The balance of power shifts again
Exiting Eastlands together on Monday night, thick as thieves, were a pair that looked like football's most unlikely inseparable pals.
February 6th, 2014
Jose Mourinho and Michael Emenalo strolled to the team bus side-by-side, almost skipping through the mixed zone: grinning like a beyond-surreal Morecambe and Wise.
What a difference a year can make.
Around this time last season, the word from the camp of then Real Madrid boss Mourinho was clear: total control at Chelsea, or no deal.
If Roman Abramovich wanted his ticket out of serial management disaster, all the Ferraris in the world would not persuade his number one choice – so long as his Technical Director was still calling the shots.
Neither man was shifting on that issue: who would blink first?
But so confident was Mourinho of his ability to persuade Abramovich his way was the right way, that he made a calculated decision: accept certain constraints now while working to reforge the club, in its entirety, as Mourinho Mk 2.
Some have painted this as a concordat between coach and oligarch: on a middle ground of ideas, that both would agree were under approval for a first Special season.
However, it seems far more likely that Mourinho took the hit on these: knowing, as all good managers do, that his success rested as much on his ability to manage those below him – as it did on his management of those above.
Bit by bit the sacred cows, some of which have seen the topping of previous Chelsea bosses, have been sent to the slaughterhouse.
First there was the need for a new striker: demonstrated subtly, ably by a team selection at Old Trafford in August which sent a very clear message to the big yacht. Mourinho got his way.
Another key victory was the axing of the on-pitch formation that has been the non-negotiable of three consecutive managers: 4-2-3-1, do or die. Unlike Villas-Boas, Di Matteo or Benitez, he now has the power to play whatever shape he sees fit, often switching within a match to suit needs.
By the time of the United return match, Mourinho had managed so much of a land-grab of policy and ideas that it barely even came as a surprise when he was able to do the unthinkable – and drop Fernando Torres for a big game. But, because it worked, the pendulum swung even further in his favour.
Playing personnel have come and gone to suit this gentle shift from an idealistic running, passing sub-tiki-taka game; to the controlling, workmanlike steel, complete with world-class flair, unveiled as The New Chelsea at Eastlands this week.
The idea that any other manager could persuade the owner, the players, the fans that Kevin De Bruyne and Juan Mata should make way for Nemanja Matic – well, it’s simply beyond reason. But he’s done it – all in the name of ‘transition’.
Mourinho has done it by using the attributes we all know he has: charm, guile, an incredible capacity for playing politics. And he has got away with it for one reason only, the sole reason that sits at the heart of all his success over the last decade: because it has got results.
Mourinho accepted Emenalo when he took back the Chelsea job, because he knew he needed him. He knew Abramovich would not shift total control overnight from the man who has been forging his mini-Barca over the last three years of turmoil.
And he also knew that nothing is set in stone at Chelsea: that control is about influence; and that all personnel are only as permanent as their last fireside chat with the Big Boss.
Six months on Mourinho and Emenalo left Eastlands together, almost hand in hand, for a completely different reason.
Because, in the interim, the powerbase has shifted. Now at Chelsea, it is Emenalo who needs Mourinho. And that is the real ‘transition’ Mourinho has brought about at Stamford Bridge.