” Tweet sent at 2:03pm. The big welcome will come on Monday for the press conference, but football’s worst-kept secret is out: The Special One returns. The poetic language he will come up with on Monday is anyone’s guess, but where his wonderful words of wisdom may be unpredictable, his style of play and demand for success is unwaveringly firm.
His exclusive introductory interview was an astounding success. Far from the arrogant “I think I’m a special one” displayed in 2004, the Mourinho of 2013 looked humble and immensely proud. “When you return to a place, it is for some reason… it’s because you left something here. I am so proud. I have finished my lap of European football and [Real Madrid was] the last step of my formation as a manager”, he said. Nothing like the self-centred Mourinho nine years ago, who swaggered in thinking he knew everything. Maybe these experiences have helped. Maybe working with big egos and big superstars such as Cristiano Ronaldo helped develop his character. He certainly is grateful for the different cultures: Italy being the “most tactical” league, Spain interesting for its politics and it was “another club with a worldwide dimension”.
With a heavy heart, Mourinho said, “I have just turned 50”, but seemed determined to “now sink into a new project”. Chelsea is a club that yearns for stability, but you can’t help but think this is a man who craves stability in his own life. The pressures of moving countries on his family, who we lavishes praise on as being “very supportive”, and reports of his daughter enrolling in further education in England will have only helped him decide for sure his Stamford Bridge return. After all, he is “one of us”. But this time, what can we expect of him?
The trophies are no longer guaranteed, that’s for sure. Last time round, the invincible Arsenal were breaking up and Manchester United only possessed young and raw talents in Rooney and Ronaldo. This time, the emergence of Manchester City and further strengthening of the league in the likes of Tottenham means we will get to see how special Jose really is.
One thing, however, guaranteed, is improvement. Mourinho was highly focussing on improving the side “by work”, not by many millions, and it remains to be seen how well he can develop young players such as Hazard. Lampard passionately remembers the times Mourinho told him he would make him one of the best players in the world, and though suffering from many taunts from rival fans, finishing a very respectable second place in the FIFA World Player of the Year awards in 2005 to Ronaldinho is a great feat. Mourinho will surely enjoy the task of developing his players and understanding their personalities, and though there has been much talk of an instant Torres departure, Jose Mourinho looks like a manager who may relish the chance to restore Torres back to his former self.
The second is happiness. Much discontent has been made of previous Chelsea managers, who have all subconsciously been compared to the Mourinho-ometer gauge. Rafael Benitez was never liked from the start, and respected managers such as Scolari, Ancelotti and AVB eventually lost their ways. Even fan favourite Di Matteo will have tarnished some of his glowing reputation from fans with a group stage Champions League exit.
If nothing else, this was great PR by Chelsea. The deadline for membership renewal was 5pm on Monday, and with Mourinho announced at 2pm, there was a reported surge in season-ticket renewals during the hectic three-hour scramble period, further generating income. This is a manager who comes in loved from the start, and there is every optimism that with wins to boot, this could be a very joyous year for the Club.
Not just happiness for the fans but former bit-part player Alexei Smertin said recently he felt “very happy” even if he was only a bench-warmer. A crucial part of management for Jose is the player-manager interaction. Expect the young guns to be happy, and whilst Chelsea philosophy is not to buy old veteran stars any longer, it fits in perfectly with Mourinho’s style, so expect one or two experienced players to come in, especially for the holding midfield role, but one thing is a given: they will all be happy. The media may even have a chuckle here or there.
It is difficult to read which trophy Mourinho will prioritise. The Super Cup comes first and he will want to lay down a marker for the season. Mourinho is known the treat the League Cup with respect, winning it twice in his three-year spell, as this win in early March can generate positive multiplier effects as players get tired and lose motivation in the latter stages of the season. The Champions League, no doubt, is one where he will want to succeed. A double-time champion but three successive semi-final appearances at Real Madrid have, certainly by the Spanish media, made him a reputation as a ‘nearly man’.
Whatever Mourinho makes of his second return, it is a huge risk for everyone involved at Chelsea. Roman Abramovich has, over the last six years since his departure, tried to get over Mourinho, hiring every other world-class manager. He may have exhausted all of them; turning back to an old flame will seem weak for some. As for Mourinho, his reputation and mutual relationship with the Chelsea fans is on the line. But, what is there to worry? As the man himself put it, this time will be “even better”.