Forget this writing gig… I’m going to become a bookie. Because if I’m really ever going to make some money out of my life long love affair with soccer, that’s clearly the best avenue.
In order to get paid to play, I’d have to be good (I’m not). In order to manage, I should probably have first been a player (Ditto). I could be an agent or an administrator, but only if I knew the right people (I don’t know enough of them). Or I could always referee, if only I was a bit mental (I’m not that mental). And there’s a million writers out there, so I’m currently a dime a dozen (Sigh). So that narrows my options to just sports betting and organized crime… which are more or less the same industry, anyway.
For instance, take a look at the current betting odds on who will be the permanent manager at Chelsea Football Club at the start of next season, when Roberto “The Players Hate Me More Than AVB” Di Mateo’s stint as caretaker is currently scheduled to end. At the time of writing, the favorites are as follows:
|5||Roberto Di Mateo||10/1|
So what about those numbers has me contemplating a career switch? Oh I don’t know… probably because there’s not a chance in hell that the man currently sporting the best odds will actually end up taking the Chelsea job. I think anyone putting their hard-earned money on Mourinho is simply giving it away to someone… why shouldn’t they be giving that money to me?!?!
Now after reading such a bold claim, I can understand if you’re questioning my confidence about the matter, what with so much time before the position will be filled and so many possible indicators already seeming to hint as much. I mean, he made no secret of his recent house hunting trip to London. Many fans will be quick to place a quid or two on Mourinho taking the job for just that reason, like they’ve forgotten that there will potentially be two other high-profile job openings in the same city this summer.
Either way, trust me when I say it’s not gonna happen. And it won’t happen for two very important reasons: what’s happened in the past, and what has to happen in the future.
Study the past, if you would divine the future.
Before we can even truly consider the Special One returning to Stamford Bridge, we have to look at why he left to begin with. It’s very important to remember that prior to leaving, José was literally a Messiah at Chelsea. He led the Blues to Premier League titles in each of his first two seasons with the club — their first in 50 years — and a club-first FA and League Cup double the following season. And while his departure seemed sudden and abrupt in September 2007, the seeds of discontent for the Portuguese manager were actually being sowed as early as 2006.
The first major sign of any trouble brewing between the Russian and Portuguese came with the 2006 summer signings of Andriy Shevchenko and Michael Ballack. Neither fit the mold of a typical Mourinho signing — both were proven/veteran superstars instead of up-and-coming youngsters or relative unknowns — and many rightly wondered whether they were more of Roman’s signings than José’s. Shevchenko in particular had long been admired by Abramovich, and when his €30m signing effectively ate up all of Mourinho’s transfer budget for the summer, he was bound to be displeased.
Of course, the media were quick to jump all over the emerging rift, labeling these so-called “Abrambovich signings” as the proof that the Chelsea manager was being undermined by his owner. And while neither player ever lived up to their star billings, Shevchenko’s inability to adjust to life in West London was particularly glaring. Yet despite the Ukrainian’s obviously poor form, Roman continued to pressure his manager to play his pricey signing… something that did not sit well at all with Mourinho.
But even as these troubles were brewing in the background, José was able to rally his troops and produce successes. Disciplined counterattacking and a vice-like defense were the key tenets of the Mourinho’s ability to produce trophies, but by late 2006 it became quietly known that Roman was not pleased with such “unattractive” methods. The Russian oligarch desired free-flowing, attacking football out of his side. He wanted Chelsea to be the Barcelona of London, yet the complete opposite was on display week in and week out with Mourinho at the helm.
So when Roman appointed Avram Grant as a Director of Football — a position normally responsible for overseeing player transfers — at the beginning of the 2007/2008 campaign, the not-so-private lack of backing was finally enough to push the Special One to the breaking point. After a string of disappointing results and a series of crisis meetings between Mourinho, Abramovich and the rest of the board, it was clear that there was no reconciling and the Special One walked away.
Saying that “bridges were burned” between Mourinho and Abramovich would be a gross understatement. It was more like the bridge had been bombed by Allied troops in World War II: if you hadn’t known there was a bridge there before, you would never know one had been there at all.
