As a scantily clad Frank Lampard emerged from the showers at Cobham he was greeted by a wild eyed Jose Mourinho. Both men stared at each other, and without breaking eye contact Mourinho said: “You are the best player in the world”. Naturally, this statement would have left a half nacked Frank Lampard a little bewildered given its unusual timing, but Jose insisted it was true and repeated the statement with more force: “You, are the best player in the world!”. Lampard has gone on to say that this intimate encounter was one of the defining moments of his playing career. So convincing were Mourinho’s words that a young Lampard couldn’t help but feel a little flattered, stating: “He had elevated me to a new level. I felt a massive surge in confidence. I was walking on air for the rest of that day.” As unconventional as this encounter was, it represented much more than just a rudely interrupted post-training shower. It embodied a shift in Chelsea Football Club.
Jose Mourinho’s arrival to Stamford Bridge has been well and truly been rinsed and recycled over the years, the Tony Montana of football charming the British media and winning the premier league in his first season is a tale well documented. But perhaps what is not so well catalogued is the lasting imprint Jose created and left at Chelsea, a match that fitted together so perfectly at the time, where both club and manager brought out the best in each other. Although now the mere mention of his name undoubtedly leaves a sour taste in the mouths of some fans, like all matters concerning passion and betrayal, it’s important to remember those events for what they were at the time, allow them to exist detected from the present and without bitterness. Rember Jose for what he is, not what you thought he was.
From the very beginning, Jose made it very clear that he was never concerned with footballing etiquette or loyalty for that matter. A man that previously applied his trade at both Benfica and Porto evidently has little concern for sincerity. Upon arriving at Chelsea, the self-proclaimed ‘Special One’ made it obvious that although happy to give off the illusion of affection, his only real concern was his own success. Unlike Ferguson or a Wenger, Mourinho was a Chelsea man at his own convenience, a mercenary willing to work for the right price. It’s naive to believe that he chose Chelsea for any other reasons than financial prowess. Both entities were on the rise and a silver-tongued Portuguese manager at the helm of Stamford bridge made a refreshing change for the league; rather than a meek Frenchman or a red-faced Scotsman with a broken nose, Jose Mourinho looked like he’d been cut out from a Tag Heuer double-page spread. Both he and Chelsea in the mid-2000s were refreshing and hungry for silverware.
His approach to football was also against Premier League norms. Before Mourinho’s Chelsea team introduced the term ‘park the bus into the football lexicon, there was a very different attitude to how the game was to be played. Take Wengers early Arsenal team, fluidity, flexibility and finesse were common adjectives associated with that side. Jose’s methods were a little different, football without the fat, his teams favoured more of a combative approach than a possession-based game. His 04/05 team dispatched Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ relatively easily, sending them into second-place and consequently causing a downward spiral that they are yet to come out of. Admittedly the goals weren’t exactly flying in. Both Drogba and Kezman failed to convince both pundits and fans alike in their first season, accompanied by a somewhat rigged approach to the attacking side of the game. However, the ferocity and physicality of that team was near impossible to beat. In the simplest terms, Jose’s 04/05 team were hard. It was this defensive solidity that Mourinho brought to Stamford bridge that came to define the team long after his departure. The special one’s ability to galvanise his players and create a ‘us against them’ philosophy fitted Chelsea perfectly and will probably never be recreated.
Retrospect neither favours Mourinho’s time and Chelsea or condemns it. His time brought numerous trophies and memorable moments to Stamford Bridge and for that, all Chelsea fans are indebted to him. But a director doesn’t make a film alone, and he certainly reframes from burning down the studio once he’s done. For all Jose’s positives, there are negatives that lingers long after his departure. The likes of Juan Mata, Kevin De Bruyne and Mohamed Salah are all aware that behind every great fortune there is often a crime. These players were unwanted by Mourinho, cast aside by his tactical short-sightedness and went on to achieve great things. Of course, it’s easy to be wise after the event, and perhaps those players were never meant for Chelsea. It’s a what-if situation that so often plagues football. When all is said and done Jose’s time Chelsea will always be spectacular regardless of his motives. He sings a different tune and reads from a different hymn sheet to most managers, he’s not a Ferguson, a Guardiola or a Wenger so don’t judge him as one. He’s an antihero and has never tried to hide that.
By Charlie Castillo
Edited by Jai Mcintosh