Thursday, December 17, 2015

Special, but up to a point


The vaults of most news organisations contain the obituaries of public figures that are far from dead and, apart from all the normal odds about expiring through random bus/lightning/shark encounters, are unlikely to leave us any time soon.

Seeing as anyone of us could go at any time, these "obits" are written or recorded just in case, and updated as and when there is something notable. For the journalists preparing them for newspapers, television or radio, it is a fairly morbid task, countered by typical journalistic black humour (head over to YouTube and watch the entire episode of Drop The Dead Donkey devoted to GlobeLink updating their obituary library with inevitable calamity).

The reason I bring all this up is that it feels like I've been preparing for José Mourinho's second departure from Chelsea for months. Given the ease with which Roman Abramovich has dispensed with managerial staff for even looking at him the wrong way, Chelsea's relentless descent since the start of the season - from defending Premier League champions to relegation-threatened deadbeats - has carried an inevitability about Mourinho's firing that has gone almost frustratingly unfulfilled.

Amazingly, the Russian has shown restraint, and despite media gossip about how Abramovich couldn't afford to pay Mourinho off, or was too scared, the simple reality is that he has genuinely tried to give Mourinho every opportunity to turn it around. Monday's performance at Leicester City showed that it is beyond repair. If the dressing room relationship hadn't been broken before, it was now. If a moribund set of expensively compensated players were not going to reach deep and perform like they did in the first half of last season, and more pertinently, like they did against the most extraordinary of odds to win in Munich in May 2012, they weren't likely to do so anytime soon under Mourinho.

God knows who they will do it for now. Hiddink, Ramos, Ancelotti - all the usual suspects are being reeled off for an opening that seems all-too familiar: interim coach at Chelsea.

Journalists love a good car crash, and for all those pundits saying that Mourinho is good for business, with his soundbites and sometimes strangled-English quotes, Chelsea's season has been a 20-car pile-up in thick fog with the chief constable declaring it the worst he's ever seen in 30 years as a police officer.

Any motorway disaster needs its 'Patient Zero' - its initial moment of madness, the white van driver changing lanes without looking in his side mirror or the tailgating Belgian trucker behaving as if the rules of the local road don't apply to him. In the case of Chelsea's season, its hard to identify the trigger.

Was it the shattered bodies that returned from an all-too brief summer break? Was it the failure of the club to do any meaningful business in the summer transfer market? Was it the dismal pre-season tour? Was it Mourinho losing it unnecessarily over the medical staff on August 8, and then losing the dressing room with his treatment of Eva Carneiro, an event said to have weighed heavily on Eden Hazard, for one?

Perhaps it was all of these, with each calamity solidifying its predecessor, building up a toxic sediment around the club. It has been a disaster: the Carneiro incident should have been resolved on the spot and the pre-season lethargy should have been mitigated with a better use of the youth on offer (the under-18s beat Huddersfield 6-1 last night - don't tell me there is no hunger at Chelsea Football Club...!). These are things Mourinho himself could have fixed. But he didn't.

Earlier this week I wrote how managers carry the can too often for their players' failings. That is still true. But, as I've also written - ad nauseum - the malaise at Chelsea has been in the players' heads, not in their legs, even if those legs are still shattered from last season. If Chelsea's stars have been toiling, there has been no shortage of fresh young blood on the bench to relieve them with ambition. Mourinho, however, kept them on the bench, instead sticking with the failing Fàbregas, Hazard, Matic, Ivanovich and Costa, even adding to their woes by doing so.

Mourinho was a special one, and still is. He could, now, move to Manchester United and relieve them of that pompous clown van Gaal. We all wish José well. He was an extraordinary manager at Chelsea...when he was being extraordinary. When that expired, and his God complex kicked in, there was never a Plan B, just a rapidly unravelling Plan A. Which may not have been that special at all.

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