Jose Mourinho was at pains last season to point out that he had inherited a team that was very far from the finished article. He spent most of the year explaining why Chelsea wouldn’t be champions – thus dampening any outlandish expectations and provided a ready-made excuse for any shortcomings on the pitch.
This season will be different. By August, he will have had the benefit of 12 months and three transfer windows to help shape the team in the manner he would like. The little horse, in his words, will have had enough hay and milk to grow up into a stallion.
Mourinho has been quite clear on this point. He expects Chelsea to be able to compete properly for the title and the Champions League this season. The question is – what will happen to Mourinho if they don’t?
Some pundits have already had their say. Former Chelsea player Tony Cascarino has said Mourinho could be sacked if Chelsea – bolstered by their expensive new signings – don’t get off to a good start. He cites the examples of Andre Villas Boas and Roberto di Matteo to prove his point.
To be fair to Mourinho, he has openly said that he will expect the boot if Chelsea don’t do well. Yet it is unlikely that Cascarino’s scenario will come to pass, unless Chelsea find themselves in the relegation zone by November, say.
There are a couple of reasons for this. First, Roman Abramovich has invested a lot of money and credibility in bring Mourinho back to Chelsea. The Portuguese was appointed with a specific and publicly-stated long-term agenda – which was turning a young, unfinished team into champions. That is a task that cannot be judged a failure after less than two seasons.
Secondly, the dismissals of Villas Boas and di Matteo were driven by special circumstances. Neither, according to informed reports, were Abramovich’s first choice. Neither had Mourinho’s proven record, pedigree or credibility. Villas Boas alienated most of the dressing-room trying to implement changes that Mourinho has managed to perform clinically and without fuss. Di Matteo was originally a temporary appointment, made permanent despite Abramovich’s doubts, which ballooned once the team’s performance began to stutter.
This is not to say that Mourinho is entirely safe in his job. Chelsea are likely to spend a huge amount of money this summer, and cannot afford for that sum to be wasted. It will be difficult to write off Costa as an expensive mistake (as we did with, say, Shaun Wright-Phillips and may finally be about to do again with Fernando Torres) if he fails to provide the goals that were missing last season.
If at the end of the season, Chelsea are no closer to toppling Manchester City from the top of the Premier League, if they remain without a trophy for a second season, it would not be inconceivable for the knives to come out for Jose Mourinho. If, however, there are signs that he is on the right track and that the “little horse” is growing up, I would expect Abramovich to keep faith with his manager, trophies or not. For another season at least.