Jose Mourinho has reacted to the disintegration of Chelsea’s Premier League title defence in characteristically abrasive fashion, but he appears increasingly enmeshed in a web of his own making.
Mourinho’s instinctive response to adversity is to lash out in the hope of forging a siege mentality and his targets this season have ranged from his old foe Arsene Wenger to Chelsea’s former team doctor Eva Carneiro.
But his railing has failed to achieve the desired effect and amid fervent speculation that his days at Stamford Bridge may be numbered, there is a suggestion that his message is no longer getting through.
In the words of the former Chelsea player-manager Ruud Gullit: “If you keep on moaning and moaning and moaning, people will get fed up.”
Central to Chelsea’s problems has been Mourinho’s apparent failure to re-motivate the players who he led to a Premier League and League Cup double just six months ago.
Previously, Mourinho has inspired devotion in his players with a confrontational leadership style whereby stinging criticism is replaced by reparative praise once his charges have started to follow his instructions.
But while that approach has brought him huge short-term success, his experiences at former clubs — as well as in his first stint at Chelsea — suggest that it is not a strategy that is workable over a long period of time.
Alvaro Arbeloa, who played under Mourinho for three years at Real Madrid, says that he is incapable of moderating his methods when players prove resistant to them.
“I spoke with him a lot and Jose is a coach who demands a lot and he doesn’t know any other way than to be that demanding,” the former Spain international said in an interview with The Independent.
“He would say, ‘I’m not able to say, “How’s it going? What’s happening? How do you feel?” to a player who isn’t trying.’ He can’t deal with the situation that the team is not functioning. He didn’t take that at all well.”
There are also reports that members of Mourinho’s squad have reached breaking point over his constant finger-pointing, following trenchant public criticisms of under-performing players such as Eden Hazard.
– Isolated figure –
In widely reprinted remarks made over the weekend, a senior BBC radio reporter said that Mourinho’s relationship with the misfiring Hazard was “under immense strain”.
Garry Richardson also made the startling claim that a senior Chelsea player had told him: “I’d rather lose than win for him.”
Chelsea’s hierarchy gave Mourinho a public vote of confidence following last month’s home defeat by Southampton and are reported to have reiterated their support for him after Saturday’s 3-1 loss at home to Liverpool.
But he continues to cut an isolated figure, with West Ham United vice-chairman Karren Brady revealing that he chose to stand on his own rather than sit with three of his directors after being sent to the stands during Chelsea’s 2-1 defeat at Upton Park.
Dissecting his relationship with Chelsea’s American chairman Bruce Buck, Brady wrote in The Sun that “he has hardly any relationship with him as football is just a sideline and not the focus of his life”.
A critical illness suffered by his father, Jose Snr, at the end of last season has also cast a cloud over the Chelsea manager in recent months, although Mourinho recently revealed that the 77-year-old had made “amazing” progress.
For all Mourinho’s travails, he continues to enjoy the backing of Chelsea’s supporters, who chanted his name throughout the defeat by Liverpool, which left the champions in 15th place.
Midfielder John Mikel Obi has rejected suggestions that his mentor’s methods are no longer effective.
“He has come out a few times and said the players are not giving 100 percent and then you look at the next few games, the players come out and play better,” the Nigerian said.
“I think that inside that dressing room we definitely believe he is the man to change things.