There is an episode of British TV sitcom Blackadder during which Queen Elizabeth I sends the eponymous character to undertake a perilous sea voyage he is woefully unequipped to successfully complete. Against all odds, as a triumphant Blackadder returns to report the accomplishment to Her Majesty, the petulant Queen, with all the authority of a 16th-century monarch, threatens to have him executed because he did not bring her a present.
It turns out, after all, that the programme need not have been set in the 1700s. All that was required was the presence of Roman Abramovich, Russian oligarch and owner of Chelsea Football Club, on the throne and a club manager at his beck and call. The manager is tasked with bringing him success every season, perennially aware that no amount of it guarantees job security, or anything resembling goodwill, with his Roman Emperor.
Small wonder, then, that Jose Mourinho came out to address the press last weekend looking like a man whose head was on the block. His Chelsea side had just been beaten at home 3-1 by Southampton after turning in arguably their worst Stamford Bridge performance under the Portuguese’s supervision. He was asked one question, and he ranted on for seven minutes without pause, not always relevantly, in one of the more extraordinary post-match interviews of the Premier League era. Little of it made sense, but who could expect him to be discerning in those circumstances?
Jose Mourinho is a man whom a lot of people love to hate, but almost everyone enjoys listening to. He can be outrageous, incoherent, snide, downright nasty, yet intelligent, humorous, brutally honest and inspirational all in the same press conference. There is a flash of wit around every nook, a whiff of controversy in each cranny. He seems to treat media duties not as the fulfilment of obligations but extensions of his management apparatus.
This, however, was a side of Mourinho that we hadn’t seen. Confidence personified so often throughout his career, he was at this moment an insecure man. He started off with paranoid conspiracy theories about referees being frightened of awarding penalties to Chelsea. It was palpable nonsense, as Southampton, in the very game about which the Portuguese was airing his grievance, had two penalty shouts of their own, both stonewall penalties unawarded, while Chelsea’s sole claim was a 50/50 call at best.
But halfway into his long-winded monologue, it turned into an astonishing ultimatum to owner Roman Abramovich, saying he would not resign, effectively daring the trigger-happy Russian to sack him if he had the mettle.
“I will not run away. If the club wants to sack me, they have to sack me,” Mourinho said. “If the club sacks me they sack the best manager this club [ever] had.”
This, perhaps, was the one point the Chelsea manager had intended to make all through those seven minutes. It was also, inarguably, bang on.
For Mourinho has every right to be insecure – and resentful about it. This is an owner that has been playing Russian roulette with his managers for over 12 years, a man who has made 11 managerial changes since his 2003 takeover of the club; often premature, at times downright shocking. Mourinho himself was at the receiving end of one of those P45s at Abramovich’s hands, three years into overseeing the best ever spell at the club in 2007. For context, by the way, 11 managers ago at Manchester United, the year was 1937.
It is absurd to think that eight league games on from leading Chelsea, at a canter, to the championship, the Portuguese is unfit to remain at the helm. It is a damning indictment of Abrahmovich’s dictatorial style that the club’s greatest manager, already an all-time great and unquestionably a Chelsea legend, is reduced to making a public appeal like this one in a bid to cling on to his job. That the owner might not have sacked him this weekend anyway is besides the point; his previous form has revealed patience to be on the opposite end of the spectrum to his wealth.
Jose Mourinho is a man who has achieved nearly everything in the game bar building a dynasty at one football club. He has won domestic titles in four different countries, and conquered the continent in two of them. He has undoubtedly been aided by virtually unlimited finances at Chelsea and Real Madrid, but also prospered in relative parsimony at Porto.
Chelsea are fortunate to have convinced him to hop on board a second time at all following the ignominy of his first exit eight years ago; he is an extremely proud man who has much to be proud of. Whom, in any case, could Chelsea hire if Mourinho was disposed of? Which renowned manager hasn’t already been shown the door at Chelsea?
Manchester United weren’t simply lucky to have a manager like Sir Alex Ferguson; they made their own luck. The club did not win a single trophy in the first four years under the Scot’s tutelage, but prescient enough to recognise their manager’s nascent long-term project, they stood behind their appointment. One seems to think history being on their side for that one.
Roman Abramovich will no doubt go into British football history as the man who changed Chelsea forever. The club has enjoyed more success during his 12-year reign — and that word is used advisedly — than their entire history until that point. He need not risk tarnishing his legacy now. He has a popular manager who is the envy of many a club, with many years ahead of him and time to give to a team he clearly sees as more than just another job. The right man is now safely inside. It is time to seal the revolving door.