It seems incredible that after two consecutive Premierships, currently in the hunt for a third and alive and well in the Champions League, that anyone should want to doubt Jose Mourinho. But for me at least, the nagging doubts have surfaced.
OK, I’m not sure who is really calling the shots at Chelsea these days – maybe a number of different people are – but for whatever reason I think we had the worst pre-season we have had in a long time. I’m not just talking results and performances, which were not good, but the fact we contrived to go into the season with only three central defenders and three strikers. Conventional wisdom dictates four in each position is the norm, and if you consider our strikers include the inexperienced Salomon Kalou and defenders the dodgy Khalid Boulahrouz, you could argue we have just two strikers and two central defenders. Now this clearly isn’t good enough. We are hostages to fortune for loss of form, injury and suspension all of which plague any league season, all of which have come back to haunt us now.
Robert Huth had to go. He was never a Chelsea player in my view. But Eidur Gudjohnsen? I simply do not understand that piece of business. If Mourinho could find no place for him and sanctioned the move, it is a sheer blunder. All of us who have watched Chelsea with Gudjohnsen know we were usually a better team when he played, and I refuse to believe he would not be worthy of a place in our current line up. The handling of William Gallas was farcical. From what I have read, Gallas behaved disgracefully, no question of that. But I don’t see why we couldn’t have seen that at any point over the summer months, and acted accordingly and in good time. Our dithering cost us dearly. We lose Gallas at the last minute to our great rivals (he should have been left to rot in the reserves before we let that happen) and his arrival certainly kick started their season. OK we got Ashley Cole in return, but ask anyone and 90% will say Arsenal got the best end of that deal. Compare this shambles to Barcelona. While we are in the grip of inertia or at best running around in circles, they quietly and efficiently move in for two world class defenders from Juventus, at a third of the cost we pay for a non-striking striker. Why weren’t we involved in these deals? Mourinho identifies we are a full back short and we can all see we are a central defender short yet these players drift by.
That brings us to Andriy Shevchenko, and Michael Ballack for that matter. What upsets me is not that they have failed to perform, but that it was so obvious they would fail to perform. I said to anyone who would listen Shevchenko would never cut it here. Firstly, strikers who made a name in Serie A often struggle here, and secondly in Serie A not that many goals earn an inflated reputation. Both apply to Shevchenko. Mourinho is correct not to play him. Shevchenko can shrug and sulk all he wants, but his performances would not earn him a place in a Championship side. Chelsea fans who watched Germany in the World Cup must have been concerned at the lack of contribution from Ballack. Admittedly he was hampered by injury, but nevertheless he looked a player whose powers were waning, and he has certainly delivered a number of anonymous performances in a Chelsea shirt. We buy big players for big games. When they fail to turn up for them, as at Anfield, it makes you wonder what use they are at all. I feared with Ballack and Shevchenko we were buying players on the downward slope, and sadly my fears appear to be realised.
But I started off with doubts about Mourinho didn’t I? OK it’s open to conjecture how much influence he has over transfers, but one would assume a man with his reputation and personality must have a great deal of input. I find it impossible to believe the sale of Gallas and Gudjohnsen and acquisitions of Shevchenko, Ballack and Boulahrouz were not at least run by him. And his policy of operating with a lean squad must be open to question when we are undoubtedly at least one player short up front and in central defence? Balance of the squad is surely his domain.
Now the team’s performances. I will stick my neck out here and say it is now two years since we have performed well on a consistent basis, either side of Christmas in the 2004/05 season. Did we ever get going last season? Have we got going so far this season? I don’t know about you, but I think under Mourinho entertainment has been at a premium, and as for the first half of games we may as well stay at home an extra 45 minutes. The cautious-patient-grind out narrow wins philosophy is all very well as long as we are winning, which thankfully we did over the last 2 seasons. But when the winning stops and teams are no longer scared of us, we look a very easy team to play against, we end up scrambling and looking ragged chasing late victories, and when teams take the lead I don’t think Mourinho knows how to chase a game and come back to win. How many times have we conceded a relatively early goal and not been able to come back? Now Manchester United are exposing how we may be good front runners, but Mourinho and the team don’t seem to have the stomach for an uphill battle to chase them down.
Mourinho has a front runner philosophy. His game plan is to get in front in games, and lead from the front in the league. When it doesn’t work out that way, I can’t see he has a Plan B. Which makes me wonder, if Mourinho doesn’t work out, if we should be looking at a Plan B.