News analysis

Prince of paranoia has no effective solution to third-season slide

Jose Mourinho's frustration has often been apparent this season and he could well find himself being cast adrift by Chelsea and at PSG instead.
Jose Mourinho's frustration has often been apparent this season and he could well find himself being cast adrift by Chelsea and at PSG instead.PHOTO: REUTERS

From Special One to Struggling One. Jose Mourinho has been celebrated, now he is being castigated.

Chelsea's is a startling decline, especially for a super-club with a superstar manager. They have already suffered eight setbacks this season. They languish in 15th. Mourinho is reconciling himself to his worst-ever campaign, hoping a damage-limitation exercise will end in fourth place.

This is a historic slide, and yet history is repeating itself. Mourinho has won the domestic league in his second year everywhere, but never in his third. This is his most acute case of third-season syndrome, but not the first.

The evidence suggests his teams are primed to peak within 24 months of his appointment. Thereafter, they seem drained, mentally and physically, by the sheer intensity of his approach. The relentless focus on keeping clean sheets, the tactical micro- management, the seeming necessity of inventing enemies for the purposes of constructing a siege mentality: Everything takes its toll.

Too much paranoia does not produce a healthy environment: perhaps it explains why too many turn fractious after two years or why Mourinho would pick a row with a club doctor. The Eva Carneiro affair is a symptom of Chelsea's capacity for needless, self-destructive warfare.

Mourinho has proved he can build a side but he has never rebuilt one, which tends to be a task for a third year. He has been a short-term specialist and only one true Mourinho team - his Chelsea side of 2004-07 - prospered after his departure. While he remains at Stamford Bridge, he loses his reputation as the master of all he surveys with every failed experiment.

He rarely manages his bona fide Galacticos, instead forging formidable teams from lesser footballers. Yet, peculiarly, these players are configured to perform for him, often to the exclusion of others. They achieve more than ever before, but wilt swiftly and collectively.

Chelsea are resembling Inter Milan in 2010-11, a fading force as soon as the Portuguese left.

The difference now is that he is still in situ. But Mourinho's players peak together, so it is logical they struggle at the same time. He depends on a comparatively small core of favourites and, with the admirable Willian apart, they are all enduring substandard seasons.

Chelsea's youngsters remain fringe figures as, unlike Alex Ferguson, he does not advance the next generation's case. Both are ruthless figures, but Mourinho has never taken a hammer to a team he constructed.

Mourinho has proved he can build a side but he has never rebuilt one, which tends to be a task for a third year. He has been a short-term specialist and only one true Mourinho team - his Chelsea side of 2004-07 - prospered after his departure.

While he remains at Stamford Bridge, he loses his reputation as the master of all he surveys with every failed experiment. One who seemed to have the all answers has been reduced to a desperate search for solutions.

He omitted Eden Hazard and Nemanja Matic when Cesc Fabregas and Branislav Ivanovic deserved dropping. He has praised his players and criticised them, he has blamed officials and challenged Chelsea to sack him. This, clearly, is not a master plan, but a series of exercises in desperation.

The underlying problems remain. Chelsea have not been clinical and look stale. Mourinho erred in giving them too much time off in the summer. They are outpaced too often, caught on the counter-attack regularly, leaving the full-backs exposed.

Fabregas has become a defensive liability in midfield and the labouring Matic has been overstretched. Hazard has lost form and Chelsea creativity.

Officials and the authorities have wised up to Chelsea's wrongdoing and they dropped five points when Diego Costa was banned.

Certainly this underperforming group could have benefited from an injection of quality. Pedro has flattered to deceive but Radamel Falcao was a wretched signing while marquee targets like Paul Pogba and John Stones eluded Mourinho.

Frustration off the field preceded failings on it. Perhaps tomorrow's game against Liverpool will be his last. Perhaps he will reappear at Paris Saint-Germain.

Perhaps he will win a title in a fifth different country and then the pattern will repeat itself all over again.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 30, 2015, with the headline 'Prince of paranoia has no effective solution to third-season slide'. Print Edition | Subscribe