Jose Mourinho‘s return to Chelsea went according to plan.
The love-fest between Chelsea and its new manager began in earnest last spring, carried on through the offseason and climaxed at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. Mourinho blew kisses to the Chelsea crowd before his team swept Hull City aside. An adoring crowd welcomed him “home” to Stamford Bridge, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich and captain John Terry embraced him in writing, and Chelsea and Hull City players delivered the expected performances and results.
After the game, Mourinho called on fans to redirect their love for him towards supporting the team, according to Sky Sports.
“It was fantastic, it is something you don’t forget,” Mourinho said about his return to Stamford Bridge. “It makes me think I made the right move by coming back — I am one of them, so I am so pleased and so happy.
“But I think it is enough. I need my team to be supported. I need them to sing my players’ names, I need them to push Chelsea all the way. Enough Mourinho and come on Chelsea.
“I know they love me, that is one of the reasons why I am back, but now it is my time to work for them and for them to support the team.”
Mourinho couldn’t have picked a better time or place to deliver such a message, as it is and will be fundamental to understanding Chelsea’s near-term future. While his return united a divided club and elevated Chelsea from “dark-horse contender” to “title favorite” (in the eyes of the public), Mourinho knows better than anyone the size of the challenge he faces.
When the Portuguese tactician arrived at Chelsea for the first time (in 2004), he inherited a mature squad — one full of stars who needed a few tweaks and a little extra push to win the Premier League. Chelsea spared no expense in acquiring the players Mourinho thought would give them the edge. This Chelsea team is different. There are a few remnants of the vaunted “Old Guard” (remnants of his first tenure) and a handful of peak-years players, but the balance of squad leans toward the youth. Half of the first team are age 24 or younger.
This is essentially the same group that won the UEFA Europa League last season but crashed out of the UEFA Champions League and finished 14 points behind league champion Manchester United. It’s reasonable to expect Mourinho’s arrival, coupled with changes at Manchester United will narrow that gap, but the good feeling created by Mourinho’s arrival won’t close it completely.
This could be why Mourinho has attempted to temper the expectations and enthusiasm of fans (and pundits) with his public comments. He is, as he says, one of the “Godfathers” among the ranks of Premier League managers, but he is neither “god” nor “father” relative to the opposition. His postgame message suggest that he is aware of his own limitations. It will take time, energy and investment for this Chelsea squad to grow into champions. That approach is the natural order of things. It won’t happen right away, as Mourinho is no worker of miracles, despite being arguably the best manager in club soccer.
Mourinho’s Hollywood-style homecoming wasn’t a reflection of Chelsea’s current reality. Instead, it should be viewed as the closing chapter of the story of Mourinho’s split from and reunion with Chelsea. He sensationally left in 2007 before — in the tradition of the great Portuguese navigators of the past — “wandering around Europe” for six years, developing as a manager and winning some of the game’s biggest prizes. Chelsea cycled through eight managers in the six years after Mourinho left. The Blues continued to win major honors, but their reputation among potential managers suffered. In the end, Mourinho agreed to a second stint because both he and Chelsea crave the stability of a long-term partnership.
Mourinho says that has returned to Chelsea as a “complete manager.” He’ll need those finely honed skills to meet the most important challenges he faces in 2013-14. Those challenges, markers of Chelsea’s true reality, are to deliver good results and performances in the biggest league games (starting on August 26 when the Blues visit Manchester United), preserve his unbeaten streak at Stamford Bridge (it currently stands at 61 games), ensure that the likes of Oscar and Eden Hazard reach their potential and become genuinely world-class players, operate effectively in the transfer market and, of course, win major trophies.
Beating newly promoted Hull City on a perfect afternoon in West London is one thing. Hitting those other lofty targets is much different and exponentially more difficult.
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