It’s been eight months since The Special One walked away from Stamford Bridge. Eight months which have seen him mourned like a lost loved one. And whilst that may sound a little dramatic – even I’m starting to think I over analyse – the process to get to this point, where I can think about him without any connection at all, has been a lot like grieving. From the initial denial of what I was hearing when the news broke; through the anger at anyone and everyone to blame (except him of course); for bargaining, read saying my prayers in the vain hope of a return once the catastrophic mistake had been realised; then depression, or at the very least frustration, bitterness and a large helping of self pity, ensuring I allowed myself very little pleasure at all from the season; and its only now that acceptance has finally descended, I can sit back and look at his time with us more objectively.
Or maybe it’s because we now find ourselves no worse off in the league, in fact, slightly closer to Utd than last season but also for the first time in our history, in the Champions League final. Not only have we done that in the absence of our previous messiah, we’ve done it under a manager I have absolutely no faith in whatsoever. So either my prediction in the wake of Grant’s appointment, that even my old nan could get a game out of a squad like ours, was correct, or he’s a better manager than Jose ever was. Well of course that’s not true by any stretch of even the most generous imagination, but the achievements without Jose this season have certainly shattered a lot of illusions about him.
Taking nothing away from him, he did win the Champions League with Porto – we know because we watched him walk away before the first champagne cork was popped. His job there was done and for all his devotion announced to the press, his reaction spoke volumes – they’d served their purpose. He’d taken what many (myself included) regarded as a pretty average club, without the sort of funding he was later to become accustomed with (something else I used in his defence many times) to the pinnacle as far as European competitions go – and won. But average, as hard as we may have argued the case in the past, isn’t really a word that best describes a team who, domestically had already won almost 20 Portuguese titles, even more Portuguese cups and Super cups, the European Champions cup, the European Super cup and the Intercontinental cup before Mourinho’s arrival. Not that I’d ever have admitted any of that once he walked through the Stamford Bridge gates.
Because the sour taste left over from footage of his Porto departure didn’t take long to dissolve as, oozing charisma he toyed with the press from day one. After the shy and retiring Ranieri, his cocky self assurance was a breath of fresh air. His level of confidence was second to none and that soon transferred to the players and supporters alike. Even the press liked him to start with. And that faith we had in TSO was soon rewarded as he delivered back-to-back titles and the silver shiny things we used to have. But whilst his first season was rampant, totally blowing the opposition away and getting the credit he rightfully deserved, it never quite felt the same the second time round.
Mourinho had already inherited a squad capable of playing football to be admired, a squad who had previously finished second in the league and reached the Champions League semi finals. So, this clearly wasn’t a team requiring anything ‘special’. He’d got an abundance of talent with which to entertain and yet, having promised we’d “have some fun” with him around, he clearly wasn’t referring to the football itself as he embarked on a major transformation. Certainly, his defensive style was effective and we celebrated many of the benefits of it during his reign, but with all that money and talent at his disposal, the wins started to feel a little empty.
I’m not saying there was nothing to admire about him, in terms of man-management, he was extremely adept and his ability to motivate, phenomenal. Good players like Terry, Lampard and Joe Cole were transformed under his tutelage. He even bought the odd decent player, although these really were few and far between in terms of a return for the substantial amount he spent. And maybe if his defensive style had continued to bring in the trophies, he may have been forgiven the odd bit of tedium, but despite the sheer amount of money invested, injuries left what should have been a more than capable squad, unbelievably depleted.
And so the wheels started to work themselves loose. We couldn’t get past Liverpool in Europe, lost our edge to Utd in the league and the odd bit of sarcasm in the press became full blown rants, attacking everyone from officials to Portuguese whiz-kids in an effort to divert attention from the real problem – we were starting to slide. But this, for me, is where the ‘special’ bit really comes in. When everyone else is sick and tired of his rantings and ravings, only too glad to see the back of him, who else but Mourinho could inspire such adulation and devotion from both fans and players? Who else could have supporters baying for the blood of a man who’d saved them from financial ruin, in order to save his own skin? His manipulation knew absolutely no bounds and that was his real genius.
Just as he’d used Grant’s arrival as yet another example of why the title wasn’t won, so we blamed Grant for his subsequent departure. Now whether Grant was a factor or not, we’ll never be 100% sure but let’s not forget it was Mourinho who planted the seed firmly in our minds to start with, thus ensuring his successor would never receive the total adoration he’d enjoyed. We thought he was ‘special’ and for a while, he was, but just like Porto, his loyalty to us (the supporters) was conditional. As long as he needed us, he’d make us feel special. After all, wouldn’t he have left if it wasn’t for us? Isn’t that what he said – right before he spoke of his regret at staying? Funny how that little gem coincided with Grant’s apparent achievement and the beginnings of his acceptance.
And talking of acceptance, that’s about where we are now in terms of Mourinho. I’ll never doubt he was a very good manager for us, the best so far, but at the end of the day he was just a manager and it’s time to move on.