Arsenal players have their Twitter accounts, but Chelsea have moved ahead in the digital irritation stakes by employing their Instagram to show just how they are approaching the game these days. Arsenal might have a surfeit of self-love, but it seems like Chelsea are currently more interested in lashing out at anyone else.
In April 2011, Jose Mourinho decided it was time to tell the world that there was a UEFA and Barcelona conspiracy against Real Madrid, the richest club in the world with an affiliation with the city’s council and the country’s king. Clearly, it was utter nonsense and it was designed to provoke his rivals into a reaction.
It was part of a string of provocative acts from Mourinho, who in his first season against Barcelona was unable to challenge their superiority on the pitch, but that didn’t stop him from constantly needling Pep Guardiola, his bosses, his players and the media. He drove his players to distraction with his antics, with plenty of them falling out with them and being unwilling to embrace such an approach against their Spanish team-mates.
But it was effective. Though it infuriated some of his own team, it also knocked Guardiola and the others off their stride. They were keener on playing football and talking about their own talents than they were having to defend themselves from constant criticism, no matter if they were valid or imagined. In his second season, Mourinho had his league victory; perhaps the closest recreation of Alex Ferguson’s desire to knock Liverpool off their effing perch was Mourinho’s desire to drag Madrid back to the top.
The comparison ends there. Ferguson used this victory to launch two decades of success that were only scuppered when he welcome the Glazers into United and then left a foul dump of a mess for David Moyes and Louis van Gaal to clean up, something that is still being rectified. For Madrid though, there was no foundation to build on, just a collection of individuals. That’s often enough, as it was proved last year in the Champions League, but it doesn’t count as any kind of legacy.
Mourinho turned almost feral in that period. He took his worst, and sometimes most effective, qualities to extremes. He was nasty, unreasonable and willing to do what he could to motivate his side. He’d been unpleasant in the past, calling Ronaldo at Manchester United "uneducated", or allegedly physically clashing with journalists at Inter Milan, but his success had always taken the edge off.
In his first season at Chelsea, he seemed reinvigorated. Perhaps he knew that City and United were not the equal of his challenge in Spain. His squad was in reasonable shape, and in the past, the cool Mourinho, the one of 2005, would have had the talent to guide them to a title. This time, Brendan Rodgers, the demands of Europe and Manchester City denied him any success. He spent heavily and cleverly in the summer to try to ensure it would not be repeated this season, and it seems like a five-point lead and a game in hand will be enough to end his longest period without a trophy.
And yet this week, after a pathetic display from his side - which rests with the failure of Mourinho to instil focus and ruthlessness in his team - against Paris Saint-Germain, Graeme Souness tore into the feckless lot. Mourinho had the perfect response - he saw the terrible job Souness, never a decent manager, had done in his country at Benfica. It was concise and sufficiently nasty, without going overboard. The point was made: I know what I’m doing, this Scottish clown clearly doesn’t.
On Saturday, though, Chelsea went further, putting up photos of Souness crowding the referee, and of Liverpool doing the same. The point was to prove them hypocrites. But so what? This is football, we all know everyone is a hypocrite. The only club it damages is Chelsea, because it makes them look like they are stung by Sky, and as ultimately meaningless a figure as Souness. They don't look nasty, ruthless or enjoyably aggressive as they have in the past. They look weak and upset - like babies, as Zlatan Ibrahimovic put it.
Today, Chelsea will probably beat Southampton at Stamford Bridge, and no one will be talking about this Instagram nonsense. If they don’t, everyone will be talking about this Instagram nonsense, or some other imagined farce Mourinho will create. It might well work, but it’s not really necessary, and it’s too big a risk.
Yes, it looks silly, but more than that it is starting to look desperate. At Real there came a time that it finally became counter-productive. It is not hard to think that if the pressure increases even further on Chelsea, it might start to unsettle his own players more than it ever did Guardiola.
Alexander Netherton - follow on Twitter external@lxndrnthrtnhttps://twitter.com/lxndrnthrtnNone