One of the running subplots to Chelsea’s circus 2012-13 season was whether Frank Lampard’s contract would be renewed. On the face of it – actually, anyway you look at the issue – it was an entirely dumb debate.
Lampard is a living, breathing, Chelsea legend who has carried himself with the kind of class and dignity that has often been found lacking at Stamford Bridge. Furthermore, Chelsea weren’t considering extending the deal of a statue: Lampard can still play.
When Lampard was just days away from signing with the LA Galaxy, the President of the club’s parent company AEG, Tim Lieweke – the man who brought David Beckham and Robbie Keane to Hollywood and was working on the Lampard deal – unexpectedly left the company.
Lampard was left stranded and in limbo. Eventually, his play demanded he be given a one-year contract for the new season, but it was a useless and unnecessary close call.
One of the people who convinced Super Frank to stay, of course, was Jose Mourinho, who knew as early as March 2013 that he’d most likely replace Rafa Benitez for a second spell at Chelsea.
Lampard is out of contract again after this season, as is John Terry and Ashley Cole, three of the remaining four from Mourinho’s vaunted old guard.
While anything can happen, the Portuguese has all but guaranteed that all three will be back. It is a massive change in policy from the muddled, ruthless message that emanated from SW6 in the past.
Mourinho wants these three players – all past their prime – back. So they’ll be back.
Since when under Roman Abramovich has a Chelsea boss had that power? Not even the first time Mourinho was manager could he control the squad like that – remember Andriy Shevchenko?
But it seems like the Special One exerts special control. His fiery defense of the Romalu Lukaku loan suggests that that calamitous decision was his too.
Jose is running the show. But is that an altogether good thing?
Clearly, things aren’t coming together right now for Chelsea. Despite a second place Premier League standing and comfortable Champions League qualification, the Blues have been beyond shaky this year.
While they have dazzled at times, Chelsea has just failed to show up for certain games this year. They’ve been defensively leaky and lacked any killer instinct whatsoever.
It’s a far cry from the dominant Mourinho Chelsea teams of old. Perhaps those teams had less individual skill than the current side, but they had far more steel and grinding determination.
Honestly, Mourinho looks lost on the touchline. His return to England hasn’t been the return to glory he expected – despite having the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool, and not the Manchester clubs, to contend with in the league.
Chelsea is looking at shopping for a forward in January, while they are paying the player they need to play for Everton.
Mourinho’s close friend Steve Clark was sacked by a West Brom board that might as well have been run by Roman Abramovich himself. And people are beginning to wonder if Mourinho knows how to fix what’s rapidly becoming a mess.
This Chelsea team certainly doesn’t look any different than it did last year, when Roberto Di Matteo was sacked with the same statistics – better statistics, in fact – than Mourinho has right now.
And yet the manager’s job is not under question. At Chelsea, Chelsea, where Avrahm Grant got axed because it was raining in Moscow, and Carlo Ancelotti got booted because the board insisted that Fernando Torres score, and Mr’s. Scolari, Di Matteo and Villas-Boas got mere months to win something akin to the World Cup, Mourinho is safe and sound at Christmas.
Not only is Mourinho working without threat, he also has a say in transfer policy? These are strange times indeed.
When did Chelsea’s demise from world superpower to lightweight start? It’s hard to say – but at some point, Abramovich decided buying players like Oscar and Hazard was preferable to brining in bulls like Essian and Drogba.
There’s a lot of fluff at Chelsea right now. Mourinho doesn’t particularly like his squad – Cole has bizarrely been left to rot on the bench, as has the popular and erstwhile Juan Mata, while the leader of the “New Chelsea”, David Luiz, has also been backstage for almost the entire season.
Mourinho still is an unbelievable wizard with a phrase and a press corpse waiting to lap it up, and he’s still that amazing mix of a man who both has perspective and loses it frequently.
But Jose doesn’t trust fluff – he made his name with teams who just outside the mainstream and had players who were just short of superstars. He likes toughness, and Chelsea lack toughness right now.
Consistently since his return, Mourinho has stated that he is going to be at Chelsea long-term. But it just doesn’t make any sense: Not only has Jose never been at a club more than three years, how long will Roman Abramovich wait for results?
With previous managers, he couldn’t even wait one entire year.
These are uncertain times at Chelsea – partially because after Benitez, some thought Mourinho’s return would instantly heal all that ailed the club, and that hasn’t happened.
After Chelsea’s exit from the League Cup at Sunderland on Wednesday night, this season has become a lot more important for Mourinho’s Chelsea than most could have predicted.
The league is wide open. Everyone has a shot. Chelsea were handed a favorable Champions League draw, and they’re always favorites for their most frequent conquer, the FA Cup.
Mourinho never went a full season without winning a trophy at Porto, Chelsea, Inter, or Real Madrid.
That’s ten straight years with silverware. That streak is in jeopardy.
Strange times indeed at Stamford Bridge.