It has become widely accepted in football. You are most vulnerable when you win titles. High on the euphoria of winning, managers start believe in their omnipotence, players believe in their magnificence and the general attitude around football clubs or teams is that of certainty that more heights will be conquered. Despite the fact that there is a treasure trove of examples of how team who won so much got caught out for their complacency, it remains a mistake many teams repeat. It seems a permanent fixture for example at Manchester City. Each successful season has been followed by a less successful one. Then it would appear as though they learnt the lesson and repeat the same again. Inter Milan after Mourinho suffered it as well.
The great managers however have identified these periods and usually strengthen their squad after achieving success. They create internal competition to fire tired or sated players back to life. They give themselves a lot more options as opponents are likely to have figured them out. The arrival of new players also spurs on the fans and suggests to opponents that there will be no letting up. It will also compensate for any strengthening close rivals might have done in the transfer window.
Which is why it is a big surprise Mourinho focused so much on his own needs rather than the needs of Chelsea this summer. The signing of Falcao makes this point eloquently.
Here was one of the world’s leading striker who had just endured a terrible spell at Manchester United. In his 29 games there, there were only little flashes of the predatory instincts that crowned him as the most dangerous marksman in the world. He showed very little of the movements and speed needed to survive in England. United were quick to cut ties with him at the end of the season after paying him in excess of 10 million for the paltry return of four goals. It was a surprise therefore that he was Chelsea’s first signing this season. After such a poor season, his signing neither immediately strengthened Chelsea nor reinvigorated them.
The reception of his signing was muted in West London and prompted surprise everywhere else. It was hard to figure out what Chelsea were trying to do till Mourinho showed up and cleared things up. In his words, he signed Falcao because he was convinced Louis Van Gaal did not know how to use him. He spoke cockily about how fans will see the “real” Falcao because he knew what to do with him and return him back to his pre-injury state. It was easy to see that the personal glory of resurrecting Falcao was a big part of the reason for his signing. He must had seen headline condemning LVG and eulogizing him as the messiah who brought Falcao back from the brink. It didn’t matter that he failed woefully at resurrecting Chelsea’s other big white elephant Fernando Torres. It didn’t matter that Andriy Shevchenko was a massive flop under his watch. It mattered little that, in a season where he had Samuel Eto’o, Torres and Demba Ba, Chelsea struggled for goals all season and finished 3rd. It hasn’t taken long to see that Mourinho’s vanity was at Chelsea’s expense. Even when Diego Costa admitted he came back from pre-season hopelessly out of shape, Falcao couldn’t keep him out.
It can be argued that had Chelsea signed one of Jackson Martinez, Christian Benteke or even Pierre Emerick Aubemayang, Costa would have seen the obvious threat to his place and might paid more attention to his fitness during the summer holidays. It is hard to feel threatened by a striker who scored 4 goals in 29 games, however close he is to the manager. Not when you scored 20 goals despite missing one third of your team’s league games.
The signing of Pedro- to a lesser degree- also followed this pattern. Manchester United had been linked to the Spaniard all summer as it had become obvious that he was tired of playing second fiddle to a host of big name strikers. With United in need of attacking players to replace the likes of Falcao, RvP and Di Maria who had been shown the exit door, Pedro seemed a perfect fit. Then the season kicked off, Chelsea failed to win in their first two league games, Mourinho and Chelsea panicked and quickly gazumped a dithering United .
It was hard to see exactly what Pedro was signed for. In Hazard, Willian,Oscar and even Victor Moses who had returned on loan, it looked like Chelsea were covered. For the Pedro coup, Chelsea’s transfer business was declared an unmitigated success while United’s was declared as a complete disaster. Mourinho spoke about how it took him exactly only one minute to convince Pedro and implied that his signing was a sign of his immense draw in signing the world’s elite players. In a nutshell, what took United weeks only took him a minute to do. It must have been a deeply satisfying week as the headlines ran his comments and derided United’s manager and CEO as clueless. As we all know, Pedro started brightly and soon fizzled out. These days, he is in the team because he defends better, a funny state of affairs as Mourinho hammered on how valuable his attacking contributions will be.
