When the final whistle blew at the Emirates on Sunday, Chelsea’s players celebrated virtually sealing the already virtually sealed Premier League title. John Terry was centre stage again, wearing his full kit with shin pads, which is ok this time I guess since he was playing (maybe he wears another full kit underneath when playing AND celebrating? We can only guess). But while their players and fans danced in unison, every neutral watched on with shoulder-shrugging indifference.
For the entire second half of the game, the Blues were serenaded with chants of “boring boring Chelsea” from the home fans – who watched Chelsea do yet another “job” in a big game, where negative tactics brought a positive result. Pundits praised the Blues for their game management again, afraid to critique the glaringly obvious.
From August to October they said:
“At the start of the season, it isn’t really about performances; you just want to get points on the board.”
From November to January they said:
“Ooh this is a tricky part of the season and teams won’t worry too much about performances. It’s all about getting points on the board”.
From February onwards they said:
“Now we are at the business end, it’s really all about grinding out those vital points. As long as you are getting them on the board, then performances won’t be too much of a concern”
No team likes to be lumbered with a “boring” tag. And let’s be completely fair about it, Chelsea haven’t been boring all season; they were sensational at times during the opening months of the campaign, but doesn’t that actually add to the frustration that neutrals feel when they watch Chelsea’s mechanical march to the title? We all know that they are capable of a more expansive and exciting brand of football, but it’s clear that Mourinho just does not want them to play unshackled.
Chelsea fans will tell you that as long as they are winning it doesn’t matter, but are their memories that short? Wasn’t Mourinho’s pragmatic style of play a major factor in his falling out with Abramovic during his first spell at the club? He was eventually sacked after the first season in which he failed to win the league. Bringing two domestic cups back to Stamford Bridge wasn’t enough to save him.
You can excuse Chelsea fans for not giving a “flying foook” (to quote the Queen), about the neutral’s level of entertainment while watching THEIR team – this will of course be their first league title in 5 years. Mourinho more or less comes with a guarantee of trophies – but the route to those trophies is often not very pretty. If you are happy to win, then everything is rosy. If you are more of a purist who likes his football to inspire and entertain, then things can get a little torturous. Exciting football or trophies? What do you value more? Ask Arsenal fans. Everybody will have a different answer.
The thing is, exciting football and trophies don’t have to be mutually exclusive ambitions for a team to have. And that is what rankles people when it comes to Mourinho. But Jose’s methods have worked for him for the majority of his career, so why would he change?
When he arrived at Chelsea for the second time, the first major tweak he made to his squad was to marginalize and eventually sell their star attacking player and double club player of the year winner Juan Mata. The Spaniard was exceptional for Chelsea for two seasons, but Mourinho wanted rid for what he believed were defensive deficiencies in Mata’s game. His best forward didn’t defend well enough. That’s Mourinho in a nut shell.
Mata was sold to United, his place taken by the un-Brazilian Brazilian Willian, who is full of running and positionally disciplined, but who is also almost completely devoid of flair. Jose will say Willian is on course to win the league winners medal that Mata never did and that his decision has been vindicated. That’s difficult to argue with. Chelsea fans will pray that the fantastic Eden Hazard keeps his tackles per game stat high enough for Jose’s liking (said with tongue firmly in cheek…kind of).
I remember reading an article about Mourinho’s tactical philosophy and it ran something along the lines of: “the team with the most possession will make the most mistakes”, which read to me as: “stay solid and capitalize on the oppositions errors.” I think that’s exactly how this Chelsea team are set up. They stifle, they strangle, they squeeze the space and they are ruthless. They are the serial killer of football teams.
In Chelsea’s recent fixtures against rivals United and Arsenal, Mourinho felt fear instead of identifying opportunity. Instead of striding out, shoulders back with chests puffed out, proclaiming themselves as England’s best football team and playing with the authority and swagger that should go along with that, Chelsea chose to suffocate through attrition. (I can hear someone shouting “4 points” at me in a Portuguese accent).
His tactics have left us with a joyless procession through the final months of the season. Can you place a season defining moment of magic for this Chelsea team that could stand beside some of the iconic moments previous champions have given us?
In 20 years, when you riffle through the pages of Mourinho’s biographies, you won’t read words like “expression”, “innovation” or “magical” in there. But you will read the word “winner” over and over again.
Sometimes I wonder if Mourinho will look back at his career when all is said and done and contemplate whether he missed the point of it all. In the grand scheme of things, what are his teams giving us? What legacy will they leave? Will his sides be talked about drenched in nostalgic affection? The answer is a resounding “no”.
So it’s a big congratulations to Chelsea, Premier League champions 2014/15: A title win that is memorable for being unmemorable.