Chelsea and Jose Mourinho - It takes two to untangle

Compliments to the season: the Premier League’s relationship to anything at all resembling ‘the greatest league in the world’ might exist primarily in the minds of the television brand masters but, credit where it’s due, the 2015/16 model is the gift that just keeps on giving.

Chelsea and Jose Mourinho - It takes two to untangle

The eye-popping sight of pre-season relegation certainties Leicester City sitting proudly on top of the tree should be virtually unassailable as the Premier League story of 2015.

But now, just like that, it’s been eclipsed at the box office by the mother of all blockbusters, coming to you from a galaxy not very far away at all: ‘Star Wars – The Force Goes To Sleep’.

Actually, I can already think of one rip-roaring sequel that would beat even the second parting of the ways between Chelsea and Jose Mourinho but, not being one for spoilers, you’ll just have to read on to the end of the column to find out.

From ‘no way, Jose’ to ‘way’, Mourinho’s abrupt exit from Stamford Brige was Chelsea’s five-month-long decline compressed into a seismic 10 minutes after a festive lunch in the canteen at Cobham on Thursday when, under orders from the boss, a couple of boardroom hitmen turned up to tell him he wasn’t wanted round here no more.

By four o’clock, he’d emptied his desk, said his goodbyes and was on his way.

Considering the extent of the turmoil at Stamford Bridge, it was with good reason that many observers characterised the news as that paradoxical phenomenon: a shock but not a surprise.

And I strongly suspect Mourinho, despite all his recent declarations about being determined to stay at the club, felt pretty much the same way.

Indeed, his by turns self-aggrandising and player-lacerating comments at a press conference following last Monday’s defeat to Leicester were, even by his own often extreme standards, so wildly provocative - “betrayal” was an especially loaded word - that it’s hard to shake off the suspicion he not only saw the day of his departure coming, but actively sought to get it over with sooner rather than later.

There was a certain symmetry to it all, too: a truncated season which had begun with Mourinho shamefully turning on one of his own staff, Dr Eva Caneiro, concluded with him hanging his team out to dry.

Or, as the ever excellent Danny Taylor put it: the manager who had popularised the expression ‘parking the bus’ ended up throwing his team under it.

Not that Mourinho was wrong to be critical of players who, the dependable Willian apart, have been unrecognisable individually and collectively as the formidable, if hardly exceptional, side which lifted the title last May.

No, the problem wasn’t what Mourinho said, but where he said it and how he said it.

That, and the fact he appeared to be not only absolving himself of any responsibility for this season’s abject under-achievement but, worse, retrospectively claiming the bulk of the credit for his players having over-achieved in claiming the glittering prize last time out.

One possibility to explain their recent troubles he said, was that after a bad start, and with no domestic incentive to motivate them – and no counter-balancing perception that relegation was a real threat either – his team had gone into a kind of snooze mode in the Premier League. (And there might even be something in this, considering how much better Chelsea performed against Porto to top their Champions League group, in between losing to Bournemouth and Leicester).

But the other possibility, as Mourinho interpretated it, was simply breathtaking. “Sometimes I find myself thinking that last season I did such an amazing job I brought players to a level that is not their true level,” he said, “and, if this is true, I brought them to such a level where this season they couldn’t keep the super motivation to be leaders and champions.”

You’d like to imagine this little speech was served up with a nice dollop of sarcasm - until you remember that self-deprecation is not something a man who titled himself ‘The Special One’ is likely to have in his locker.

Once those quotes were in the paper, the writing was on the wall – and Mourinho, as much as Roman Abramovich, must have known that.

Of course, it’s about results first and foremost and, with no clear sign, at least on the domestic front, that Mourinho was any closer to finding a productive response to defeat than he had been since the heavy loss to Manchester City in the second game of the season, it’s hard to see how he could have survived longer-term, short of the club hierarchy settling for prgression in the Champions League bonus but otherwise writing off the season before it was even half-way through.

That has never been the owner’s form, of course, Stamford Bridge in the Abramovich era being the kind of place where a manager is as likely to be sacked for success as failure.

The difference was that this was Jose Mourinho, a serial winner globally recognised as a manager with the Midas touch, something which, particularly on his second coming in west London, appeared to render him virtually bullet-proof.

It also explains why plenty of Chelsea loyalists, happy to honour well-earned reputation above current grim reality, are aghast at the club’s decision.

Schadenfreude might be all the rage across London at the Emirates just now, and with good reason you’d have to say, but it’s precisely because failure is not a Mourinho speciality that he has seemed so uncharacteristically out of his depth this season, alternatively looking hapless, helpless and raging ineffectually against the dying of the light in the Chelsea dug-out.

But the players have to shoulder their share of the blame.

It’s one thing for a manager to lose the dressing room – or at least that key portion of it which effectively amounts to the same thing – but it doesn’t automatically follow, or at least it shouldn’t, that the players have to lose the plot. (Though can I just say here that, for obvious reasons, I won’t object if Eden Hazard delays locating his mojo again until, say, July at the earliest).

I mean, pardon my seeming naivety, but what about such old-fashioned concepts as playing for pride, for the shirt, for each other or for the supporters the players are only too happy to hail as the 12th man when things turn out well?

If it takes two to tango, it also takes two to untangle, and quite where their respective paths will now take this Chelsea team and their ex-manager is not easy to predict, other than that relegation is surely unthinkable for the club and rehabilitation in some more congenial setting an almost certainty for Mourinho.

Which brings us back to where we came in, and my suggestion - speaking on behalf of all us neutrals, if I may – that there’s only one possible plot twist which could conceivably top what this crazy, compelling and cock-eyed Premier League season has given us thus far.

(Takes out sheet of paper and begins writing with crayon): “Dear Santa, can you please, please, please, please, please, deliver Jose Mourinho to Old Trafford...”

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