By David de Winter – Sports Editor
Stop press. Hold the phone. Take a seat because this news is going to knock you off your feet. Sitting comfortably? Ready? Wait for it…So get this – in a post-match interview after the Chelsea v Burnley match, Jose Mourinho actually had a pop at a referee! I know right? I literally had to watch the clip with my own eyes 5 or 6 times before I could even contemplate believing what I had seen. It was so unexpected, so unlike every other Mourinho press conference ever in his managerial career.
When Jose Mourinho sauntered into English football in the summer of 2004 we couldn’t get enough of him. The press, fans, players, fellow managers; everyone wanted a piece of ‘The Special One.’ Part of the allure of the ex-Porto boss was that he was so cocksure and boastful. Who proclaims themselves ‘The Special One’ having achieved diddly squat in the English game? No British manager would dare make such outrageous claims. Mourinho was something different though; a breath of fresh air; someone to take on the dominance of the equally objectionable Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger. This was part of his so-called ‘charm’ and we lapped it up.
Fast forward 10 and a half years and that fresh-faced, boldy outspoken yet steely manager has been replaced with a moaning, whingeing and tiresome man who is constantly complaining about some perceived injustice towards him, his team and his club. Mourinho used to play the ‘us against them’ card very well in the early years. He would create a siege mentality within Chelsea (he also used the tactic at Real Madrid), often emanating from a completely fabricated event. This galvanised the team so effectively that he won back to back Premier League titles in his first two seasons at Stamford Bridge.
Now though, these jibes and accusations are becoming all too predictable. Referees are not rising to it and the FA, to their credit, are not buying it. Mourinho still complains (witness Diego Costa’s stamp on Emre Çan, the ‘ghost’ goal from the 2005 Champions League Semi-Final which he still brings up, the ‘park the bus’ jibe) but now they falls on deaf ears. We’ve all heard it all before Jose.
Nevertheless I still grudgingly admire him for his persistence. He rarely, if ever, criticises his players in public (Eden Hazard was the exception last season). Instead he prefers to take the blame or highlight some refereeing calls that didn’t go Chelsea’s way, all the more so if his team has performed below par. His loyalty to his philosophy and his players are unswerving and for that he must be applauded. I have no doubt that in private he is more than capable of lambasting his players when necessary but, to create togetherness within the squad, he will always divert the spotlight away from a negative performance and onto some other ‘injustice’ instead.
Mourinho’s ‘park the bus’ comment is almost comical in its hypocrisy. I’m sure even he is aware it. When Chelsea play away, especially in the Champions League knockout rounds, they play to stifle the opposition with strict instructions to not commit forward. Wingers play as supplementary full-backs; strikers play as the first line of defence; full-backs do not venture beyond the halfway line. Chelsea’s recent 1-1 draw at PSG is a case in point. One shot on target – one goal. It is an enormously effective tactic that requires stern discipline, unwavering commitment and staggering attention to detail but it is also deathly boring to watch. However, Mourinho doesn’t deal in entertainment – he deals in winning and his teams win more often than not.
Except that he hasn’t for a season and a half. Mourinho has a chance to put that right on Sunday in the Capital One Cup Final and I think there is a fair bit of pressure on him to deliver. Despite having easily the best squad last season, Chelsea still contrived to finish third in the Premier League. Much is made of the two Champions League titles he has won and rightly so, but he has also lost 6 out of 8 semi-finals in the competition with Chelsea and Real Madrid – not a statistic to be proud of.
I feel Mourinho is in danger of creating too much of a circus around Chelsea. Because he is always complaining and putting pressure on referees in post/pre-match press conferences, referees are as a result almost going out of their way to show that they are not predisposed towards Chelsea. At the weekend Nemanja Matic got himself sent off against Burnley. Yes I know it was a horror challenge from Ashley Barnes, but Matic’s brainless reaction ended up costing his side two points. Instead of moaning about how hard done by Chelsea are, he should focus on how his side did not beat a team in the relegation zone with by far the lowest budget in the league in front of an expectant home crowd (no disrespect to Burnley whom I greatly admire).
So the result on Sunday takes on greater significance for Mourinho. Lose and the pressure will definitely be on to win one of, or both the Premier League and the Champions League. A second season without silverware is almost unthinkable at Stamford Bridge. His barbs towards other managers, teams, opposition players, referees, and even governing bodies have become wearisome. There is a saying somewhere in the bible which goes something like “take the plank out of your own eye before you take the splinter out of your neighbour’s eye.” Perhaps Mourinho should stop being such a plank, put the controversy, the circus and his ego to one side and concentrate on doing what he does best – winning football matches.