Those of you with any interest in the Premier League will have spotted that the special one, who is now happy, has been behaving rather differently this time around as Chelsea manager. There are fewer of the witty, off-hand comments regularly appearing in his post-match or other interviews during his first spell at Stamford Bridge. Instead, there is, for the most part, a much more calculated behaviour in the presence of the media. Jose is right to be like this. The media are out to get him and anyone in his position should be careful what they say. However, I argue here, this is not the reason why he is doing it, nor is it that he is more mature this time around, true as this may be. The media were out to get him already when he declared himself special in 2004, but there are a few major differences between now and then.
Firstly, then, in addition to being special (which indeed he is), he had space for success. Chelsea had not won the premier league or the top division title for 50 years and had limited European silverware to show. Mourinho’s Chelsea took the league by storm and became deserving champions twice, alongside winning the FA cup, league cup and a couple of other titles on the way, with a team that also played great football. The Champion’s league, which was Abramovich’s target, escaped him but there was still a general feeling of a successful tenure even when Jose left Chelsea. When he left, Chelsea was the team to beat, instead of (or at worst alongside) Man Utd.
Second, at a personal level, Jose was beating his personal competition as a manager, hands down. All other managers ended up below him in the league, he won more than almost everybody else in their whole careers, with the exception of Arsene Wenger and SIr Alex. Wenger finished below Jose every year and won nothing as a direct competitor, so Jose could claim one over him, notwithstanding that Wenger was, and still is, claiming an unparalleled financial victory over all his opponents, bar none. At that point, the Premier league trophy mattered more to the cost-no-object chairman and Jose gave him that. The trophy at a humongous but irrelevant cost. Sir Alex was a different matter as he was always going to have more titles under his belt since he had been in his place since the 16th century so the battle was different. One-to-one, Jose won more victories and more trophies for which they were competing against each other, and this continued after Jose left Chelsea, in the Champions League.
Third, Jose won over the media upon his arrival the first time around. From the first moment he played their game, told them how to pronounce his name, told them he was special, put them in their place and kept it like this, endearing himself to them and lots of fans who were sick and tired of interviews of the “yeah, we was great tonight, gotta give it to the lads, we fully deserved to win, no question about it” offered by most of Jose’s competitors. Jose looked angry when he was angry, sad when sad, chuffed to bits when he was, and so on, and offered this with an accent and some charming comments obviously verbatim translated from his native Portuguese. Fantastic. What’s not to love?
And then, there was the second coming.
Jose left Real Madrid and came back displacing Rafa Benitez who wasn’t really doing a bad job but was tagged “an interim manager” from his first day, letting everybody know he was not important and due to be kicked out when Abramovich and Jose fell in love again in the summer. Jose took over a team with 4 Brazilian internationals, 2 Spanish world champions, possibly the best goalkeeper in the world, African footballer of the year 2013 and 2007 – and then bought in Eto’o, the African footballer of the year 2006 and 2009 – and a selection of other world class international players (…but also, admittedly Terry, Lampard and Ashley Cole). Many of them had won the Champion’s league, several with Chelsea in 2012, while the majority had won the Europa league with Chelsea in 2013.
Jose has little space for success. The main trophy has been won. Not just won, but in a way that puts a huge question mark over the contribution of the manager. Roberto Di Matteo, with little Champions league managing experience, was the caretaker manager who won it for Chelsea, and was kicked out soon after. Had it not been for Terry’s unfortunate moment it could have been won twice by Chelsea in Jose’s absence. So, how will Jose be successful? Will he win the league and the Champions League come May 2014? Maybe the FA cup as well? No pressure, to repeat what Bayern, on a fraction of Chelsea’s budget and with balanced sheets, have just done.
In terms of the personal competition with other managers, on in more than one country, Jose now faces considerable challenges. In England, he is now the one who has to outperform cost-no-object Man City, with a manager who seems much more personable than Jose. He also has to outperform David Moyes at Man Utd, who has the benefit of the doubt as new at the job and with the impossible task of replacing Sir Alex. He has to outperform Rogers at Liverpool who have underachieved for some time now but are, at the time of writing very close to Chelsea at the league table. He has to outperform Wenger who has created a fantastic squad at a fraction of Chelsea’s budget. But his main problem is none of the above. His problem is Andre Villas Boas. AVB at Tottenham has a squad that, on the strength of the 90m that Bale brought, seems capable of competing with everybody. AVB was Jose’s assistant and they had a fall-out. AVB is younger than Jose by about 20 years. AVB is much more charming. AVB’s Tottenham is above Jose in the table. When Chelsea played Tottenham, Jose had to go so much out of his way to illustrate his hatred of AVB that he went on to name all the previous Tottenham managers he played against, and all his assistants, ignoring AVB. (watch this here) When the match started, he shook hands with all the Tottenham coaching staff so as to say “I shake hands with all the little people like you, if I feel like it. Don’t flatter yourself to think that this happened because we are opposite numbers and I consider you my equal”. On another front, Guardiola at Bayern will also be a force to deal with, and again a personal competitor who may outperform Jose by winning the Champions League. For Jose to outperform these two, he needs to win the Premier League and Tottenham to finish 5th or lower, as nobody expects them to win it and any other placing has the same effect as 4th. Jose also needs to outperform Bayern in the Champions league which didn’t prove so easy in the recent past.
On the third front, the war with the media will still need to be fought, but this time with the ruthless media having several other darlings to deal with, AVB and Moyes among them being much more media friendly than Sir Alex or (for example) Martin Jol.
None of the above should be taken to mean that the author thinks Jose is anything less than a football manager genius. He is exceptionally good at what he does and he knows it. Only Chelsea-hating people will bother to argue otherwise. This, of course does not make him perfect. He is a megalomaniac with a messiah syndrome to go with it and a pay-check to support it. This will be an interesting year for Jose.