There are certain managers for whom every public utterance is scrutinised, dissected and happily challenged by the frothing wolves of a media pack all too eager to sink their teeth into any perceived contradictions or mistruths.
For the modern-day football manager the media are every inch as formidable an opponent as the identity of the man in the next dugout, a foe to be taken lightly at their peril. For every manager that is, except Jose Mourinho, for whom every laughably absurd and self-serving address is treated with as much deference and sincerity as though it were delivered from a mount in the Middle East a few millennia ago.
In fact, it’s difficult to think of a more prolific expounder of nonsense in the world of football than the Portugese for whom every campaign can be filed into one of two categories; the successful ones and the ones in which he was cheated. For in Jose’s world there can be no other explanation for short-comings. Eliminated from the Champions League at Camp Nou? Clearly the referree’s fault and not the person responsible for playing Robert Huth up front. Lose a Champions League Semi-final against a Liverpool side costing a fraction of his own team? Clearly the fault of the linesman and nothing to do with his own side’s failure to resister a single attempt on target over 180 minutes against a defence containing Djimi Troare. Unable to budge Barcelona from their perch? Why, a Uefa conspiracy, of course, and nothing to do with an inability to get the best out of the most expensively assembled side in the history of the game.
The list goes on. In the world of Jose there is only winning and victimhood. Retaining a level of infallibility the likes of which a dozen popes could only dream, Mourinho’s list of excuses and qualification for failure is truly extraordinary, but his latest one surely tops them all and once more the mainstream media report his comments almost entirely without challenge. According to the Chelsea boss, his team are ‘a small horse’ (underdog to you and me) in this season’s title race. Although this ploy is as nakedly self-serving as all his others, it deserves particular attention.
Designed to both deflect any potential criticism should his side fail to secure the title, as well as amplify the praise should they succeed, Mourinho’s assertion that Chelsea be considered underdogs has taken managerial nonsense to a whole new level. To hear Mourinho talk of his prospects of success in the current campaign you could be forgiven for thinking he was managing Hull or Cardiff or even Liverpool.
The reality, of course, is that the Portugese is actually in charge of the club who have spent more money than any other over both the past decade and year. In total, Chelsea have added £230 million worth of talent to a squad that won the European Cup, just 21 short months ago, with close to a hundred million of it being spent since Mourinho returned to the club last summer.
One can only assume these low expectations have been generally accepted as a result of Chelsea finishing third in last season’s title race, but even that reasoning holds no weight. Whilst true that Chelsea finished some way off eventual winners Manchester United last term, they accumulated a mere three points less than Manchester City, their main rival for this season’s title and, according to Mourinho, the runaway favourites.
The Chelsea manager has tried to temper expectations by claiming the squad he’s inherited is in need of so much work that any title challenge this season would be unrealistic but this flies in the face of all evidence. Despite out-spending his City counterpart Manuel Pellegrini and having an invaluable advantage over the Chilean in terms of Premiership experience, the Chelsea boss is effectively claiming that last season’s three point gap between the clubs represents an unbridgeable chasm. This is every bit as absurd as it sounds.
Whilst Mourinho would like us to believe he was bequeathed an over-the-hill, clapped out cart-horse, in truth he took the reigns of a champion thoroughbred in the finest of fettle. In the final third of the 2012/13 season Interim Manager Rafael Benitez had the Stamford Bridge side in title-winning form, averaging 2.3636 points-per-game, a ratio that compares favourably with Mourinho’s 2.192 so far this season.
In fact, Chelsea’s form over the final three months of last season was by a distance the best in the division and extrapolated over the season would have given them a total of 89 points – six more than Chelsea are currently on course to achieve.
Add to this the fact that Benitez had the Pensioners producing better football, utilising the strengths of his three attacking midfielders – Oscar, Edin Hazard and Juan Mata – in equal measure, and an argument could easily be made that all Mourinho had to do was continue Benitez’ excellent work. Instead, due to either folly or pride, the Portugese decided to rip up the Spaniard’s template and as a result the Blues are earning fewer points-per-game, scoring less goals and playing football far less pleasing on the eye – due in no small part to the demotion and eventual sale of their most gifted footballer, Mata.
So, although currently top of the table with the distinct possibility of securing his third Premiership title, the notion that Mourinho is somehow over-achieving this season is clearly nonsense. In reality, despite outspending most other managers in the country since his return, Mourinho is struggling to keep pace with his predecessor, the much-maligned Benitez, who not only had the team achieving better results in the league, but also oversaw a successful Europa League campaign, a run to the FA Cup semi-finals and had to deal with the not inconsiderable distraction of the World Club Cup (all of which was achieved with no pre-season and little-to-no backing in the transfer market.)
Whilst the threat from Manchester City is unquestionably great, in reality it is Manuel Pellegrini’s men who should be considered the ‘little horse’ due to the Chilean’s inexperience of the Premier League and English football in general. Whereas visits to the likes of Stoke, Sunderland and Aston Villa represent trips into the unknown for Pellegrini, (as can be seen from City’s poor results against these and other similarly ‘unfashionable’ opponents) they are old hat for Mourinho, whose previous three and a half campaigns in England have made him alert to the pitfalls of underestimating the league’s less glamorous sides.
It is this experience, allied to a squad of world class multiple domestic and European winners that makes Chelsea the favourites to collect the Premiership trophy come May. Although he has deviated slightly from his usual ploy by getting the excuses in early this time, Mourinho’s assertion that the Blues cannot be expected to win the title this season should nonetheless be given the short shrift it deserves.
When one considers that he inherited a team in title winning form and off the back of consecutive successful European campaigns, an argument could be made that this season’s title is the very least Mourinho should be expected to deliver. Anything less than the title can only be considered a failure, regardless of what Mourinho or a seemingly duped media insist.