Chelsea and change

Every transfer window, some loyal and long-suffering Chelsea fans who ‘suddenly’ found themselves two seasons ago dominating the Premiership and winning the big one are finding it difficult to accept the changes in the playing personnel at Chelsea and at the rate these changes take place. They’re used to relatively useful players signing up for the club and staying for ages till they’re diminishingly run aground and taken off to the knacker’s yard. These set of fans are finding it difficult still to understand that for a team to remain at the top in today’s very competitive environment, such a team would need to be constantly refreshed as new persons who need new challenges have to be brought in. To sustain a winning culture in a team sport and in a very competitive environment like today’s Premiership, you always need people who’re hungry for success as much as those with the experience of it. In the circumstances, what was quality yesterday would be average today and there will always be a constant turnover of players – some fans’ favourites and some not – but all moved along or moving along to make way for the constantly evolving winning vision.

In the wake of the sale of Gudjohnsen and Duff, some are already blaming Mourinho for selling off their favourites or for not making some of their favourites shine as they think they should in the way and manner he’s usually deployed them. But no one is considering the opportunity cost of Mourinho doing the opposite of what he’s doing now. In other words, no one has considered whether we would have achieved the success we have achieved so far under him if he had simply let players loose to their own devices without a team ethic, organization or plan. For inculcating the necessity of defending into every player’s play, Mourinho is accused of stifling the creative ones, even where clearly most of these chaps’ problems are as a result of a simple loss of form or injury.

From what I can see though, I think most fans understand that it is pretty tough keeping everyone in a team of superstars happy, especially where inevitably some have to constantly warm the bench or not even make it that far. Naturally, Mourinho cannot win in any situation, because there will always be those who’d consider him a villain for keeping them out, even if keeping them out wins us things as a team. Nonetheless, we can see how Mourinho is trying to change things now by reducing the number of players in the first team squad to 20 and including amongst these some very young players, as opposed to his previous idea of 24 superstars with two for every position. While the latter has served its purpose of creating the ultra-competitive culture, his new approach will give talented but unsung players opportunities, while reducing the tension in the established rank without compromising the competitive element. The point is Mourinho is not afraid to change old ideas, try new things and explain what he’s doing. Mourinho knows that only those who dare win, but even daring needs a lot of intelligence and order.

I think Mourinho is a better man manager than he’s been given credit for. Most of those who’ve moved on have always praised him for his honesty in handling their situation. They leave him with enduring respect, not an unjustified grudge, as in Kezman’s case. And, of course, as hard as it is for some of their fans to accept, none of those who’ve left us have actually set their new abode alight to the extent we can say now Mourinho misjudged them. Duff may very well turn out to bring out his best at Newcastle, but no one should forget that his best season as a football professional wasn’t at Blackburn; it was at Chelsea in Mourinho’s first season. Mourinho brought out this in him by fighting a huge psychological battle with the player himself. Mourinho has showed that he can bring out the best in any player, whether they are players he bought or not, but that when such players get complacent, he wouldn’t hesitate to give them a kick up the backsides or move them on. He’s showed that he can manage disaffection expertly, but also isn’t one to keep anyone against their will if they reasonably express the desire to go elsewhere in order to have more opportunities. His handling of the Babayaro, Parker, Forssell, Smertin, Jarosik, Tiago, Eidur, Del Horno and now the Duff situations attest to this. Even with Maniche, when Mourinho made up his mind he wasn’t good enough for the team, he sent him on his way, despite the fact that the player is one of the closest persons to him in football and as a friend. Mourinho’s professionalism is nonpareil.

Of course, like other fans, I love some of the players moving on and part of me wishes they are still with us; but I love the changes that result from their moving on better, especially if such changes make us into a more formidable team. I’ve had many years of near-fatal palpitations in futile expectations watching as average teams demolish my beloved Chelsea every now and again. Thus, it’s about time I sit relaxed, cross-legged, with a confident grin on my face, knowing that any team Chelsea put out now will do the business. In fact, I’m very much looking forward to Chelsea retaining the Premiership trophy and scaring the bejeezus out of every other football team on planet earth this season, because whatever comings and goings, Chelsea are (even as we still expect the signing of a left-back) a much stronger team now than last season.

C’mon Blues!