After all that has happened this season, Jose Mourinho must have taken at least some heart from the reception his dismissal was given at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea might be slumped near the Premier League’s relegation zone, having suffered a downright atrocious start to the season, but the club’s fans still made clear their backing for the ‘Special One.’
Indeed, Mourinho shaped Chelsea in their current form. The Blues wouldn’t be the same club without the influence of the Portuguese coach, who has become their spiritual leader since his initial appointment a decade ago. Even in his humiliation this season, Stamford Bridge is still his domain.
But in a wider sense, can Mourinho really be considered special? There can be no denying that his shimmer is that much duller now, with the sparkle and charisma that once made him European football’s most compelling character also gone. Chelsea might be the only place where he can count on sheer adoration.
Mourinho’s track record is often hailed as the greatest illustration of his strength as a coach, given the haul of trophies and titles he has accumulated. But upon closer inspection, it could actually be taken as a condemnation of his true nature and unreliability. He might bring success to every club he takes charge of, but it comes with an expiry date. Mourinho is a coach who works in three-year cycles.
Of course, that’s hardly by design. Upon his second coming at Stamford Bridge, Mourinho spoke of his building a dynasty at the King’s Road club - as if to prove those wrong who claim him to be a short-term manager. There was heartfelt sentiment in his comments, too - he really wanted to further his legacy at Chelsea.
Now he must ponder his next move, though. For the first time since his last departure from Chelsea eight years ago, Mourinho is without a job in the pipeline. There is no obvious next destination, meaning he might have to retrace his steps in order to find work in the immediate-term - with a return to Real Madrid mooted.
This season was an unprecedented catastrophe for Mourinho, and in a sense should be discounted as a mere blot on his managerial copybook. For all that things went so badly wrong at Chelsea, he is still a good coach and a giant of the European game. And yet the man himself must revise his ethos as a manager. He needs an existential rethink.
Mourinho is a protagonist by his very nature, imploring his players and everyone underneath him to question everything - opponents, referees, the media. Such a siege mentality is proven in its short-term benefits, galvanising teams and giving players an air of self-assurance, but players who are schooled in the art of paranoia will eventually direct it back where it came from.
At Chelsea and Real Madrid, that has happened to Mourinho - losing control of the dressing rooms of both clubs. Senior players - like Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas - turned against him, making his position in both instances ultimately untenable. Mourinho’s personalty was his own downfall.
Many of Europe’s biggest and best clubs may find themselves turned off Mourinho as a result. The Portuguese might find a way to coach in a somewhat more affable manner, for the good of his own outlook as much as anything else. He must prove that long-term sustainability isn’t beyond him. He must show that he is more than just a quick fix for those desperate for success at all costs.
Mourinho’s next job will be the most important of his career, whether it comes at Manchester United, Real Madrid or somewhere else. His reputation is as fragile as it has ever been, with his standing as one of football’s true greats under scrutiny. He simply cannot afford to be so bullish at his next club. Mourinho must build something that lasts longer than just two or three seasons.
He was by no measure a failure in his second stint at Chelsea, but by only achieving the bare minimum of what was expected Mourinho’s career has plateaued. Wherever he pitches up next, the ‘Special One’ must show he is still special.