Few subjects illuminate Jose Mourinho as much as his admiration for Alex Ferguson.
When the Scot called time on his hugely successful dynasty at Manchester United in 2013, it was widely accepted that the modern game would never again witness a manager with such an all-consuming influence at a football club.
This fact remains, but the clinical control with which Chelsea have dominated England’s top flight on their way to a fourth Premier League title means it is hard to imagine a coach who commands the levels of authority and respect that Mourinho does at Stamford Bridge.
The Portuguese spoke of owner Roman Abramovich hugging players in the Chelsea dressing room after they carried out their manager’s arch-pragmatism to the letter in last weekend’s much-discussed goalless draw at Arsenal.
Given the manner of Mourinho’s initial departure from Chelsea in 2007 and Abramovich’s subsequent trigger-happy relationship with the incumbents of his dugout, the image of these group hugs in the bowels of Emirates Stadium feels particularly significant.
The Russian billionaire is said to have fallen in love with football when he witnessed Manchester United and Real Madrid pummelling each other to a goal-laden standstill in the 2003 UEFA Champions League and the ruthless efficiency of Mourinho’s back-to-back 2004-05 and 2005-06 Premier League titles ultimately could not live up to Abramovich’s high ideals.
After a shock parting of ways in September 2007 – officially by that old favourite “mutual consent” – Abramovich entrusted a parade of coaches with making his vision a reality. Luiz Felipe Scolari and Andre Villas-Boas each failed to see out a season following high-profile appointments, Carlo Ancelotti was gone a year after securing the Premier League and Roberto Di Matteo six months on from masterminding Champions League glory.
Channelling his inner Eric Morecambe, the late English comedian, Abramovich appeared to be telling his managers that they were playing all the right notes, just not necessarily in the right order. With his handling of managerial affairs becoming a joke about which the Stamford Bridge faithful were unable to crack a smile, he swallowed his pride and called for the straight man who made his act such a success in the first place.
Mourinho’s Chelsea 2.0 are a winning machine without pretence, unencumbered by any notion of fulfilling Abramovich’s old fantasy football brief.
Last season, Mourinho insisted his developing side were not yet ready to win the title. He was ultimately proved right as a swashbuckling Manchester City pipped a similarly buccaneering Liverpool to top spot.
Where the masses saw entertainment, Mourinho saw weakness. City and Liverpool were beaten home and away by Chelsea in 2013-14 as he laid the groundwork for his third Premier League crown.
This time around, City shared a pair of 1-1 draws against Chelsea and made most of the running in both games. It mattered little as Manuel Pellegrini’s men slipped up elsewhere with a regularity unimaginable for Mourinho’s current line-up.
Thibaut Courtois, Branislav Ivanovic, John Terry, Gary Cahill and Cesar Azpilicueta would be one of the most formidable defensive units ever seen in the league, even without the imperious Nemanja Matic patrolling the space in front of them.
But Chelsea offer joy more often than their detractors are willing to admit. Eden Hazard, as the league’s most dazzling star, has rightly scooped the end-of-season awards. Anyone bored by the Belgian in full flight alongside Cesc Fabregas’ stylish scheming and Diego Costa’s powerhouse goal-getting should probably consider watching another sport.
One imagines Mourinho would tell them as much in no uncertain terms. And, this time around, Abramovich would have his back.
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