Players hold the fate of a club in their hands, which is why Mike Ashley needs to invest in the best – by the time you read this, the world and his wife will have had their say on the sacking of Jose Mourinho.
Why bother spending even a minute or two on the random thoughts of somebody who has no more idea of the whys and wherefores behind the dismissal than your good self? Chelsea, after all, have only tangential links to Newcastle United, forged by both clubs playing in the Premier League. And that element of competition might not survive beyond May.
But look behind the screaming headlines, the instant reaction on social media, the speculation over Mourinho’s successor and answer a question that has bugged me for years: how much of a team’s success or failure is down to the manager?
Bringing it all back home, was Steve McClaren to blame for our depressing series of defeats and wretched performances? I estimate 50% on average is the players’ responsibility at any club; 30% is the owner’s; a maximum of 10% the manager’s; and the rest is good old Lady Luck (referees, linesmen, the bounce of the ball, etc).
With the fashion for committees and/or sporting directors to take charge of player recruitment, the manager’s importance is diminished compared with when he scouted, signed and built a team in his image. All he can do is work with what he’s given.
Yes, the manager/head coach decides the tactics, the formation and presumably whether to go for a win or a draw. Yet, once those 11 players (cliche alert) step over the white line there is little the gaffer can do to ensure they perform as instructed.
Hence the former Chelsea manager’s comment after losing at Leicester that his work had been “betrayed” on the pitch. That inflammatory outburst must have rung bells in many a dugout, with the occupants thinking: “There but for fortune . . . ”
Managers rarely blame their players in public. Mourinho was a master at diverting attention away from the essential reason for a setback. He would blame, for example, the referee, the opposition, the FA, anyone but his team. He had only one close rival in the art of smoke and mirrors; that bloke who managed a Lancashire club for yonks. Mourinho thought, wrongly, he was too big to be sacked. He should have learnt his lesson eight years ago.
The owner at Stamford Bridge has made a pretty good job of proving long-term stability is irrelevant to success. Between the first departure of the Specious One (copyright Hugh McIlvanney) in September 2007 and his second coming in June 2013, Chelsea won the Champions League for the first time, the Europa League and the FA Cup three times. In that time no fewer than seven men occupied one of the hottest seats in football. That total doesn’t include the week Ray Wilkins held the reins. By the way, has there even been a more utterly inappropriate nickname for a footballer than Butch?
Without doubt the two biggest factors in the difficult-to-stomach success of that bunch of arrogant tossers, are Roman Abramovich and the players. With or without Mourinho, they carry on collecting silverware, qualifying for the Champions League and reaching the knockout stages of that moneyspinner season after season after season. Not that I’m jealous.
They’re just a small team in London, a team who were, let’s not forget, unable to defeat Newcastle United in a Premier League fixture at St James’ Park during either of Mourinho’s spells in charge. Perhaps the way we outplayed them for the first hour three months ago was one of the final nails in his coffin. Abramovich might be forgiven for suggesting a more accurate description of his former employee should be The Not So Special One. Rather than the Portuguese, the Russian has been playing roulette with the highest stakes since he bought the club in 2003, weeks after they scraped into fourth place and the Champions League by beating Liverpool in the final game of the season.
Until his takeover they had been serial underachievers, with just the one Football League championship to their name (secured in 1955, when guess who won the FA Cup) and no sign of a serious challenge for the Premier League title except for the 1998-99 season.
They finished below us nearly every year in the decade after Sky rewrote the rulebook. But by 2005 they had lifted their first Premier League trophy, with Mourinho ever so quick to reject suggestions that success had been bought with the owner’s millions. “That’s rich,” I thought at the time.
In the decade since, they have amassed an impressive collection of silverware . . . while we are still waiting. Hoping against hope that our owner will stumble on the winning formula.
He could start, belatedly, by following Chelsea’s example of signing the best players that money can buy. Mike Ashley is familiar with success in the world of pile ’em high and sell ’em cheap. When will he realise football is a different ball game? Don’t hold your breath.
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