In typically unpredictable Premier League terms, when a mere matter of weeks can see the table upend itself, it seems an age since Chelsea’s erstwhile Iberian gaffer proclaimed that were the West London contingent to fire him they would “sack the best manager this club had”. Yet after two months and all the flux it brings with it, the board elected to do just that. Although the Blues, now 14th in the table, are only two places higher in the table since Mourinho’s typically truculent challenge to the board, it is a remarkably more confident looking Chelsea team under interim manager Guus Hiddink.
Theories aplenty abound as to what precipitated Mourinho’s exit from the club, beyond the awful string of results of course. The prevailing narrative that has sustained the voracious sports media for the last two months is that the bullish Portuguese managerial kingpin had lost the dressing room. Like Jesus to Judas or Othello to Iago, here was a leader unable to inspire the requisite level of loyalty and confidence in his fellows. In the end there was nothing as certain as 30 pieces of silver to point to, but it certainly did seem as if player power at Chelsea had once again forced out another manager.
It was telling that the club’s statement after the sacking of ‘The Special One’ concluded by informing the fans that the “focus is now on ensuring our talented squad reaches its potential”. From a modern football club as PR-trained as Chelsea, this seemed a lazily-veiled jab at Mourinho’s managerial style that supposedly shackled the players. It seems bizarre to declare this squad has not yet reached its potential when more or less the exact same collection of individuals won the league under Jose Mourinho only last season. Of course, from the board’s perspective, it is far easier to sack one manager than ship out every player bar Courtois, Zouma, Azpilcueta and Willian.
The fan’s bewilderment and anger at the decision was clear. Chelsea’s first game without the most successful manager in their history was marked by a wholesale rejection of the majority of the 11 players in front of them. Despite beating Sunderland 3-1 and playing a markedly less enervating and dispiriting brand of football, the fans were livid. Indeed the understandable anger of the fans seemed to increase regardless of how well the team was playing; the general perception being that the players had consciously refused to play to the best of their abilities for the fan’s beloved Special One. As a supporter, it is certainly hard to get behind a squad that puts its qualms with the manager ahead of the badge, especially so if that manager, along with in-flux captain John Terry, seems the only remaining representation for whatever the spirit of Chelsea Football Club is.
Fan and player favourite, Guus Hiddink, seemed mindful of the toxic atmosphere between the Stamford Bridge faithful and their far less faithful footballing counterparts, saying the squad should ‘look at themselves in the mirror’. A look at recent results implies the squad appears to have done just that. Oscar, whose erratic form seems so inextricably linked to Chelsea’s results, put in excellent shifts against Sunderland and MK Dons. Costa has elected to return to his role as a striker, rather than a crèche escapee. Even Fabregas, the recipient of the greatest amount of ire from Chelsea fans this season, has looked far more than just a shadow of his former self. Chelsea’s linchpin Eden Hazard, finally managed to bag a goal against MK Dons, gratefully converting a penalty and dutifully kissing the badge.
The fans will no doubt take solace that the torpidity of the players that dragged the Champions down into the mires of 14th place appears to have been shaken. But with the departure of a manager who most certainly bled blue, it is hard to shake the feeling that Stamford Bridge feels a little emptier.