How special is Mourinho?

Jose Mourinho had his share of poor results this session.-AP

Almost from the start of the season Jose Mourinho has gone to great public lengths to insist that Chelsea, despite its own expenditure on foreign stars — Hazard, Oscar, Willian — was still in a state of transition and couldn’t be considered a genuine challenger for the Premier League title. Now I suppose, he can say, I told you so, but to be frank, such declaration always smacked at the time of false modesty or at best a cursory desire to cover his own back, if things went wrong. By Brian Glanville.

Humiliated at Crystal Palace, badly beaten in the Champions League away tie at the Parc des Princes four days later, Chelsea and Jose Mourinho were suddenly cut severely down to size. True, they were still left, for all their embarrassing 3-1 defeat, with a chance of turning the tables in the return leg at Stamford Bridge. After all, a far less trumpeted and vocal manager in the shape of Roberto Di Matteo had dramatically turned the tables on Napoli not long ago, en route to taking Chelsea to a breathless victory at Bayern Munich in the European final.

But to go down to defeat against a Crystal Palace team, struggling for weeks to stay in the Premiership, was humiliation indeed. And the defeat in Paris was almost as disastrous. Of late Mourinho has at least ceased to refer to himself as “The Special One”, but you wonder — just as you do, in even greater perplexity, about Arsene Wenger’s tribulations across London at Arsenal — whether Mourinho has simply lost his way.

A bad workman blames his tools, as the old saying goes, Mourinho surely exemplified that adage when he said after the Parisian defeat, that Fernando Torres was not a centre forward. Really? If Torres is not a centre forward, albeit one who has long been in expensive decline, then whatever is he?

The fact is that Mourinho went into the match in Paris initially without a genuine centre forward. Torres, genuine or not, being on the bench. Instead, Mourinho deployed there the lively and able young German Andre Schurrle, as that increasingly fashionable figure — as with Cesc Fabregas in Spain — a “false” striker, in fact operating deeper than a genuine one would. It didn’t remotely work.

Admittedly, Chelsea had problems in the position. Samuel Eto’o, recently mocked in a television interview by Mourinho, which he didn’t think was being transmitted, was unavailable. Mourinho joking, with some substance, that he wasn’t too sure of Eto’o’s age. It being well known that over the years, the date of birth of African players was often fictitious. Eto’o, who had done great things at Inter under Mourinho, now being comfortably into his thirties.

But even if he didn’t have Eto’o available, surely Mourinho could have sent on Demba Ba, who may not have been much favoured by him this season, but remains a natural striker, who will apparently be in demand by several big clubs when the season ends. As for Torres, he has been at Chelsea a financial disaster — GBP50 million ill and inexplicably spent. There is no doubt that at his refulgent best he was one of the finest and most incisive strikers anywhere, both with Liverpool and Spain.

But injuries blunted his edge, undermined his pace and by the time Chelsea bought him, evidently at the imperial behest of their billionaire Russian oligarch owner Roman Abramovich, his pace had largely gone, his confidence had been clearly undermined and he has never at Stamford Bridge been the player he was first at Atletico Madrid, where he is said to be ready to return — not at Anfield. Which in parenthesis, didn’t prevent Mourinho from fielding him, three days after the Parisian debacle, in an easy home win against Stoke City. The problem for Chelsea being — if anything can be said to be a financial problem for Abramovich — that Torres in the vernacular has the club over a barrel. He is already earning, if that be the word, a colossal GBP1,75,000 a week, and therefore has no material incentive to leave. Well might he be described, as he has been, as British football’s most expensive scapegoat. If he did go back to Atletico, who have set a hot pace in the Spanish Campeonado with an infinite number of goals this season, and seem to find strikers in abundance — in the recent European match against Barcelona, one highly effective striker Diego Costa, who may even move to Chelsea, was injured and then effectively substituted by another Diego. Would they demand Chelsea to contribute to Torres’ huge wages? Meanwhile young Romelu Lukaku is on fire, and on loan, at Everton. Mourlinho “doesn’t like him.” Whyever not?

At Stamford Bridge, you might say, history repeats itself. It wasn’t long ago that, again plainly at the instigation of Abramovich — Chelsea paid GBP30 million and a vast salary for Andrei Shechenko, once a shining star and a prolific goal scorer for Ukraine and Dynamo Kiev, but by then a fading figure, who did nothing at Stamford Bridge to justify the fee and his immense salary.

An irony of the match at the Parc des Princes, speaking again of centre forwards, was the striker who was expected to pose the greatest threat to the Chelsea defence, the towering Swedish international Zlatan Ibrahimovic, did nothing of the sort. Though in the midst of a highly productive season — a constant goal scorer, a dominating figure on the field and off it, and no blushing violet in extolling his own talents — Ibra was a curiously muted figure as long as he was on the field against Chelsea, till a pulled muscle put him off it. Yet the Paris Saint-Germain attack continued to threaten Chelsea’s defence, emphasising the fact that it was surely as much at the back as at the front that Chelsea were found wanting on this occasion.

The flamboyant Brazilian David Luiz gave away an open goal. And with the score at 2-1 to the hosts and the game in its final minutes, the Argentine international midfielder Javier Pastore came on as a very late substitute to score a spectacular solo goal, outwitting one man after another — before beating the Chelsea keeper Peter Cech, who had looked anything but rock solid beforehand. It is saddening to think that a player as gifted and expensive as Pastore, who had flourished in the Italian Serie A, could be no more than a figure on the bench at PSG. But the colossal amounts of money poured into them from their Qatari owners means that they can afford, even if football at large can’t, to keep a star like the Argentinean in reserve.

Almost from the start of the season, Mourinho has gone to great public lengths to insist that Chelsea, despite its own expenditure on foreign stars — Hazard, Oscar, Willian — was still in a state of transition and couldn’t be considered a genuine challenger for the Premier League title. Now I suppose, he can say, I told you so, but to be frank, such declaration always smacked at the time of false modesty or at best a cursory desire to cover his own back, if things went wrong.

Well, at CrystaI Palace, Aston Villa and in Paris, they very much went wrong. Leaving you to wonder, how special is the “Special One” now?

But, how splendidly ironic that it should be the discarded and excluded Damba Ba, who should come on late to score Chelsea’s vital second goal against PSG, playing without Zlatan. “I’m not out for revenge,” said Ba. “Maybe Mounrinho doesn’t have strikers to his liking. I’m happy to have liberated us. I haven’t been given my chance much this season and I’ve taken it.”