When you’re faced with adversity, there are typically two options: One is to stick to the tried and tested, the other is to try something new.
The two Manchester clubs have gone in new directions by hiring managers that are previously untested at the Etihad Stadium and at Old Trafford, but it is a case of ‘more of the same’ down in the British capital.
Following the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger is currently the longest-active serving manager in the Premier League, having overseen more matches than all his counterparts combined.
Across the city at Chelsea, the managerial merry-go-round has taken another turn, with Rafael Benitez getting off and someone else being given a turn at playing Roman Abramovich’s game of Russian roulette.
But unlike any of the previous managers at Chelsea, Jose Mourinho will be taking over the reins at Chelsea for the second time, looking to build on the glory that made him Chelsea’s most successful manager.
Change begets change, it is said, and much has changed in the time the self-styled ‘Special One’ departed under such acrimonious circumstances in 2007. Chelsea is no longer the only fabulously moneyed club in England. It is no longer as easy as it was during Mourinho’s time to qualify for the Champions League. No more is the gap between the hallowed Top Four and the rest of England’s top flight as vast as it was.
But while the Barclays Premier League has changed, has Mourinho?
Like he did at Chelsea, he delivered trophies in his two seasons at Inter Milan. But like he did at Chelsea, he also left a vacuum which the Italians are still struggling to plug. Replacing him does not involve replacing Mourinho the manager; it involves replacing Mourinho the man.
Mourinho rarely looks beyond the present. If you look at the players he drafted in at Inter Milan, they were all meant to deliver instant success. Diego Milito, Samuel Eto’o, Wesley Sneijder, Sulley Muntari and Ricardo Quaresma were all expensive additions to the Nerazzurri that won him instant accolades, but that meant players of the ilk of Davide Santon were frozen out and forced to look elsewhere for football.
Mourinho knew instantly what would give him recognition in modern-day football. But the manner in which he has gone about it shows that he is selfish, putting himself ahead of the needs of his employers.
All you have to do is take a look at Inter now. In the three years since Mourinho’s departure from the San Siro, Inter have hired six different managers and sacked five of them. Two out of those three seasons have seen Inter fail to qualify for the Champions League.
It was clear that Mourinho overspent during the time he was at Inter. In the 2011-12 season that saw Eto’o move to Anzhi Makhachkala for 27 million Euros, Inter spent a little less than that amount on all the players that came in that season.
And that was always the way Inter Milan had operated. Roberto Mancini won Inter the Scudetto in 2007 without much investment in the squad, following the club’s policy of promoting promising players from within the ranks.
At Chelsea, Mourinho had with him a cadre of players who were loyal to him. Frank Lampard, Petr Cech, John Terry, Claude Makelele, Ricardo Carvalho and Paulo Ferreira were always going to profess their loyalty to the Portuguese tactician because they had either served with him before or had gained prominence while he was at the Bridge.
But the squad he inherits now is a motley group of players assembled by those who have come before him. As Andre Villas-Boas sadly found out, player egos, backed by huge salaries, are often large and can supercede managerial authority.
Mourinho too had trouble at Real Madrid with some of the club’s most prominent players. Iker Casillas, captain of the national team and the favoured son of the Santiago Bernabeu, was left out in the cold because he fell out with Mourinho. But Saint Iker wasn’t the only one who faced the bench under Mou. Suddenly, in a show of solidarity, Sergio Ramos was sporting Mesut Ozil’s shirt under his own in a very public bromance between the two players and Pepe was found accompanying Casillas more often than not.
You can’t win championships when there is friction between manager and players, and that could be the reason the Madrid squad failed to deliver silverware this season. They could have done had there been some middle ground between the two parties because they made beating Barcelona look easy, irrespective of whether it was in the Spanish capital or Catalonia. It was on other occasions against more unfancied opponents that they stumbled.
The perfect symbol of how sour the relationship was between Mourinho and the Real Madrid hierarchy was when he refused to collect his runners-up medal from the King of Spain, whose family have long been ardent patrons of the club, after Atletico Madrid beat them 2-1 in the Copa del Rey final.
Chelsea fans are the only ones who have seen a different side of Mourinho that stays behind the arrogant, cocky exterior because he delivered them the success that they had been craving for years. But that does not mean he will not need to win over the likes of Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and Fernando Torres because they are the ones central to Abramovich’s grand plan.
On the surface, this is Abramovich capitulating and admitting that he was maybe wrong to let Mourinho leave in the first place. But under that, it is about Mourinho showing he has learned from his mistakes. How he fares at Chelsea will show whether he has taken the next step in his career and whether he has grown as a manager.
So what should Mourinho have learned from his time away from the Bridge?
He should have learned that he needs to take care of the club’s future needs, because the slide that they experience once he leaves is one that is hard to steady. He also needs to win over players who do not see eye to eye with him because a football club is so much more than the sum of its parts.