And though there’s been talk that some reconciling has taken place since, you have to wonder how much José trust his former employer anymore. If he were to come back to Chelsea, would the boss man be able to guarantee Mourinho the total (and I mean total) autonomy to run the club as he sees fit? Judging by the latest rumors indicating that Mou would be willing to return only if that autonomy is promised — along with absurd wages and that the guarantee that Ronaldo would be purchased too — shows that the Russian will have to put his money where his mouth is if he wants to convince him to go against his gut instinct.
To be honest, aside from the ridiculous wage demands, I don’t think Roman can promise Mourinho any of those things.
The future ain’t what it used to be.
Let us imagine for a minute a strange world where Roman Abramovich would actually be willing to give Mourinho all of the control his heart desires, and that Mourinho accepts said offer and returns to Chelsea. What tasks await him before he can right the ship? To answer that question, you have to first look at the current state of affairs at Stamford Bridge.
The anchor that’s been dragging the Blues down this season hasn’t necessarily been the manager — though AVB’s tactical and personnel choices weren’t always the wisest for the squad that he’s had — but rather an aging core of players that have an unusually large amount of influence at the club. Terry, Cole, Drogba and most notably Lampard were all reportedly at fault for undermining Villas-Boas both in the locker room and the board room. Yet aside from perhaps Lampard, none have performed well enough this season to justify such importance and sway.
When André Villas-Boas was brought in this summer, his first action should have been to break up the veteran-core. One thing that would allow him to do is implement his new playing system without the friction of the older players who are used to the old style of play. Secondly, breaking up that group would also lessen the odds of anyone challenging his authority.
Lampard and Drogba could have easily been shipped out for decent money, despite their lofty ages. Ashley Cole could have been put on a tighter, don’t-shoot-the-staff leash. And don’t get me started on how John Terry’s toxic ego is poisoning the drinking well. But due to drawn out nature of his appointment, AVB didn’t have enough time to flip them for new players before the start of the season… so he was stuck with them.
Unfortunately, this core group of influential players still remain very close to Mourinho. After all, he was the one that assembled and guided them to prominence. That they all admitted to regularly communicating with their old boss this season underlines how close they are to the guy still.
How is Mourinho possibly supposed to come back and tell them — the guys he’s still friends with — that he’s going to have to give them the boot?
Sure, he’s got a steely personality and doesn’t take smack from anyone. But would you have the cojones to tell a friend, who you’ve been propping up and reassuring all season through text messages, “Sorry guy, you actually do suck and need to move on”? I don’t think I could.
Even if Mourinho could push some of the old guard out, he still won’t be out of the woods. The Chelsea Mourinho would inherit now is not the up and coming squad that he took over in 2004, but rather a fading one with its best years behind it. There’s still a good deal of rebuilding left to do at the club, and he’ll need not only financial backing to bring in fresh faces, but he’ll also need time adjust them to the Mourinho code.
And time, if you recall, is exactly what Villas-Boas was reportedly assured of when he was charged with the project of overhauling the squad. We saw how well that worked out for the young manager. There’s no way a man as smart as the Special One could have overlooked that as anything but the same type of broken promises he’s seen before, right?
Think about it like this: to José Mourinho, this Chelsea job is like a hot ex-girlfriend. Despite all of the feelings of nostalgia, the familiarity, and the everyone will totally understand why you hooked back up with her… because she’s hot. But everyone also knows that you really shouldn’t be hooking up with her either, since she’s got a crazy dad that says he likes you one day, but the next day he’s got a shotgun to you pushing you out the front door.
Long story short, I just don’t think there’s anyway that an ambitious Mourinho will take this Chelsea job. There’s too much history there, and deep down he knows he won’t get the control that he wants. Unless Abramovich promises he’ll stay far away in Russia and not pay attention to team affairs, a Mourinho-Chelsea reunion feels very unlikely.
Besides, there are potentially other jobs in London that he would be a much better fit for…