Most people are very familiar with Charles Dickens’ novel, A Christmas Carol, which tells the story of the transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge from a stingy miser into an all-round nice guy by the end of the book. Scrooge is taken on a journey by the respective Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come, which serves to illustrate that it’s not too late for him to mend his bad ways.
A great many Chelsea fans probably have a feeling of déjà vu and can quite easily identify with the part of this story, specifically the bit that deals with the Ghost of Christmas Past. You see, Chelsea have been living with the Ghost of Mourinho Past since the Portuguese manager parted ways with the club on 20 September 2007. However, Chelsea do not appear to have discovered the other two Ghosts as yet.
Mourinho can be, and has been, described as many things – enigmatic, intelligent, arrogant, special, winner, baiter and tactician to name but a few. However, one of the most crucial elements that Mourinho brings to each of his teams is an ability to unite every single player and get them to focus on a specific goal, namely winning. Mourinho has not just been a flash-in-the-pan type of manager winning with some teams and not with others. He has delivered the domestic title with teams he has managed in Portugal, England and Italy and he has delivered European titles in Portugal and Italy. In his first season in Spain, he kept up his remarkable record of delivering at least one trophy in each of his seasons in charge at his respective clubs.
Following the departure of Mourinho, the managers who followed (Grant, Scolari, Hiddink, Ancelotti) continued with teams very similar (in personnel and style) to that started by the Portuguese man.
Firstly, the spine of the Chelsea team that Mourinho constructed has largely remained intact with senior players such as Petr Cech, John Terry, Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, Jon Obi Mikel, Michael Essien and Florent Malouda continuing to play the majority of games. Players have come and gone with the most high-profile addition being Fernando Torres from Liverpool in January 2011, and more recently the exciting and talented Juan Mata from Valencia.
Secondly, the formation that Mourinho left behind also appears to hover over the team, regardless of the latest manager in charge. The preferred starting line up has tended to be a 4-3-3 in attack, which can then be adjusted to a 4-5-1 in defence. The main problem with this formation, that Ancelotti and Villas-Boas have struggled with, is it makes it difficult to play Drogba and Torres simultaneously. On a side note, Mourinho used the same formation at Inter Milan but managed to convince Samuel Eto’o to work for the good of the team from a right forward position.
The key difference with Chelsea at present is their lack of mental strength and fortitude to grind out victories. There is a definite air of fragility surrounding the team which could even be described as “Arsenal-esque” (adj. an ability to take the lead in games, but never appear to be in total control and inevitably concede a late goal.)
Chelsea have the benefit of an owner with deep pockets and the result of this has meant that players and managers can be brought in fairly easily. The two things they do not have the benefit of, however, and ironically the ones they require above all others, are time and patience. It is still far too early to judge Villas-Boas based on less than half a season’s worth of football. However, given the history of Chelsea managers it appears highly unlikely that Roman Abramovich appreciates the value these two virtues.
If the future manager of Manchester United is currently watching Chelsea Football Club, then that person has been given an insight into what it will be like to take over from Alex Ferguson (when he eventually decides to retire his chewing gum). That as-yet-unnamed manager will have to live with the Ghost of Ferguson past for quite some time.