Jim White says it would be a huge mistake for Chelsea to sack manager Jose Mourinho because, whatever is wrong with the club, he’s still the best man to turn the Premier League champions around.
Let’s all agree on one thing about Jose Mourinho and Chelsea: the club would be absolutely bonkers to fire him. This is the best manager in the game, a serial accumulator of silverware, a master of tactics and preparation. He is also a man in possession of the most lucrative managerial contract in the game, signed only this summer. To fire him now would cost north of £10million in compensation, money wasted in a totally self-destructive piece of executive indulgence. Besides, who on earth is out there who might do a better job than him? Avram Grant?
What’s more, Chelsea have one of the most benevolent run of fixtures imaginable over the next few weeks. After their game with Liverpool on Sunday, their next seven league opponents are Stoke, Norwich, Tottenham, Bournemouth, Leicester, Sunderland and Watford. Surely the sensible thing would be to give Mourinho the chance to turn momentum round.
With those opponents forthcoming, by Boxing Day, he could have engineered his team back into the Champions League positions. By Boxing Day he could have returned the smile to Chelsea faces. If he fails to deliver after that run of good fortune, then clearly there is something wrong, clearly there may be cause to seek change. But if anyone has earned the right to keep charge through that run it is Jose Mourinho.
None of this, of course, will make any difference. Logic has rarely played a part in decision making at the Bridge. Only one thing counts there. Should he lose to Liverpool, we can be almost certain Mourinho will be gone. Roman Abramovich, who leveraged his personal wealth out of the state assets of his home country in a manner that redefines the term ruthless, does not do defeat.
No matter how much support the manager may have among senior figures at the club, no matter how much the fans remain behind him, certain he is the best hope of turning things round, there is only one man whose decision counts. And of all the attributes for which Abramovich is renowned, patience is not at the top of the list.
That is not to suggest there is nothing wrong at the club, that there are not serious issues extant that the manager needs to address. And address quickly. The champions have not become patsies without reason. The kind of harmony that drove them to the title last May is no longer evident. Too many of the crucial members of the squad are horribly out of form. Eden Hazard’s missed penalty at the Britannia last night was symptomatic: last year, on the back of stellar performances, this was a player being touted as the next to make the break to global superstardom. Now he can’t even find the net in a routine Capital One Cup tie. Indeed it has been a strange, disconcerting experience watching Mourinho on the touchline this season. Normally this is a manager in total control of all he surveys. A manager whose body language insists he can influence what goes on out on the pitch. Remember him in charge of Real Madrid when his team played Manchester United in what turned out to be Sir Alex Ferguson’s last ever Champions League game? When Nani got sent off, Fergie erupted in a towering rage. He raced down to the technical area fuming at the referee, furious at what he regarded as an injustice. While he was otherwise engaged in anger, Mourinho spotted an opportunity. Even as his opposite number was raging, he was on the edge of the pitch organising, arranging a substitution which could exploit the gap on United’s flank left by the departing Nani. Within a few minutes, his rearrangement had borne fruit, Madrid had taken the lead.
It was a brilliant demonstration of his speed of thought and complete command. Indeed for Ferguson it was a chastening moment, a stark realisation that his powers were waning. Mourinho that night looked the man of the future; Fergie the ghost of the past.
Watching Mourinho this season, however, is to see a very different touchline presence. He has looked too often as if he were the victim of events rather than the master, reacting – often in fury – to what happens rather than making it happen.
At West Ham last weekend he appeared bereft of ideas as to how he might influence things. After being sent to the stands, as he stood at the back of the corporate hospitality section, mocked by Danny Dyer, he was completely passive, like someone convinced that the fates (along with the FA, the Premier League and the referees’ panel) were conspiring against him. As if there was nothing he could do. It was completely at odds with the Mourinho who has spent the past decade bestriding the football world. It was weird.
But then Mourinho has always been a winner. Whatever he has touched has turned to trophies. This is the first time in his career where things have gone substantially wrong, where systems and processes he has used to such success over the years have suddenly not produced the expected result. It is new territory for him, new terrain to negotiate.
But the idea that a man of his intellect and experience is not equipped to work his way through this unexpected decline is absurd.
There are, too, those who suggest his father’s continued illness is taking a toll on him. In which case what might be best for all parties is a short break not a termination. Because let’s not be mistaken about this: the English game is not sufficiently blessed with talent that it can afford to lose Mourinho. If Chelsea let him go after this weekend, it is not just them who will be diminished. We will all miss him.