Ahead of the League Cup final against Spurs, Jose Mourinho has said one predictably tedious thing, and another telling one. He has continued his propaganda war against referees, and also made it clear that he does not regard his current Chelsea side as the equal of the one he managed in his first spell at the club.
Only recently, he reiterated what he said in November 2014 when asked to compare the side he has now - who are heavy favourites for the Premier League, and in the return leg against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League - with the side of Cech, Terry, Lampard and Drogba that won Premier Leagues, FA Cups, League Cups and, under Roberto Di Matteo, the Champions League.
“I don’t want to say that because the other team won titles, it won everything, not just with me but after me as well. The same basic team was European champions and won every title possible. But the reality is this team has won nothing and it’s not fair to compare a winning team with a talented team,” he said.
Mourinho wasn’t trying to criticise his side unfairly, merely pointing out that there was plenty of room not just for improvement, but most crucially for achievement. Last season it appeared at several stages that his was the side to beat, that they would give Mourinho a Premier League in his first year, just as they had in 2005.
Ultimately, defeats to poor sides, and a poor striking line up of Samuel Eto’o, Fernando Torres and Demba Ba meant that they neither had the quality nor the consistency to pip Manchester City to the title. Even if they famously helped to end Liverpool’s title hopes, they still finished behind Brendan Rodgers' side.
The club acted quickly over the summer to improve the squad. Cesc Fabregas might have tailed off of late, but his blistering start and combination with another new signing, Diego Costa, put Chelsea into an early lead. In midfield, Nemanja Matic has continued to improve, and Thibaut Courtois is just one of the best two keepers in the league, along with David De Gea.
There’s been plenty of praise for the improvement in the squad in the summer, so there’s been no need for a long appraisal. But the purchase of Juan Cuadrado, coupled with getting rid of the hugely limited Mohamed Salah, gives Chelsea the option to rotate after running their first choices into the ground. At some point, Mourinho will have to start changing more often than he has so far - assuming, of course, that they beat PSG.
Chelsea have the chance to win their first trophy in February, just as some of the best sides have. Manchester United’s last great team, the one with Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez and a blistering Wayne Rooney, had its foundations in the side that dropped Ruud van Nistelrooy for Louis Saha to defeat Wigan Athletic in 2006. Chelsea’s first trophy under Mourinho was also the League Cup, won in 2005.
The taste for victory is important, asRoy Keane describes in his second autobiography, but the reaction is key. It is not to enjoy the win, so much as it is to inspire the players into winning the next trophy, and the one after that. The spine of the side that Mourinho had then never really lost its taste for victory.
There are a number of players now who have not won a great deal. Courtois, Costa and Fabregas have enjoyed success elsewhere, but they have not yet won anything with Chelsea. The League Cup offers Mourinho the chance to foster the desire for trophies in his side. That will be vital as they have tougher challenges than Spurs, and more prestigious competitions than the League Cup. With games coming more frequently, and more emotionally exacting, the boost of victory could give his side the edge.
Which makes Mourinho’s carry on about referees faintly tedious. He already has his victory over the FA, who generously reduced Matic’s three-game ban to two, but still he continues. The claims of conspiracy, and the problems of credibility that he describes, persist. It’s not needed - he has the best side and is top of the league.
He often distracts critics by drawing attention with his antics, and that’s fair enough, but as has been shown in his time at Real Madrid, at some point it can frustrate his own players by subjecting them to his own continual drama. It’s not possible to know what Chelsea players feel about him at the moment, clearly, but there seems little reason to take the histrionics further right now.
Perhaps, should Chelsea win tomorrow, Mourinho will allow his players to enjoy their victory without more to-do, and inspire them to equal his last great Chelsea side.
Alexander Netherton - external@lxndrnthrtnhttps://twitter.com/lxndrnthrtnNone