Have the mind games already begun?
Many will have suspected it for some time, but the confirmation came this week that Jose Mourinho is not happy with his strikers.
December 11th, 2013
And with Chelsea presently adamant they will not be buying big in the transfer window, the club’s owner and manager are, after just six months, waiting to see who blinks first.
Mourinho is clear that Fernando Torres, Samuel Eto’o and Demba Ba are all doing their best. But there is the suggestion that their best is not good enough, for a team expected to challenge for the Premier League title.
There is, of course, Romelu Lukaku: though the Belgian is yet to answer Mourinho’s ultimatum to tell the world why he went on loan. The truth may lie somewhere around the 20-year-old’s desire to be the automatic first-choice striker – a title no Chelsea player can command.
Lukaku may have scored plenty of goals at both West Brom and Everton, but he needs a little more in the way of finesse before he can regularly trouble Chelsea’s first XI. And even then, rotation will beckon.
Even if it were possible (and, whatever Steve Clarke says, these things are always possible), there does not seem to a the wish on either side to recall Lukaku in January.
So that leaves the transfer market – which, according to the club at least, is closed.
Some of this striker talk is surely power games.
We’ve seen it before from Mourinho: the deployment of a false nine at Old Trafford had the desired effect of securing Eto’o as a stopgap back-up to push Torres a bit harder.
The striker comments are clearly aimed at making the point he needs the tools to do the job.
And this obviously comes from a man who knows what happens to Chelsea managers who fail to win the league.
By saying all this now, should the club follow apparent policy and let the axe fall on a non-league-winning boss, it leaves open the opportunity to say he was set up to fail. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time that has happened to a Chelsea boss.
All of this seems to boil down to one thing: the struggle over who controls Chelsea Football Club.
Which though, superficially, may seem to be about little more than the egos of a multi-billionaire and the multi-millionaire he employs – has greater implications.
Bear in mind that Mourinho’s last departure from Stamford Bridge was essentially down to Abramovich emphatically demonstrating that it is him, and nobody else, who is in charge.
Mourinho knows this and, one suspects, is certain he also knows just how hard he is allowed to push things with his boss.
The rest of us will have to wait and see if he is right about that.