Six months ago Chelsea players were dousing each other with champagne, covered in confetti, revelling in the fans’ cheers and lifting the Premier League trophy.
Cut to December 2015 and they’ve lost eight games, their talisman John Terry is resigned to the bench, former top scorer Diego Costa has only three goals to his name and they sit fourteenth in the league.
It’d be easy to say this just an unfortunate run of form and that the champions will be get right back on top, but the history of the club suggests they won’t. With both Chelsea and José Mourinho, we’ve seen this before.
Amid the slick attacking sides, such as Barcelona and Bayern Munich, is another team that’s won the Champions League in recent years – the dogmatic Chelsea side of 2011-12. Many criticized that team for their “park-the-bus” defensive style that they rode all the way to defeat Bayern Munich in the Champions League final.
It’s a fair criticism for football purists to make, but nevertheless Chelsea took the trophy home and the history books don’t have an asterisk saying “yeah but they won ugly, and also Robben should have scored that penalty”.
Instead the criticism should be directed at what the Champions League winners did the following season.
Firstly they almost didn’t qualify for the competition again seeing as their domestic league form was so poor they finished fifth the season before. Perhaps a telling sign as they then went out of the Champions League in the group stage.
Roberto Di Matteo, the interim manager who led the club to its first and only Champion’s League victory, was fired and the wildly unpopular Rafa Benitez was brought in to countless boos from supporters.
That season may have ended in Chelsea hoisting a European trophy, but it in was the tournament widely considered second-tier and once deemed “rubbish” by Franck Ribery – the Europa League.
Meanwhile, Ribery and Bayern Munich went from being runners-up to Chelsea the year before, to winning the Champions League that season. Quite the different trajectories for the two finalists.
Since then Chelsea haven’t looked a major threat in the Champions League, and it wasn’t until Mourinho’s return that they came close to winning the Premier League again.
But Mourinho is also part of the problem.
Chelsea isn’t the only team in recent years to win the Champions League only to drop off from the competition. Inter Milan took the Serie A and European football by storm during Mourinho’s tenure at the club.
However, in his last season Inter Milan may have won the Champions League, but they went on to enter a period of turbulence the following seasons.
This is a trend that has followed Mourinho throughout his entire career, as he’s never been at a club for more than three seasons. Being the only manager to win the league in the top division in England, Italy, and Spain is an incredible achievement regardless. But given his brief spells at his clubs and the state he often leaves them in, it is clear sustainable success is not a priority of his.
Inter Milan soon crumbled after his departure, the following two seasons saw the club go through four different managers and drop to a sixth place finish in the Serie A.
Real Madrid was wrought with back-room distress during Mourinho’s last season. Dropping captain Iker Casillas caused a divide in the dressing room, and Casillas never recovered from that dip in form.
Winning the Champions League in 2014 was a massive achievement for the club but despite the heavy investment on players like James Rodríguez and Gareth Bale, Real Madrid has failed to mount a serious title challenge against Barcelona or even their cross-town rivals Atletico Madrid. They too have even resorted to the desperate measure of hiring Rafa Benitez.
This is very difficult from the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson who produced successful sides for over twenty years, constantly rebuilding entire squads. Developing the infamous class of ’92 was impressive, but even more impressive was continuing to win trophies after breaking up that group of renowned players.
Contrast that with Mourinho’s handling of Casillas’s decline in form, which sent an entire club into chaos.
Serial winning clubs have an infrastructure at the club that keeps them competitive regardless of the managers or players at their disposal. Many thought the Pep Guardiola Barcelona side that won 14 trophies in four years would flounder after the legendary manager and dynasty of players dispersed. But instead Barcelona won the treble last season.
This was done with a squad helmed by a former Barcelona player and Barcelona B coach in Luis Enrique, and that included some old faces like Lionel Messi and Andrés Iniesta combined with some heavy investment in new boys Luis Suarez and Neymar.
This balance between developing personnel within the club and acquiring the best talent on the market is how top clubs establish a more sustainable system of success.
Instead clubs like Chelsea look to garner immediate results through the impulsive implementation and abandonment of players, coaches, managers, and tactics.
With the right circumstances that can transform a struggling side very quickly, but it doesn’t instil any consistency at the club and so can also turn the team’s fortunates the other way just as easily. That’s how Chelsea are capable of going from being leagues leaders this time last year, to fourteenth place this season.
Remember the dominant Chelsea side that won the double in 2009-10? That could have been the makings of a Premier League dynasty. Instead the manger Carlo Ancelotti was fired the following season all for the hideous crime of finishing second.
Coincidently enough, Real Madrid who follow the same model of unsustainable success and have gone through several of the same mangers as Chelsea, have also fired Ancelotti all for the hideous crime of winning the Champions League and finishing second the following season.
Are the likes of Chelsea, Real Madrid, and Mourinho considered successful entities in the world of football? Of course they are. Will they be successful again? Of course they will. But the way they achieve success is the same reason they endure droughts of success as well.