His failure to sign John Stones also had something to do with his ego. Angered that his player was about to be carted off, Roberto Martinez dug in and criticized Chelsea. Rather than seek to smoothen things over, Mourinho focused on Martinez and chastised him. This approach further hardened Everton’s position and they promptly made the player available but at an extortionate price of 40 million. Even a written transfer request didn’t make them budge. If Mourinho had paid attention, he would have known that Everton don’t suffer fools gladly and don’t cower when the big boys come calling. The David Moyes, Manchester United and Mourrane Fellaini episode is still fresh in memory. Despite having being the manager that brought the Belgian to Everton, Moyes had to pay 4 million over the buy out clause of the Belgian to get him across to United. Everton also rebuffed his attempts to sign Leighton Baines and were able to get the Englishman to commit to a new long term contract. Focused as he usually is on personal feuds and battles, Mourinho ignored all this and set on a war path with Everton despite desperately needing their player. Of course he won the battle and lost the war. Chelsea have been shown up to have major weaknesses in the heart of the defence, weaknesses Mourinho knew John Stones would have addressed to some extent.
In focusing of his ego and need to win every confrontation, Mourinho missed opportunities to strengthen his team with players that the team truly needs. He focused on being a messiah in the case of Falcao, a shrewd manipulator in the case of Pedro and a bully in the case of Stones.
It is firmly within the realms of possibility that he goes on to salvage Chelsea’s unraveling season. However, the lesson must not be lost on him. He might have a big ego to feed but his team’s needs should always supercede that. By pursuing personal glory, he had left Chelsea in a bad shape and desperately short of the personnel needed to challenge opponents who set about focusing on the needs of their teams. It is a folly one wouldn’t have expected of a manager of his stature but ego and pride are dangerous beasts and their demands can be blinding. As he sets about the task of combing through the wreckage of Chelsea’s terrible start to the season and begin reconstruction of something that looks like a decent season, Mourinho must accept his mistakes and learn from them.
Emmanuel Emenike officially announced his retirement a few days ago and the response he got was somewhat baffling. There was hardly gratitude for his important goals on the way to the AFCON 2013 win nor the 2014 World Cup qualification. If anything, he was the object of mockery by many football fans as his form had tanked for a while and it was clear he wasn’t contributing anymore.
While this is not to say that he deserved to still be called, we need to address how players seem to always be ostracised or hounded out of the Super Eagles once they hit a tough patch. It is all well and good that a player is left out if he not deserving of a place anymore. However, we must be careful not to make our players feel as if we are only there for them when they are in fine form. They can lose their place and keep their dignity. It is not a good example to young players to see that their seniors in the team leave the team without as much as a thank you for their services. While it is true that they are paid to play, it is also true that we cannot put a monetary value on the joy, happiness and pride they give us when they do well.
The name calling and criminalisation of out of form players must stop. It is enough that they are dropped for not performing well enough. It is frustrating enough that they are struggling to find their best from and win back their place. To hound them and make them objects of ridicule as they approach the end of their national team careers is a temptation we must resist. Emenike did well during his purple patch and helped us achieve some great things and for that, he deserves our thanks and not ridicule. His stated reason might be funny but it doesn’t obscure the fact that he did his bit when he could.
LVG must find a way to fit Herrera in
Or maybe he has found a way already? Ander Herrera played a blinder in the game against Everton and as LVG himself acknowledged, it is difficult to drop him now. More difficult is to find a position for him to play permanently without robbing United of danger going forward. It seems clear that LVG finds him unsuitable as one of the two midfielders he likes to deploy at the base of United’s midfield. It means Herrera is in direct line of competition with the captain of the team Wayne Rooney whose form continues to divide United fans.
The simple fact is that managers are wary to drop their captains unless woefully out of form and despite all the mass hysteria, Rooney’s 7 goals, running, and promise of something out of the ordinary means he will usually get the managers nod. The secret might be in LVG persevering with his line up and team shape for the game at Goodison.
Moving Martial to the left wing and pushing Rooney forward seemed to work and treat and Herrera totally enjoyed himself. It is a line up worth trying again given how United played Everton off the park and looked really solid all through 90 minutes.
Follow Biola Kazeem on Twitter: @BiolaKazeem