Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last twelve hours, you’ll be fully aware that Chelsea have sacked Jose Mourinho. Coming hot on the heels of the Brian Clough link that I put up on here last night, it counts as one of the madder decisions of the last few years or so. The tensions between Roman Abramovich and Jose Mourinho had been building for some time. Mourinho had been unhappy at the decision to bring players such as Andriy Shevchenko and Michael Ballack to Stamford Bridge without his consent, and their tepid start to this season is being widely viewed as the straw that broke the camel’s back. There are so many issues at play here that it’s difficult to know where to start.
Firstly, one would question whether one defeat in six matches and being two points off the top of the table is really much of a “disaster”. It has been a slow start, for sure, but Mr Abramovic should probably look at Spurs if he wants to know what a “slow” start to the season looks like. They were poor against Rosenberg in the European Cup on Tuesday night, and they also suffered the rare indignity of being booed off the pitch by a pitiful crowd of 24,000 (note to G14 – this is what will happen if you ever try to start a European Super League). Taking a wider view, however, six trophies in three years is probably more than most Chelsea supporters would have hoped for in their wildest dreams. How, exactly, are things going to get better for them now? Mourinho obviously had the unquestioned loyalty of his most senior players – how will they react to his departure?
There is also the matter of his replacement. Avram (Avraham? Abram? Abraham? I’ve already seen it spelt four different ways this morning) Grant appears to have charmed his way into a job that ninety percent of the best coaches in Europe would have been clamouring for. His track record isn’t so much mixed as non-existent – he has coached Maccabi Tel-Aviv and Maccabi Haifa in Israel, and came quite close to taking Israel to the 2006 World Cup finals. He went on to be the Director of Football at Portsmouth, and has been the Director of Football at Chelsea for the last couple of years. Hardly a first class pedigree, I think you’ll agree, though he is said to be part of the “inner sanctum” at Stamford Bridge (all of which gives me a mental image of board meetings there being a bit like the Stonecutters episode of “The Simpsons”). If, as reports have suggested, Roman Abramovich was concerned about the style of football that Chelsea had been playing, why has he brought in a manager whose key tactical characteristic was to build teams that were difficult to beat and could grind out results. The delicious possibility raises its head that Abramovic has had his head turned by a silver-tongued charmer with no real experience for the massive job that he’ll be taking on. Watching Chelsea over the last couple of years or so has been an often dispiriting experience, but I’m struggling to see a coach with Grant’s track record trotting out at the weekend, playing total football and making everyone fall in love with them.
I suspect that the key word in this whole, ridiculous saga is “ego”. One suspects that Mourinho had long had the feeling that he was “unsackable”, and had been picking rows with key figures at Stamford Bridge for a while. When he fell out with Grant, it was a step too far. From that moment on, he needed to be winning every single match he played, and didn’t do that. You can get away with it while you’re winning, but you can’t when the results start to dry up. A quick flick through several message boards this morning shows the supporters of more or less every club in England now privately wishing that their own manager will be sacked as soon as possible so that they can bring him in before he gets snapped up elsewhere, and the atmosphere at the match between Chelsea and Manchester United will be “interesting”, to say the least. You don’t have to be too much of a crystal ball reader to be able to predict whose name the Chelsea supporters will be singing. On a slightly different tack, a sign of the over-inflated sense of the self-importance at Chelsea FC could be seen in a recent interview with Peter Kenyon, in which he stated that he expects Chelsea to win the European Cup twice in the next ten years. It’s as if he doesn’t even understand just how difficult that would be. In such an atmosphere over over-expectation, this sacking could be the best thing to ever happen to Mourinho.
Ultimately, the question that I always ask myself when a manager is sacked by a football club is that of whether the drastic upheaval that any change brings about will prove to be worthwhile in the long term. I can only surmise that the sacking of Jose Mourinho will cause more upheaval that most, so successfully had he imposed his image on Chelsea FC. Avrabravraraham Grant (I’ll get back to you on the definitive spelling of that) may yet bring the European Cup to Stamford Bridge for the next couple of years, whilst wowing critics with football so profound that it automatically turns every neutral in the world into a Chelsea obsessive. For some reason, though, I can’t see this happening.