Chelsea’s defense of the Premier League title has not gone as planned. The Blues have accumulated more losses before Christmas than they had in their entire championship campaign last season. They are off to a historically bad start, and are perilously close to becoming just the second defending champion (and first since 1937) to be relegated. Not surprisingly, Chelsea sacked manager Jose Mourinho on Thursday. But was it the right move?
Clearly, the team is struggling. There have been reports of discontent in the locker room and rumors that the players had quit on their manager. The disappointing results would seem to support such claims.
But Mourinho is still regarded as one of the best managers of his day. His resume backs up his reputation. He’s led teams to the top of La Liga, Serie A, and the Premier League. He’s won the Copa del Rey, the Coppa Italia, and the FA Cup. He’s also won the Community Shield, the UEFA Cup, and has won the Champions League twice. His individual coaching awards are too long to list. Clearly he knows the game, and how to win on the biggest stages.
Whenever a team in any sport is playing with the historic ineptitude that Chelsea currently is, changes are sure to come, and the coach is almost always the first to go. Regardless of whether Chelsea’s problems are a result of the roster or managerial failures, it’s hard to fault them for feeling the need to make a move.
At the same time, owner Roman Abramovich has displayed a pattern of quick dismissals of managers. Despite an impressive list of successes under Abramovich’s ownership, including 4 Premier League championships, 3 FA Cups, 2 Community Shields, and a Champions League trophy, the Blues have had 11 different men roam the sidelines since Abramovich took ownership in 2003.
Five of those 11 are responsible for all hardware Chelsea has collected under Abramovich’s watch and the Blues have taken home at least one trophy in 8 of the 12 years that he has owned the club. In spite of the run of success, the longest tenure of any of the 11 managers was Mourinho’s first stint with the club, from 2004-2007.
Abramovich has demonstrated what could be called an extreme impatience with managers. It seems that despite any recent success a manager may have had and regardless of the prestige of that success, any slip in form is grounds for a sacking. He has a penchant for refusing to allow managers to work through slumps, disregarding how successful the manager has been or how well-regarded he is with the players, fans, or soccer community at large.
The most glaring example of this impatience from Abramovich is the firing of Roberto Di Matteo. Di Matteo was hired in March of 2012 to replace Andre Villas-Boas. He promptly led the club to a victory in the FA Cup and to their first ever Champions League title. The Blues got out to a 7 win, 0 loss, 1 draw start in the 2012-13 Premier League. After suffering 2 losses and 2 draws in their next 4 matches, Di Matteo was let go on November 21, 2012 despite winning two trophies and having 7-2-3 Premier League record. The move was wildly unpopular with fans, and still stings some to this day.
Abramovich’s impatience and the revolving door of managers at Chelsea under his ownership has not hurt the club’s results, nor has it hurt the brand. The Russian has overseen the most successful era in the history of Chelsea F.C. and has made great inroads towards his goal of establishing the club as an international brand in the likes of Manchester United, Barcelona, and Real Madrid.
While his Steinbrenner-esqe approach to dealing with managers would seem counterproductive to building a program and producing consistent success, you can’t argue with his results. Certainly something had to be done as Chelsea is currently in the midst of one of the most embarrassing campaigns in the history of the Premier League, and usually the manager is the one to take the fall. But you can’t help but wonder if Abramovich’s revolving-door policy will catch up with him at some point.
Mourinho’s brash personality and at times overly defensive tactics won’t win him any popularity contests. But even though many don’t like him, his reputation as one of the best managers in the game is cemented. His accomplishments around the game, and particularly at Chelsea, speak for themselves. You have to think there is some negative in losing a person of that stature from your organization.
Only time will tell if sacking Mourinho was the right move. What we do know is that Guus Hiddink will take on the unenviable task of trying to right this ship. Hiddink led Chelsea to the 2009 FA Cup while serving as caretaker, and will return for a second stint in that position.
But it's a second stint for a reason, right?