‘Please don’t call me arrogant, but I’m European champion and I think I’m a special one.’
Jose Mourinho, 2004
In football, for a promising youngster to be labelled ‘Special’ by a well-established veteran is pressure enough. Suddenly, from being in the periphery of everyone’s vision, he starts getting noticed. On the other hand, when one refers to himself as ‘Special’, the pressure that follows knows no limits; the pressure to justify the brazen arrogance, the pressure to justify the tag in itself and the pressure to prove the four and twenty million gloaters and doubters wrong.
In Jose Mourinho’s case, above all that, it was the pressure to manage the club headed by one of the most demanding owners in the world – Roman Abramovic. He was called in to replace Claudio Ranieri at the helm of Chelsea Football Club in the summer of 2004. In Ranieri, the Chelsea fans had a manager they loved, adored and respected. But due to lack of any concrete success, they saw the Italian shown the door and replaced by a Portuguese with a growing reputation in world football. Mourinho had just masterminded an unlikely Champions League triumph for his previous side Porto, but managing Chelsea was a different ball-game altogether. By referring to himself as ‘The Special One’ in his first press conference, he made his forthcoming task as hard as can be. The rest though, as they say, is history.
Six trophies in three seasons made him Chelsea’s most successful manager ever, before he departed for Italy to take charge at Inter Milan. A league success in his first season, followed by The Treble in his second established him as the top man in Europe. Real Madrid came calling next and even though he only managed three trophies in as many seasons with the club, he steered the ship in the right direction, reaching the last four of the Champions League every year. Now he’s back at Stamford Bridge, bidding to script some more history at the club he calls ‘home’.
There’s this thing with Jose. There always has been. Behind the outspoken and cocky exterior lies a calm, collected and commanding interior. He’s always been one step ahead of his counterparts at whatever he does. His tactics may at times seem absolutely baffling at first viewing, but in the end, it all falls together like the most wonderful jigsaw.
Let’s take the recent Super Cup game against Bayern Munich, for instance. Juan Mata was deemed to be a sure-starter, as was Romelu Lukaku. Jose dropped Mata once again and went with Fernando Torres up front, bewildering and angering several Blues fans in the process. But the way in which the game panned out showed how Jose had got his tactics spot on and how Mata’s inability to track back would have drastically affected the game. Torres too had a great outing, scoring a brilliant opener and going on to make his presence felt at every given opportunity. Even with ten men, Chelsea would have won the Super Cup were it not for Javi Martinez’s equaliser with the last kick of the game.
Now, Jose has stirred up further debates by loaning out Lukaku, regarded by some as probably Chelsea’s best striker at the moment. But if Mourinho is to be believed, Torres is showing great signs of improvement and is a big part of his plans. The signing of Samuel Eto’o, one of the most accomplished strikers in modern football, pushed Lukaku further back in the pecking order. With Chelsea opting to play only one striker, game time for Lukaku was sure to be extremely limited were he to stay at the Bridge. Playing on a regular basis is imperative for the 20 year-old Belgian to develop further and so, having Demba Ba as third-choice rather than Lukaku was deemed to be the best option.
The number of tactical decisions taken by Jose, which seem questionable initially, is countless. First-half substitutions, triple substitutions at half-time, dropping key players in key games – you name it, he’s done it. And the despite the stick he has received from several pundits, his records speaks for itself. He knows how to win football matches and land silverware on a regular basis, and at the end of the day, that’s all that counts anyway.
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