Former Blackburn Rovers, Chelsea and England player Chris Sutton played in the game where Jose Mourinho won his first European trophy. Following another difficult week, Sutton analyses the decline of the ‘Special One’.
While it’s easy to make exaggerated assessments about the English Premier League, I do think Chelsea’s comprehensive 4-0 win over Manchester United last Sunday was a huge game.
The significance didn’t lie in what supplied the headlines – Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho after the final whistle supposedly telling Antonio Conte, his opposite number at Chelsea, not to humiliate him by trying to lift up the home crowd when they were 4-0 up. That was a classic Mourinho deflection tactic.
WATCH: It's safe to say Jose Mourinho is not enjoying this.
Antonio Conte on the other hand…
SS1, NOW TV, FSC. https://t.co/WtRm8tQ4nh
— Sky Football ⚽️ (@SkyFootball) October 23, 2016
No, the match proved that Mourinho still hasn’t got back the lost mojo that led to him being sacked from Chelsea last December.
For a decade, Mourinho was one of the game’s most outstanding managers with very few chinks in the armor, living up to his own billing as “the Special One”.
But after winning Chelsea the title for the third time in 2015 things swiftly went wrong. Mourinho was sacked for poor performances and a deteriorating state of mind that saw him alienate his players, including Diego Costa, Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas.
In short, he lost the plot. Even though he soon bounced back by landing the Manchester United job, I’m not convinced he has yet regained it.
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal were heavily criticized for their style of football at Old Trafford – failing to replicate the swashbuckling football that the Red Devils specialised in displaying during Sir Alex Ferguson’s 27-year reign.
At the beginning of the season, on the evidence of the signings Mourinho made and his track record, I thought Manchester United could push for the Premier League title. Yet, nine games into the season, nothing I see suggests Mourinho will bring back the attacking football that United fans crave.
Mourinho has spent close to £160 million on players, an extraordinary amount of money. Paul Pogba was bought for £89 million from Juventus and Zlatan Ibrahimovic is on an enormous wage.
Of course you have to give any new manager time but I don’t see any evidence that the style of play will become any better under Mourinho than it was under van Gaal.
The problem gets even greater when Manchester United fans look at the brand of football currently played by their biggest rivals: Manchester City and Liverpool.
United are bland, boring and move the ball painfully slowly. Compare that with Liverpool’s athleticism and energy, overseen by Jurgen Klopp, or Manchester City’s tremendous guile and flair (Pep Guardiola’s side might be currently going through a blip themselves but, unlike United, this strikes me as temporary). Spurs are also streets ahead of United right now.
Then there’s Chelsea. Last Sunday’s win confirmed that the Blues have turned a corner. After getting thumped at Arsenal, Conte demonstrated he is adaptable by switching to three at the back, and Chelsea have greatly benefited from the change. In contrast to United, Chelsea have a method.
Conte is a passionate guy who is increasingly establishing Chelsea as an attacking force. It’s fair to say that right now Conte is managing more like Mourinho in his glory days than Mourinho himself is at the moment.
I played in the Celtic team that lost to Mourinho’s Porto in the 2003 UEFA Cup Final in Seville, his first major European trophy. The next season he won the Champion’s League and never looked back.
He was football management’s bright young thing. He subsequently achieved massive success at Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid by combining a forceful personality with a fine tactical mind (think back to Inter Milan’s semi-final victory over Barcelona in the 2010 Champions League).
When he first took over at Chelsea in 2004, the team was exciting to watch, boasting terrific attacking players and a defensive solidity. Mourinho was charming and quick-witted – both manager and team had a winning charisma.
But Mourinho’s default personality now seems pernickety and chippy. His manner has changed- there’s no doubt he isn’t the same person who first came into Chelsea.
He seems tired, angry and looking for arguments with everybody whether it’s with opponents, officials or even his staff (Chelsea doctor Eva Carneiro reportedly received a £5 million settlement after she was demoted for running on the pitch to treat a player.) His unfortunate habit of hanging out his players to dry (Eden Hazard last season, Luke Shaw in United’s recent loss to Watford) isn’t doing him any favours either.
He chucked his toys out of the pram at Chelsea and it doesn’t seem like he’s ever recovered. Of course it’s performances on the pitch that ultimately dictate a manager’s fate and here Mourinho has increasingly been found wanting.
Mourinho at Chelsea FC went 78 unbeaten home games. At Manchester United went 2 unbeaten home games.
— El Dave (@isaac_lwando) September 11, 2016
At Manchester United, the foundation of which is built on a certain style of quality football, he seems bereft of ideas. He has a talented squad at his disposal, yet increasingly other Premier League teams are fitter, sharper, easier on the eye and better to watch.
Adverse results seem to have affected Mourinho and it’s fair to question if the manager will ever recover what he had. United fans are demanding answers to the many questions surrounding their side but it doesn’t seem like things will improve in the short-term.
Never mind something special, Mourinho will have to perform a miracle on the pitch to transform Manchester United into Premier League title contenders.
Rather than worry about getting into trivial spats, it would serve Mourinho better to concentrate on bringing back the style of football and results at United that we all expected to see.