For all those Chelsea fans who feel that the tide has turned, the storm is over, and the skies have cleared around Stamford Bridge, be cautious, it may not have even begun.
While almost all outside of Stamford Bridge, all football fans not bored housewives, claimed to hate the “Special One” the truth is that it was more of a case of hating Chelsea, and what they stand for, throwing money at problems, hiring mercenaries, and inflating transfer fees, they would in truth love to have Mourinho managing their club. The full affect of Mourinho’s influence on Chelsea wont be felt for another month or so, when Chelsea lose Essien, Drogba. Mikel and Kalou to the African Cup of Nations. Not only will the strength of their squad be tested, but so will the team spirit of the squad, a team spirit that was cultivated by Mourinho, and has been found wanting at times since his resignation.
When Mourinho was shown the door the call from the owners box was for attractive, attacking football. That wasn’t seen in the first weeks of Avram Grants tenure as Chelsea manager. In his first game Chelsea went down 2-0 to Manchester United in performance that was so bereft of life and spirit that would have left many of Chelsea’s fans wondering if this the end of the line for their spell as one of the top teams in the country. While always assuming that Mourinho had a substantial influence on the squad, the actual size of this, judging by that performance, must have been alarming.
Mourinho, although spending a lot of money during his time at the Bridge, had inserted a backbone of Cech, Terry, Lampard and Drogba in the Chelsea team. These were all Mourinho men, willing to go to battle for their leader, and always giving their all. Since his departure there has been a lot of grumbling in the press, of a fall out between Terry and Mourinho leading to his departure, of Terry and Lampard not being on speaking terms as a result, and of Drogba’s devastation at the loss of Mourinho and the subsequent wishes to leave. The team spirit at Stamford Bridge is being tested, and while Terry, Cole, Lampard and co may come out and speak about the support they have for the new man, Avram Grant, and that he is the right man for the job, you can’t but feel that this is merely the standard press line by the players. While being shocked, and outraged even, by Mourinho forced fall, they must have been livid by the replacement. Not only did it now seem that Grant must have been lined up months before to take over the managers job, but while they could have expected many of the big names in world football to have at least been talked to, the owner seems to have given the job, the job of coaching of the top teams in the world, to a friend, a friend with no record of all at managing in a top league, a friend that may just be a puppet to increased interference by Mr. Abramovic. That may be the key reason why other coaches weren’t even approached, no manager with any pride would allow interference of any kind in the running of the club. So Abramovic has his man.
While Grant pay point to a 6-0 thrashing of Manchester City as proof that the team are playing more attractive football, and that he is doing the job well, the truth is little can be taken from that result. Chelsea still play with the 4-3-3 formation that Mourinho employed, with the 3 up front spit to 2 out wide and only 1 in the middle, and is playing to pretty much Mourinho’s tactics. They happened to catch an over confident City side on a very bad day. One performance does not make a season. They have looked lackluster in the league and in Europe, often doing just enough and no more. The draw against Everton would not have been allowed to happen under Mourinho. Tight discipline would have lead to Chelsea holding on to their 1-0 lead and not conceding in the last minute.
While Chelsea have a squad brimming with talent, the way they play, and the results show this, is that they are a one man team. They are over reliant on Drogba. Without Terry at the back they seem venerable and less assured. The same can be said about Cech. When Lampard is missing there is a certain drive that isn’t there, and Essien may be the energy of the team, but it is Drogba that has been Chelsea over the last 2 years. He has won games for them, and rescued draws, when Chelsea haven’t deserved anything. His goals are the reason they were able to Challenge last season. If Drogba were to leave Chelsea would have to find a replacement to be the focal point of their play, and one that is up to it. A lot will be seen of how well Chelsea will cope with Drogba when he leaves for the African Cup of Nations in January. Should the Ivory Coast do well, and they should, he could be gone for 6 weeks. Pizzaro, Schevchenko and Kalou are all good players, but have not shown that they are able to carry a team, particularly when things aren’t going for you. This is when the team spirit at Chelsea will be tested, this is when they will have to stand up and show what they are made of. Under Mourinho there is no doubt that the steal would have been there. Grant will find out during this testing period whether the players really are with him or not – more than what is said in the press.