Being a Chelsea fan is often many things, but it is certainly never dull. We exist as a club in perpetual chaos – perilously balanced between the lines of self-destruction and harmony. The Chelsea juggernaut has defied all convention under Roman Abramovich. At times derailment and implosion looked inevitable; yet things always seem to be wrestled back from oblivion to remain on course. The constant state of flux at the club should never have produced the results it has. Nevertheless, the club appear to be moving to calmer waters by paradoxically rehiring the Special One Mk. II.
With the appointment of José Mourinho Chelsea return to essentially where it all began under Roman Abramovich. Every revolution needs a focal point and the last vestiges of the Mourinho ideology could be seen in every trophy Chelsea won after his departure. He imbued within the squad an inner strength that is rarely matched by another team in world football. The European Cup victory masterminded by Roberto Di Matteo leaned heavily on the resiliency of the original Mourinho squad. There is little merit in explaining Munich 2012 – Chelsea just wanted it more than Napoli, Benfica, Barcelona and Munich along the way. That yen for success is a classic trait of any Mourinho side.
With things coming full circle Chelsea have a manager who by his own admission believes he is “…in the best moment of [his] career in terms of knowledge and experience”. Chelsea have signed a more mature manager who despite his new found calmness still bristles with an impudent swagger. With the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson Chelsea have unquestionably the best manager in the Premier League.
If Mourinho’s arrival has produced all the headlines then it must be said that Chelsea’s greatest strength over the past 2-3 years has been to quietly amass some of Europe’s finest young talent. The much maligned Michael Emenalo should take credit for his work here. While questions remain about his ability to effectively construct a balanced squad, his forays into the European talent pool are proving far more successful.
Some, like Eden Hazard, were expensive. Nevertheless, if Gareth Bale is worth £100m then buying Eden Hazard for around £32m was a stroke of genius. Others like Romelu Lukaku were certainly expensive punts, however his development at West Bromwich Albion and subsequent improvements in preseason under Mourinho hopefully suggest this was a bargain fee. Oscar, likewise, came with an exorbitant price tag and his first season displays suggest he is worth every penny. It is prudent to note that none of this trio are older than 23.
Moreover, it is signings like Thibaut Courtois, Marco van Ginkel and Kevin De Bruyne (all for under £25m) where Emenalo deserves most credit. Chelsea have a direct world class replacement for Petr Cech in Thibaut Courtois. His performances for Atlético Madrid have been sensational and consolidated his position as Europe’s top young goalkeeper. Marco van Ginkel oozes class when in possession and is reminiscent of Fernando Redondo in his prime. Kevin De Bruyne might well develop into one of the world’s elite midfielders and is likely to feature in Chelsea’s strongest XI.
It will be particularly interesting to see how Mourinho utilises the prodigiously talented Oscar and Kevin De Bruyne. While Oscar has thrived playing both out wide and as a classic number 10, there is a school of thought that suggests a deeper deployment might be where he eventually settles. He has the passing range, skill, vision and aggression to become a modern deep lying playmaker. Drifting past players with ease before unleashing a pinpoint pass is the hallmark of the Brazilians playing style. Similarly, the comparisons between Kevin De Bruyne and an early Bastian Schweinsteiger cannot go amiss. De Bruyne can become the technically tenacious central midfield maestro that Chelsea have craved. With the direction that modern football is heading Mourinho may see the pair as potential options in his midfield pivot or in a 433 shape.
Perhaps the biggest cause of excitement for fans is the strides that the club’s academy has made over the past few seasons. The level of investment at the club has been substantial and 10 years down the line we are finally seeing the potential returns. Ryan Bertrand is now firmly established in the squad and given a continued run of games in the side has looked impressive. Nathaniel Chalobah shone at Watford during his time there and should see a Premier League loan this season. Whether he ends up as a ball playing centre back or technically accomplished central midfielder remains to be seen. Mourinho rates him and seemingly has him pencilled into his plans for the 2014/15 season.
Slightly further down is the intriguing prospect of Ruben Loftus-Cheek. RLC picked up some media attention over his contractual situation at the club. Nevertheless, he is a Rolls Royce of a midfielder blessed with both the size and technical ability that makes him the archetypal modern (and Mourinho) midfielder. I am a huge fan of RLC and there are whispers that he could already be a potential loan target for the second half of the season. While many factors ultimately contribute to whether a player makes the grade at a club, there are definitely several who have the potential. Loftus-Cheek strolls around the park much like Michael Ballack once did and is in the mould of Europe’s current elite central midfielders.
Whether by chance or scrupulous planning the situation the club currently finds themselves in is extremely exciting. A blend of experience, some of the best young talent in world football and an academy finally producing the desired quality suggests the future is certainly bright. It actually feels a little too sensible for Chelsea. The 2013/14 Barclays Premier League season needs to be one of gentle evolution at the club. Mourinho must cultivate a team capable of challenging for the title, but more importantly provide the technical and tactical nous to extract the best from his players. This is a team that should be seen as a two year project: first year to blend and second year to really impose themselves on the league.
Under the Benitez regime (I am delighted I no longer have to type that name on a regular basis) I turned from a naturally optimistic fan to one who resented going to games. There was a poisonous atmosphere that was the result of a board and fan base going in completely the opposite direction. Everything has changed now. Everything. After several tumultuous seasons defined by managerial sackings and dreaming of what might have been the club finally feels stable. Nevertheless, the questions surrounding the club and its players will no doubt persist. Will Mourinho stay? Can Chelsea keep the likes of Hazard, Mata, Luiz and Oscar away from the clutches of Spain’s top clubs?
Maybe I am being slightly naïve but I truly believe that Mourinho is here for the long haul. The way he speaks of London and how happy his family are when living here says everything. Mourinho will actively want this to be the “dynasty” he has often spoken about. If the club continues to develop bonds with players in a similar fashion to Didier Drogba, then there is hope of holding on to Hazard, Mata et al. If this crop of players can remain together for five years I would be happy to predict at least another European Cup and at least one more league title.
The future is bright and it is definitely blue.