The Chelsea manager’s bizarre post-match interview following his side’s defeat to Liverpool only served to compound the sense of crisis surrounding Stamford Bridge.
He was the master of mind games, the man whose every word was carefully calibrated. He could get under his rivals’ skin, motivate his men to ever greater deeds and intimidate officials into giving the decisions he wanted. He was Jose Mourinho.
He still is Jose Mourinho, but much else has changed. His every word is still scrutinised. There is still something undeniably intriguing about the Chelsea manager’s comments, his attitude, and the underlying reasons behind it. Yet the feeling that Mourinho has a masterplan for every interview is gone.
Take his bizarre post-match discussion with BT Sport after Saturday’s defeat to Liverpool. Mourinho stated five times that he had “nothing to say”. He in effect refused to answer 10 of the 11 questions he was asked. He was fulfilling his contractual obligations to talk to the broadcasters, but it looked a petulant protest. Quite how this was supposed to galvanise his players or reassure Chelsea’s fans is a mystery. This was not enigmatic brilliance. It was childish stupidity.
His subsequent press conference was notable for a lack of humility. Rather than acknowledging Liverpool’s superiority, Mourinho focused on blaming officials. Again. A typically one-eyed analysis of events centred on Mark Clattenburg’s decision not to dismiss Lucas Leiva. There was no such willingness to discuss the moment Diego Costa planted his studs into Martin Skrtel’s ribs. It could have been 10 against 10. It deservedly finished 3-1, and not to Mourinho’s team.
Strange interview has followed odd outburst in a depressing, increasingly tedious cycle. Cryptic comments and conspiracy theories have become the norm. If Mourinho is trying to elicit sympathy, he is not succeeding. Most neutrals are tired of his whingeing. The FA have started to clamp down on Chelsea, and Mourinho in particular.
None of which might matter if, as he used to, he got results. Like Sir Alex Ferguson before him, Mourinho has a track record of making outrageous comments while instilling a siege mentality. They may suggest the world is against them, but if it produces a united, defiant front, it can represent a successful strategy.
Yet Mourinho started the season criticising two within the camp, when he blamed club doctor Eva Carneiro and physio Jon Fearn. It set the tone for a campaign when he has dropped Nemanja Matic, Eden Hazard and John Terry. If this was an approach designed to spur them back to top form, it had the opposite effect, particularly on the Serb and the Belgian. Matic did not make the starting XI against Liverpool on Saturday. Hazard did not finish the game. He still hasn’t scored this season. Both look like footballers who feel they have been undermined. Talismen have been toppled by the man who was their great advocate.
And if Mourinho’s public utterances were supposed to motivate his team, they seem to be backfiring. Chelsea look beleaguered, browbeaten and even bullied. Against Liverpool, as against Southampton, they were a side who could not respond when they went behind. They have not been instilled with a never-say-die attitude. They have lost their indomitable spirit. They look a disjointed, dispirited bunch. The classic Mourinho teams were bands of brothers. This group appear unhappy individuals. The best Mourinho sides consisted of players who had never reached such heights, individually or collectively, before. The modern-day Chelsea are the Premier League’s foremost group of underachievers.
Mourinho was the great alchemist. Now he is operating in reverse, turning pure gold back into base metal. Perhaps, deep down, he is as confused as everyone else why. It is one explanation why he is ever more erratic, just hoping something he says provokes the right sort of reaction.
He has pronounced himself happy with mediocre performances, declared himself outraged by reasonable refereeing decisions and ignored issues on the field to concentrate on those off it. At times his paranoia has been deeply unhealthy. At others, he seems to have a scattergun approach when an essential honesty might be the first step to addressing his problems.
Mourinho long benefited from his reputation as a managerial mastermind. It was burnished by results, boosted by trophies. It helped generate believers, whether among supporters, neutrals or players. Now there are reasons to doubt there is a grand scheme. Not when he seems a man unravelling in front of a microphone, using every tool in his armoury without rationalising whether it is the right one at the right moment.
He was the psychologist supreme. Yet when his methods are not working, whether with a struggling group of footballers or an increasingly sceptical wider world, it is little wonder Mourinho is looking desperate. He has formulated dark theories to explain his side’s decline, but his mind games have merely compounded the sense of crisis at Chelsea.