There were huge contrasts in the reaction to Jose Mourinho’s sacking as Chelsea manager on Thursday.
Fans of Chelsea were understandably disappointed that the man who led the club during last season’s title win had now been removed as club manager. Meanwhile, Mourinho’s detractors – of which he has seen a growing number this season following a number of unsavoury incidents – were quick to celebrate some misfortune by a man who enjoys highlighting his successes, as well as drawing attention to the perceived failures of rivals.
Personally, I was disappointed in the sacking, and for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, Chelsea looked to have made some progress in the way that, as a club, they deal with disappointments on the pitch. Rather than sack Mourinho in the earlier stages of Chelsea’s ongoing run of poor form, there was a greater amount of support given to the manager than has so often been the case.
This is unusual in modern football, but a necessary step towards stability. Every club will go through a rough spell of form from time to time, and fail to get results that are sought, but the measure of the character of all involved is in the subsequent response.
Wigan and, more recently, Leicester are two examples of how trusting in the manager and players to come through bad patches can pay greater dividends than chopping and changing at the first sign of trouble. On the other hand, there are many examples of clubs who have gone into freefall – over a period of a few seasons, if not immediately – due to a hire-and-fire mentality of the owners.
One reason why Roman Abramovich is perhaps not too worried about stability is that Chelsea tend to recover quite quickly, and their talented squad of players generally respond well to whichever high profile replacement is brought into the club.
Avram Grant was initially given the manager’s job until the end of the 2007-08 season following Jose Mourinho’s first Chelsea departure, and went on to lead the club to their first Champions League Final. Roberto Di Matteo went one better as caretaker manager in 2012, while Rafa Benitez earnt Roman Abramovich his only other piece of European silverware whilst appointed manager on a short term contract.
It’s likely that Guus Hiddink, if appointed for a second time at Stamford Bridge, will do just fine, too. The squad he takes charge of are not lacking in quality and in a season that has seen more unusual results than usual, there’s certainly enough games left for Chelsea to close the gap on teams occupying the European places.
But the other reason for hoping Mourinho stayed at Chelsea was to see how he coped with a challenge unlike any he has faced before.
Mourinho has been accustomed to spending extravagent sums of money at each of the clubs he has managed since first arriving at Chelsea – despite usually inheriting squads that are already packed full of quality players.
A great motivator Mourinho may be when things are going well, but the situation that Chelsea are in is something that Mourinho has never previously had to deal with.
With squads of powerful, talented players, Mourinho’s teams often start seasons so strongly that they are out of sight and carry an aura of invincibility with them through the remainder of the season. Mourinho manages to create a belief in his team that ensures a high level of confidence, and opponents often play as if they know they’re inferior.
Something has clearly gone wrong this season based on the difficulty that Mourinho has had in coming close to replicating last year’s success, with all of the club’s most influential players underperforming. To help the team regain confidence and earn the kind of results that a squad of Chelsea’s ability should be achieving, would give added ammunition for those claiming Mourinho to be one of the best managers of all time.
But without demonstarting the ability to come through such a challenge, there will remain a question mark over whether Mourinho is capable of overseeing that kind of situation without always having to resort to big money signings to address any issue.
Sacking Mourinho now has deprived fans of observing a top manager deal with a serious problem of an unfamiliar nature. It’s also given Mourinho a bit of an easy way out, and he’ll no doubt point to factors other than himself as the reasons behind Chelsea’s dramatic demise – be it refereeing decisions or underperforming players.
So Mourinho leaves Chelsea with a slightly bruised reputation, but nothing that will prevent one of Europe’s biggest clubs from appointing him as their manager – probably within a matter of months.
And as for Chelsea? They’ll probably be just fine, too. With maybe a trophy or two to show off to rival fans revelling in their so-called demise.