From brilliant to boring? Chelsea's season of two halves
As provocatively as ever, Jose Mourinho produced a display on the failings of his rivals at the Chelsea award evenings as he continued his fightback against the ‘boring’ claims against the newly crowned English Champions. It isn’t the first, and unlikely to be the last, time that the self-proclaimed ‘Special One’ has faced accusations of boredom, but does it really matter?
The biggest criticism against ‘boring’ football (not that everyone finds it as such) is probably that once results start to drop it gives less leniency from the club’s bosses to turn it around. Simply put, managers who are believed to play attractive football are given more time to implement strategies and subsequently turn things around.
Boredom in football seems to be the type of insult that is resulting from the increased chat about ‘philosophy’; is it the start of an unwelcome tactical snobbery? There is no denying the brilliance of Spain multi-tournament winning team, or Guardiola’s Barca, yet there seems to be a judgement that a more pragmatic approach is less worthy of success.
Unfair, perhaps, but largely untrue, Mourinho’s successes across Europe can seem boring (although it’s a matter of taste), but personally I find great interest in watching a side dissect their opponent and knock them out with a venomous break away given the slightest chance.
Fortune is needed and it can be a high risk game in its own way, but the way Chelsea held off Manchester United and allowed them to possession and long shots to then hit with an electric attack is one of the most satisfying things I can envisage in football.
There was hardly a point where Chelsea seemed flustered by their lack of possession and United were hardly carving up the impenetrable Chelsea low block.
At a time when stubborn ‘philosophical’ managers have faced some indifferent results (Rodgers all season, Wenger for years and Guardiola in Europe) a criticism of a more pragmatic approach for being boring seems unfair, particularly when they have just run away with the league title and league cup.
Almost as much as he loves winning, Mourinho loves winding people up. Arsene Wenger is largely the victim of such vitriol and jibes from Mourinho and the Special One has loved making as big a song and dance as he can about boring claims as he builds on his permanent state of siege mentality and readies behind the barracks for next season’s title charge.
As Mourinho held up eight fingers on the title celebration day, it was the latest demonstration of his personal achievements never being far from his mind and a sense that both he and several leading players at Chelsea have loved feeling like the victims.
Bemoaning campaigns from officials and the media, its hard to know what we can take literally from Stamford Bridge in a war of propaganda – not to mention the scintillating football before Christmas that makes many boring claims seem hilarious. Mind games are part of what makes Mourinho the great champion he is and there is a feeling around the club that he would rather people disliked his style than won with great popularity.
Rival managers will want to be wary of any extra motivation they give the champions ahead of next season, particularly with their own questionable individual records against Mourinho (I’m looking at you, Arsene).
On the note of those rivals, could there just be an element of envy from some?
Fans who have seen their team come close but not win the title in years or followed frustrating windows of failing to meet the needs of the squad over years; Mourinho returns, has a second summer window, addresses the key issues and produces a team ruthless in attack and capable of switching from the flowing football of August-December to the brick wall defence and unbeatable approach that carried them over the line in the absence of Diego Costa and a typical Fabregas second half of a season.
Arsenal fans were within their rights to criticise a pretty dour display in the 0-0 at the Emirates and greeted the Chelsea players with the standard ‘boring’ chants. However, I’m sure Chelsea and their supporters would say they did what they needed to whilst Arsenal needed a victory. The efficiency and pragmatism of Chelsea does not necessarily win the hearts of others, but the approach most definitely deserves respect.
Tactical excellence is largely undervalued in the British game – much to its detriment – and there is no one better at producing a side to win a game than Mourinho, and he knows it.
Personally, a perfectly executed tactical performance entertains me at least as much as the pass-pass-pass of Barcelona or Spain and an electric counter attack is surely the most thrilling viewing in football.
Ultimately, football is a matter of taste and Chelsea’s approach can be an acquired taste at the best of times, but they are a far cry from the attrition of 2005 with players like Cesc, Hazard and Oscar there remains a flair element than can be beautiful on its day.
Mourinho will always favour energetic players and people who will risk suspension for the cause (see Pepe, Costa, Ivanovic) and whilst the sport becomes more business minded this is a ruthless game of a trophy chasing owners and boards, and with that as the goal there is no one better than Mourinho, boring or not.
The most exciting next step at Chelsea after this summer transfer window will be the patience of Abramovich in Mourinho’s unpopularity and marmite style after their fall out that resulted in his sacking last time.