Not So Special Anymore?


So is this how it ends?

With a whimper?

With a team languishing mid-table, out of the title race by November?

Does the career of one of the most interesting, and successful, managers in the history of the game really come crashing down like this?

Jose Mourinho has been at the top of the global game almost from the moment he first took over at Porto. In a few short years he’d turned that club into European Champions.

He’d already gained a reputation as an inspirational coach with a healthy self-regard.

He called himself The Special One.

It was arrogant, almost beyond belief, but this was a guy who made good on that over and over again.

There were times when he was so good there was simply no way to doubt it.

He’s won trophies everywhere he’s been, including two Champions League titles. He has league championships in four countries, and he’s won a slew of personal awards.

He has respect at every level in football.

Should his Chelsea career end in ignominy he will still have a queue of clubs a mile long wanting to take on his services.

But what exactly will those services be worth now?

Are we witnessing the beginnings of the end here, or is this like so many relationships that has resumed after collapsing the first time?

Those who say you never go back may well be onto something. Maybe it’s just that simple.

Yet there are signs that it’s more, that perhaps the magician has lost the magic.

When did this all start?

Well, there have been signs all season that something was wrong with him, like some beast had been unchained and left to run amuck.

The early signs came in August, after the Charity Shield final, where Arsene Wegner got the best of him for the first time in 14 attempts.

After the match, Mourinho’s litany of complaints was notable for its breadth; he railed against Arsenal for “defensive football”, which is hilarious to anyone who remembers some of his team’s own matches; he complained about the state of the Wembley pitch; he moaned about Wegner not shaking his hand, which would have been somewhat hypocritical considering the way the Portuguese boss has spoken about his French counterpart.

Listening to the press conference that afternoon you got the feeling that this was a guy who had taken the defeat hard, who needed to relax a little, who was, even then, beginning to feel the tug of certain pressures within the job.

That feeling was heightened – and how – the following weekend, when in an unprecedented outburst he savaged the club physio Eva Carneiro for treating an injured player in the last minute of the game against Swansea.

The storm that provoked has been blowing ever since; she was demoted, has since resigned and is now filing separate constructive dismissal and harassment claims against the club and Mourinho himself, over the way she was treated.

The extraordinary nature of that outburst left most observers stunned.

It was so uncalled for, so out of the blue.

Some speculated at the time that it was a convenient cover for a poor result – the 2-2 draw with Swansea was the opening game in the league campaign – or a deflection to keep the press from asking him what he thought of Courtois being sent off, but as the season has progressed towards Saturday’s dreadful result it’s become clear that it was more.

Jose has always been a prickly character, but lately more than ever.

It’s almost as if he can feel it all slipping away.

Over the last year, his press conferences have more and more come to be clouded by anger, almost paranoia, as he’s rounded on everyone from rival managers to the FA itself.

It’s resulted in bans, and fines, and all the while the performances on the park have deteriorated.

Their league position is bad enough, but they’re third in their Champions League group, which makes this week’s match against Kiev a must-win one.

The board are backing him – for now.

But that comes with the caveat that results need to improve, and quickly.

On top of that, he’s facing two FA bans at the moment for some of the aforementioned press conferences.

The siege mentality he was clearly trying to build now encases the club, and increasingly starts from his office.

He has said – and not without some justification – that he is the best manager Chelsea can hope to have.

His trophy haul at the club is impressive, and there’s no obvious standout figure with the same presence.

Those with a legitimate claim to being in his league are settled at their own clubs right now and although appointing either Hiddink or Ancelotti has been mooted they too represent a step backward, but more importantly also undoubtedly a step down.

It’s especially ironic that one of the manager’s with a justifiable claim to being at his level was the one who, at the weekend, hammered another nail into his coffin.

Jurgen Klopp, who’s modest demeanour thus far hides a sharp, analytical, footballing brain has already got the best of Mourinho in the high pressure environment of the Champions League. He would have been a good fit with Chelsea had he been available, but Liverpool got there first, after dispensing with the services of Brendan Rodgers … who’s Liverpool side look like a success story in comparison to the travails currently being experienced at the London club.

The lack of good candidates is not something that will unduly concern Abramovich if he has to make the change because there are no shortage of bosses who would want the Chelsea job; just about everyone out there would take it in the blink of an eye, as there are no shortage of clubs who’ll want the Special One if his time at Stamford Bridge really is coming to an end.

Yet this match once seemed perfect because Chelsea is a top tier side who wanted a top tier boss, and he’d proven he was that.

What will haunt the Chelsea owner is that it’s debatable whether anyone out there is as good as Mourinho has proven he can be and that remains the crucial component in this.

Another manager might turn around the slump before it becomes a full-on disaster and makes Champions League football impossible … but Chelsea are bigger than that, and harbouring grander ambitions by far.

They don’t want a Sam Allardyce style stopgap.

They want a boss who can take them to the next level.

So much of the Mourinho legend is hype, much of it self-generated, but he’s one of those rare managers whose boasts and self-aggrandising are reflected in the honours he’s won and the things he’s achieved. There is more here there than just big talk. He’s accomplished things that seemed impossible.

He belongs in that small group of elite bosses who dominate the game.

If he can recapture the magic, and find that spark, then truly there’s no-one better out there for the Chelsea job, and in that sense he’s correct to warn the board, and increasingly the fans, that they’d be making a mistake to replace him with a lesser mortal.

But if the old tricks no longer work, if we’re witnessing a manager in decline, if the wiring has blown and the hype is all that’s left, Chelsea will have to act fast.

The Special One has to prove he’s still special … or we’re truly watching the beginning of the end.