With the footballing word in limbo, it’s easy to forget that this summer will mark the fifth anniversary of Jose Mourinho’s final transfer window at SW6. Undoubtedly the most shambolic of either of his two reigns, it unveiled massive cracks not just in the playing squad, but also in the behind-the-scenes operations and sowed the seeds for the turmoil that followed, which would ultimately result in a messy divorce for ‘The Special One’ and arguably begin the tarnishing of his Chelsea legacy.
There are five key factors that stand out:
1) The Centre Back Debacle
Chelsea’s defence had been a huge part of helping us canter to the title the previous season. The names roll off the tongue: Thibaut Courtois, Branislav Ivanovic, John Terry, Gary Cahill and Cesar Azpilicueta formed a solid spine and cemented by Nemanja Matic, the front five had the freedom to cause havoc. The lack of ability to rotate at centre-back was something Jose frequently referenced and despite having Kurt Zouma, Nathan Ake and Andreas Christensen, it was clear he wanted more.
Chelsea’s protracted charm-offensive to lure John Stones in to a transfer to Stamford Bridge began in June 2015 and numerous bids were rejected by Everton. It was clear early on that this deal was not going to happen, for any sum of money. Although in retrospect, it was a bullet dodged, Stones was a clear key target and there were few alternatives that could placate the Portuguese. Marquinhos was mooted, but he’d only joined Paris Saint-Germain two seasons previously. The club ended up panicking and buying Papy Djilobodji, an unspectacular Nantes defender who had spent his career to date bouncing around the mid table of Ligue Un and Michael Hector, the ‘Jamaican Ramos’ who was carving out a solid Championship career in England. Neither player could even hold a candle to Stones, and it’s no surprise that neither player achieved even a minute in the Premier League for Chelsea.
Did the club really have no genuine plan b in place?
2) Insufficient Fullback Quality
Filipe Luis was brought in the transfer window, despite being Atletico Madrid’s first-choice left-back for many seasons, failed to convince Jose he was heir-apparent to Ashley Cole. The writing was on the wall by June 2015 and Luis returned to Atletico Madrid just one summer after leaving. Luis never really adapted, but the club never really dealt with him leaving, and in turn, did not address another critical issue.
Cantankerous Cesar Azpilicueta, ever-willing was being deployed at left-back, Branislav Ivanovic and the raw Abdul Rahman Baba ended up as the only full-back options in the squad. Azpilicueta should of always only been a stop-gap at left-back and with Baba failing to convince Jose with some poor early performances, the Spaniard was required to plug the gaping hole in the starting XI.
However, all of this came to a head when Branislav Ivanovic was annihilated in the opening match of the season, torn to shreds by Jefferson Montero. Bereft of confidence, and losing pace rapidly, the Serbian tank was never quite the same. Teams spotted this and exploited it. Did Jose really never identity this problem? Or did the club fail to act on his advice? We’ll never know.
3) Juan Cuadrado
When Chelsea sold Kevin De Bruyne and Andre Schurrle in the transfer window of January 2015, and Mo Salah left on loan, Chelsea bolstered the squad with Colombian Juan Cuadrado. A pacey, dynamic winger, it was hard to see where he fitted into Jose’s set-up. He wasn’t a playmaker so couldn’t dove-tail with Oscar, and did not offer the attacking quality provided by Willian or Eden Hazard. Cuadrado managed just 311’ minutes in the Premier League as Chelsea won the league.
It became clear quickly that Jose did not rate the former Fiorentina star and the transfer of former Barcelona star Pedro Rodriguez only served to accentuate this fact. However, the club seemed reluctant to let Cuadrado move permanently – did they perhaps suspect that a future manager would find a use for him? (In the end, no-one did.)
By actually selling Cuadrado in the transfer window, Chelsea could have raised additional funds for the business-end of the window to get a wide-man who actually fitted Jose’s philosophy. In reality, Chelsea started the season woefully short of fire-power on the wing and with Eden Hazard misfiring, this was amplified ten-fold.
4) Paul Pogba
When you consider how this Jose’s career at Manchester United ended, this again can be filed under ‘bullet dodged’. However, back in 2015, Pogba was the hottest young property in world football, people didn’t view Juventus as cash-rich and Jose viewed the French superstar as the perfect addition to an already stacked midfield. In many ways, Pogba represented the second coming of Michael Essien, who was integral in Chelsea winning the title in 2005-06.
The club didn’t necessary share this vision, however. Pogba was viewed as over-priced, there were concerns around his attitude and how he’d adapt to the Premier League and having already made losses on expensive gambles like Fernando Torres, Roman Abramovich was keen to avoid more mistakes like this. Jose wasn’t prepared to take this lying down and spent the window launching cynical soundbites about the club’s ability to back him. Pogba would later claim he himself turned down the move, but everyone is still sceptical whether a true deal was ever on the table.
“Pogba is one of the top players in the world. Pogba goes to any team and improves that team automatically.” Jose said in July 2015 – I wonder if he would echo this view now.
5) Squad Depth
Selling Filipe Luis, Andre Schurrle and Kevin De Bruyne in two windows, loaning Mo Salah and Didier Drogba retiring, plus Petr Cech crossing London to go to Arsenal left Chelsea looking weaker in a number of areas. Although Asmir Begovic was a good number two option, he wilted with the pressure of the first team jersey when Courtois picked up his injury. Pedro was a good signing and he tried hard to relieve the pressure as Eden Hazard struggled to find form, but the raw Kenedy proved to be talented but inconsistent.
Baba Rahman was not on the level of Filipe Luis and the other names don’t really warrant mentioning. Falcao on loan was desperation at trying to bolster the numbers and Pato in January was a similar decision.
Why was Schurrle sold? He seemed happy with a bit-part role and as a squad player, he offered a goal-threat unlike all the other wingers. With Hazard not scoring for nearly a year, the attacking burden was on Willian and despite some memorable goals, he did not hit the heights the Belgian achieved in the previous year.
Should Jose have turned to untapped potential in Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Jeremie Boga and given Mo Salah another chance? These are some of the best what-if questions in football.
With these five factors, Chelsea ended up with a squad that was woefully unprepared to fight on four fronts, like Jose expected to be able to do. In his first spell, he had been able to cherry-pick names to transfer and the financial clout of the club had made those wishes a reality. With the increasing inflation of the transfer market beginning to become widespread, it was no longer as simple just to throw money at clubs.
All of this created an underlying rift. Jose was no longer the bubbly, bright ‘Special One’ who had spearheaded Chelsea to three Premier League titles. Instead, he was replaced by a snarky cynic who was determined to bring his rift with the board into the public view. The farcical incident with Eva Caneiro in the final embers of the disappointing opening day draw with Swansea stoked the fires of rage for Jose Mourinho and these flames smouldered until the anti-climactic deadline day, where Jose presented himself as being promised the moon and then hung out to dry.
With hindsight, it was from this moment on that the season was doomed, and like the now-porous Chelsea backline, ‘The Special One’s’ empire was going to crumble, from inside-out.
Edited By Dami Adeleye