Commentary

Second fall of Mourinho much harder than the first

The second departure of Jose Mourinho from Chelsea has, of yet, not been as widely lamented as the first.

Seldom, if ever, has a defending top-tier champion lurched out of the gate and labored so futilely week after week, month after month. A 2-1 loss to surprise leader Leicester City last weekend left Chelsea in 16th place and just a point above the relegation zone.

Chelsea was struggling when Mourinho got the boot in September 2007, but a poor start to the season had merely roiled already turbulent waters. Owner Roman Abramovich had overseen the purchase -- for about $60 million -- of Ukrainian striker Andriy Shevchenko against Mourinho’s wishes, and the “Special One” also chafed under the influences of Frank Arnesen (head of youth development) and Avram Grant (director of football).

Mourinho’s first stint had produced two Premier League titles -- the first of which ended a drought of 50 years -- and the breakup prompted shocked reaction from fans, players and pundits. Upon replacing Mourinho, Grant steered Chelsea to its first Champions League final, which it lost agonizingly to Manchester United in a penalty-kick shootout.

Grant lasted all of eight months. He was followed in rather quick succession by Luiz Felipe Scolari, Guus Hiddink, Carlo Ancelotti, Andre Villas-Boas, and former Chelsea player Roberto di Matteo, who engineered a Champions League title in May 2012, yet got the sack six months later. His replacement, Rafael Benitez, finished out the season and made way for Mourinho’s return in June 2013. (The list excludes one match handled by assistant coach Ray Wilkinson an interim basis.)


Mourinho didn’t come close to equaling his first stint at Chelsea, which lasted 39 months. And from the start of the 2015-16 season, neither he nor so many of his defending champions looked right. His absurd dispute with team trainer Eva Carniero further tainted a sputtering start to the season marked by consistently poor performances from several players who had been essential to the team’s title run last season: John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic, Cesc Fabregas, Eden Hazard and Nemanja Matic all labored to find their form as they were shuttled in and out of the lineup.

How dire has Chelsea been this season? Among their conquerors in league play are Crystal Palace, Everton, Southampton, West Ham, Stoke City, Bournemouth, and Leicester City. It also lost at home to Liverpool and suffered a 3-0 thrashing at Manchester City. The loss to Leicester left it 20 points -- 20! -- out of first place, and 14 points behind fourth-place Manchester United.

How inept has its attack been? Diego Costais the team’s leading scorer with three goals and only five teams -- none in the top half of the standings -- have scored fewer than its 18 goals.

Technical director Michael Emenalo, a former Nigerian international who played in MLS for San Jose, told The Guardian and several other outlets that the team was wracked by"‘palpable discord."

Hiddink is the favorite to replace Mourinho, a move that makes sense because he’s toured with this circus before. He’s been looking for a job since being relieved of his duties with the Dutch national team in June. Ancelotti is among the purported candidates to take over long-term, yet strange as it sounds, who takes over may not matter. Abramovich has a track record of getting it right, or making quick changes if he doesn’t.

The Premier League title won last spring was the 15th honor won by Chelsea since Abramovich completed his takeover in 2003. It has won four Premier League titles (three under Mourinho), four FA Cups, three League Cups, two Community Shields and a Europa League crown along with the Champions League.

Despite the Premier League struggles, it made sense for Abramovich to keep Mourinho through the Champions League group phase. By advancing to the round of 16 as Group G winner, Chelsea banked 24 million euros ($26 million). It earned 12 million euros by playing in the group phase, picked up 1.5 million euros for each victory, claimed 500,000 euros for its one tie in the group phase, and bagged 5.5 million euros by reaching the round of 16.

It will also be paid additional money out of a pool drawn from revenue sources that accrue during the competition.

Managerial volatility and lavish overspending for players seldom generates consistent success, yet the turbulent reign of Abramovich has pushed Chelsea -- formerly known as “The Pensioners” for signing once-great players well past their primes -- out of mediocrity into the limelight. The second fall of Mourinho is probably the steepest in the dozen years of Abramovich, but the oligarch doesn’t allow his team to stay down for long.

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