So, one point remains to be made before the club can celebrate back-to-back titles. I’m hoping the game against United in two weeks will see us wrap up the league and allow us to relax – even if NotsoNostradamus Ferguson and his team will be positively itching to ruin the day. However the point being made by the press is a different one and some way short of celebratory. A jaundiced but not untypical reaction coming from James Lawton in the Independent – Lawton is a relentlessly smug Arsenal fan, as you can probably tell.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out that a club, any club, receiving the lavish gifts bestowed by Roman Abramovich on Chelsea is not going to be universally popular. There is a club hierarchy in English football and Chelsea have unceremoniously gatecrashed their way in. Those already established in this hierarchy are resentful because their regular entitlement to silverware is under threat. Those not among the privileged few are unhappy because they would rather it was them breaking into the elite.
There are also a couple of other factors which add to the general dislike for Chelsea. In a club which contains more than a smattering of star players and one of the richest men in the world Mourinho is far and away the dominant personality. He is so firmly fixed centre stage that no one else even dares to stand in the wings. His personality epitomises the club to such an extent that for a lot of people Mourinho is the club.
To be fair I would loathe Mourinho were he in charge anywhere else. He is abrasive, sullen, arrogant, dismissive, provocative and totally uninterested in any view other than his own. His single mindedness wins a lot of games but even as a Chelsea fan there are things I wish he hadn’t done: his finger to the lips, aimed at Liverpool fans, after Chelsea took the lead in last year’s League Cup final being one. I don’t like Liverpool at all, or their ridiculously self important fans but a manager doesn’t react like that. Managers and players celebrate, goading is best left to fans.
I wish Jose had kept his own counsel over Anders Frisk and his half time love-in with Frank Rijkaard last season. I would have preferred him not to make such a big deal over Del Horno’s dismissal this year and I was not enamoured with his attempt to demonise Messi. I cannot begin to imagine how Jose would react to one of Drogba’s theatrical tumbles if the Ivorian played for the opposition. I would have been far happier if Jose – and everyone else involved – had realised meeting Ashley Cole in a public bar, not 10 minutes from FA headquarters, was incredibly stupid. There are a couple of managers whose hand Jose should have shaken, however thuggish they, or their teams, were during the match.
I’m also not a big fan of the way Jose publicly criticises his players; Joe Cole, Arjen Robben and Asier Del Horno have all been openly reprimanded like naughty children. Straighten them out by all means, but in my view these are things best done behind the dressing room door. It’s likely that Young-Pyo Lee’s horrendous schoolboy error, against United on Easter Monday, has cost Spurs a Champions League place – and the multi-millions that go with it – but I didn’t see Martin Jol digging out his errant full back in front of the camera.
These are personal points of view, some Chelsea fans will agree, some will doubtless find it treacherous that I dare question the methods of the man who has delivered such success. I am not ungrateful for the trophies, but I am uncomfortable with some of what has gone on in achieving that success. I may be a Chelsea fan, but I am not blind, or unthinking. Asking a few questions of his style does not mean I am undervaluing Jose’s achievements.
Talking of style brings us to the other main complaint against Chelsea. We are allegedly ruthless, mechanical, organised and efficient but we do not stir the spirit. The argument goes something like this: as Chelsea have unlimited funds we could at least produce an entertaining team. To spend so much money on producing a team that is a slave to work ethic just doesn’t seem right. Fair point?
Defensive organisation and discipline are typically tactics of the underdog. This is how Greece won the European Championship, how Porto, or even Liverpool, won the Champions League. Teams with huge resources are expected to play with a certain swagger and style, unless they are Juventus. I feel there is some validity to this. Whatever statistics, goals scored and our impressive results might suggest, our style of play is not easy on the eye. I doubt many neutrals find Chelsea entertaining to watch. I imagine the majority of non-Chelsea fans watch more in the hope of seeing us beaten than of being captivated.
Of course it isn’t easy to produce a team to enthral. There are very few players with the genius of Rooney, Henry or Ronaldinho and at least one genius is a pre-requisite for such a team. Mourinho was also charged with achieving instant success, he had no time to establish a style of play that would suit everyone’s taste. He opted to stick to tried and trusted methods, those which had already worked for him at Porto. I suspect most of us would have done the same. His job, first and foremost, was to win. Imagine the reaction had Mourinho failed. With all the resources at his disposal and his supercharged ego, he would have been crucified. And then fired. (In fact he’s been crucified for having succeeded, so the bile fest that would have ensued had he failed doesn’t bear thinking about.)
Having tucked away the Premier League once I was hoping Jose would free the team from their rigid, tactical discipline and allow them to breath a little. It seems this was a forlorn hope, even if there are some signs that Jose is relenting marginally. I watched us play Barcelona with a feeling of inevitability. As someone else put it, our attackers helped our defenders defend, whilst their defenders helped their attackers attack. I don’t see Barcelona as the shining angels they are portrayed to be but they play more expansive football than we do.
I was hoping a team containing Duff, Robben, Wright-Phillips, Crespo, Joe Cole and even the much maligned Drogba, would be allowed to attack more. But in the main we have persisted with the risk free, wait for the mistake mentality that brought our first Premier League success. Even recently when Jose decided to play two strikers up front he declined to use two wingers to accompany them. Although to be fair, we had to win our last three games and we’ve done exactly that. At the moment of greatest pressure in our season – with absolutely no room for error – Jose changed his preferred system. So he doesn’t lack courage, or flexibility, even if his new ‘two striker’ Chelsea is a variation on a theme, rather than a fundamental change.
Who leaves and who arrives at Chelsea this summer could be an indication of a change in style, however small. Adriano is a certainty for speculation, but whether a Brazilian in his prime will relish England remains to be seen. I would be very surprised if Robben, Duff and Wright-Phillips are all still at the club in August. It also appears that Jose is not entirely happy with his full-backs, and there may well be changes in defence. I’m sure Ballack’s predicted arrival would spell the end for Gudjohnsen. Eidur is one of my favourite players, but sadly one with no real place in whichever version of 4-3-3 Jose settles on.
Personally I would love to see Jose change his spots a little more, put out a really attack minded 4-4-2. Allow our wingers to really take people on and risk losing possession, instead of being auxiliary full backs. Of course this would be a move that could be seen as weakness, Jose allowing negative press to influence his changing a proven method. Perhaps it wouldn’t work. Perhaps I’m being greedy. After all I do not want to relinquish any of the silverware Jose’s methods have brought. Perhaps I shouldn’t question any of his behaviour, or how his teams play. But there is a part of me which cannot help think ‘what if’? What if we used our limitless resources to build a seriously f**k off, all-out attacking team? I’d love to see it, but I’m not holding my breath. And I still love Jose, even if he can be grouchy and his teams can be too defensive minded.
We show guts and team spirit aplenty – just how impressive was that come back against West Ham? – but I for one would love us to play a little more carefree and a little less risk free.