José Mourinho’s name was sung at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. No, this isn’t a rewind to 2004 or 2014, during his two previous spells as Chelsea manager, but a snapshot of the here-and-now at a club in crisis. The reality is that, should Mauricio Pochettino pay the price for the team’s disastrous season so far, Mourinho is available.
In basic terms, it’s easy to understand why a large section of the Chelsea fans chanted Mourinho’s name during the 4-2 home defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers, which left the Blues in 11th position in the Premier League, 15 points from the top four and just 12 from the relegation zone.
Mourinho is still the most successful manager in Chelsea’s history. He didn’t deliver the Champions League at Stamford Bridge, unlike Roberto Di Matteo and Thomas Tuchel, but he won seven major trophies including three Premier League titles in his two stints as manager (2004-07 and 2013-15.) The key players in his first great team at the club, including Petr Cech, John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba, provided the bedrock of successes under those who followed Mourinho in the manager’s office. But the problem with nostalgia is that you only remember the good times — the trophies, Chelsea’s formidable aura under Mourinho and his declaration that he was “a special one.”
Mourinho also left in acrimonious circumstances after his two previous periods in charge turned sour, with his relationship with the squad damaged beyond repair by too many critical comments. That is generally how it plays out with Mourinho, whether it is with Chelsea or the many other clubs he has taken charge of. Aside from Inter Milan, which he left in 2010 after guiding the Italian side to the treble, the story of his past 20 years as a manager has been the same — early success followed by dressing room disharmony, negative football, clashes with his bosses over transfers and, ultimately, failure.
So for those Chelsea fans who now want Mourinho back for a third time as manager, the message is simple: Be careful what you wish for.
Chelsea are clearly in a mess right now. Pochettino has guided the team to the Carabao Cup final against Liverpool on Feb. 25 (stream LIVE on ESPN+) and could yet salvage European qualification by beating Jurgen Klopp’s team at Wembley. But the former Tottenham Hotspur and Paris Saint-Germain coach, who has only been in charge since last summer, is still struggling to settle on his best team and results are proof of that. In the league, Chelsea have lost more games (10) than they have won (9). Yet the problems that Pochettino is attempting to overcome in terms of moulding a team of young players with potential are what he at least has a track record of achieving, having done so with Spurs.
Mourinho has never shown an inclination to build a young team. His blueprint has always been to work with players at the peak of their powers, trusting in experience and certainties. And when he has used young players in his team, they have always been surrounded by the time-served generals that Mourinho has relied on wherever he has been. So even if Chelsea’s owners thought for a second that Mourinho could be the answer to their problems, they would soon realise that his skillset is totally unsuited to the issues their manager must address.
Mourinho is yesterday’s man. It will be 20 years ago next month since Mourinho announced himself to the world by sprinting down the touchline at Old Trafford to celebrate Costinha’s 90th-minute goal for FC Porto that sealed the round-of-16 elimination of Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United from the Champions League. Porto went on to win that season’s competition, and Mourinho earned his move to Chelsea on the back of it. He really was The Special One, the biggest name in football at the time, and his charisma and success seemed a recipe for a decade of dominance at the highest level.
But the game moved on, Pep Guardiola presented a different image of the perfect coach and Mourinho was left behind. At 61, he can still be box office with what he says, but it’s been a while since you could say the same about his teams. His past four jobs — Chelsea (his second spell), Manchester United, Spurs and Roma — have ended with Mourinho being fired and the win rate of his teams has declined with each one: 59% at Chelsea, 58% at United, 51% at Spurs and 49% with Roma. So don’t expect him to end up at Chelsea any time soon. Pochettino has plenty to worry about, but Mourinho won’t be keeping him awake at night.
The only one having sleepless nights could be Mourinho, because his options for his next job are limited. The top clubs now want coaches who build exciting and successful teams at the same time as working harmoniously within a structure that includes a director of football or sporting director. The coaches being watched are Xabi Alonso (Bayer Leverkusen), Roberto De Zerbi (Brighton & Hove Albion), Thomas Frank (Brentford), Ruben Amorim (Sporting CP) and Míchel (Girona), not Mourinho.
ESPN reported last month that Mourinho rejected an offer to manage Al Shabab in the Saudi Pro League in order to wait for a more appealing challenge, but it’s difficult to envisage what that could be. International football perhaps, or maybe a stint in MLS — Mourinho was always quick to tell reporters how much he loved Los Angeles during preseason tours with Chelsea, United and Spurs.
But a top club with ambitions of winning the biggest honours? Not now. For Mourinho, that ship sailed a long time ago.