The King is Dead…

Long live the King. In the words of Lloyd Bridges as Steve McCroskey in Airplane, it looks like I picked a bad week to give up smoking.

Let’s face it, it was never likely to end in a triumphant victory lap of the Stamford Bridge pitch with a handful of trophies and bear hugs from Roman and his retinue.

Whilst Uncle Ken may have upped sticks and moved to Yorkshire, his ghost clearly still stalks the corridors of Chelsea Football Club. And even he might be envious at the manner of Roman’s axe-wielding.

The recent sight of our benefactor leaving Villa Park, pausing briefly to shake the hand of Doug Ellis (no stranger himself to the managerial machete) on his way out was, with hindsight, not just that of a man in a hurry to make his flight home.

Football in the 21st century may be a very different game in some respects, but some things haven’t changed. Whilst the owners may be a new breed of wealthy, powerful individuals, the song they often sing remains the same.

Once there was Deadly Doug, now there is Ruthless Roman.

Amongst the whirlwind driven soap opera that has surrounded Jose Mourinho since his arrival in SW6 just over three years ago, it should be remembered quite how dramatically he changed the DNA of an underachieving football club.

Whilst many of the personnel still remain, the pre-Mourinho Chelsea was something light years away from the one we have today. We were a some-time music hall joke, nearly men – winning the occasional cup, having the odd once in a lifetime shot at the big time which was invariably blown in spectacular style.

I mean, has there ever been a more mind-blowing, catastrophic fuck up than Claudio Ranieri’s kamikaze approach to the Champions League semi-final with Monaco? So typically Chelsea.

To make the team successful, there needed to be a dramatic change of culture, the type of which usually comes from an individual so driven, so single minded and hell-bent on success that their personality courses through every vein of the club – Ferguson and Wenger being prime examples of this.

The money helped him, of course. But as the afore-mentioned United and Arsenal men, along with many others, pointed out on Mourinho’s arrival in the country, it doesn’t guarantee you success.

He inherited a strong team from Ranieri, but added that touch of magic. The sexy football we’d seen from Gullit’s side; the steel evident in Vialli’s team and an unshakeable belief that being beaten was simply for someone else.

If I live to see another Chelsea side as good as the one that lifted the 2004-5 title, I’ll consider myself very lucky.

And boy, did Jose piss a few people off on the way.

Arsenal fans started boasting about their class and how stylish their football was. They used to taunt us about the trophies they’d won and how often they beat us.

Liverpool fans even gave us our own song. I don’t think they’d ever really noticed us that much before Mourinho.

Sure, at times he overstepped the mark. Given the fines he has contributed to the FA in the last three years, if he doesn’t have his own box at Wembley there’s something wrong. Occasionally I cringed at his antics, as I’m sure many others, both inside and outside the club did.

But however much he antagonised and irritated, deep down there was always this wonderful, mischievous feeling.

That he’d taken my Chelsea, the bunch of flash underachievers from West London, and gatecrashed football’s VIP area, offended the long-standing club members to the point of apoplectic rage, nicked the champagne and left with the family silverware.

The “sssssshhhh” at the Liverpool fans in Cardiff. The cathartic slide across the Nou Camp turf on his knees. The Premiership medal discarded into the Matthew Harding Lower. All quintessential Jose – I’m sure you’ve got your own favourite Mourinho moments.

It’s difficult to summarise the difference the man from Portugal has made, but I’ll try. There are two events that, whilst worlds apart in football terms, actually took place just six years from each other.

April 18, 1999: my heart sank as Steve Guppy drove home Leicester’s equaliser at the Bridge, ultimately ending our first meaningful title challenge for some years. 2-0 up and cruising, the Blues succumbed to eight minutes of madness and blew their chance to lift the biggest prize in English football. I didn’t believe I’d ever see us get that close again during my lifetime.

April 30, 2005: The Reebok Stadium, 2-0 up and cruising towards the title. Chelsea – Premiership Champions. It still looks strange to see that in print, even now. Anyone who doubts quite what Mourinho did for the club need just consider that for a moment.

Can his shoes be filled? Can Avram Grant get us to the end of next April and still be in contention for all four trophies? Today, it feels impossible to perceive that he will be able to do so.

Or that anyone can, certainly in the short term, for that matter. Quite what Roman has done, other than delighting opposition fans and managers across the football world, I have no idea. After the Rosenborg game, Abramovich’s Champions League dream may have seemed a long way off; it might just be even further away by Christmas.

But that’s for another blog. For the time being, I’ll just say farewell Jose, the very best of luck wherever you go and thanks for everything. You were unquestionably arrogant, opinionated, outspoken and quite simply, the very best I’ve ever seen. Special doesn’t even begin to cover it.