Replicating what he did in his last stint as manager this time around at Chelsea will be a very hard thing to do for José Mourinho.
But no doubt the 50-year-old Portuguese boss will give it his best shot as he returns to the Blues’ helm at Stamford Bridge this season.
And although it’s really hard to tell from most of the lemming-like media reports this past month, it seems The Special One is doing a pretty good job so far.
Much will likely happen between now and the end of the summer transfer period but here are five things I see as positives Mourinho has done that should excite rabid bluebloods worldwide.
With the preseason officially underway and the club in Asia for a series of three friendlies—Wednesday against Singha All-Stars in Bangkok, Thailand; Sunday against Malaysia XI in Kuala Lumpur; and July 25 against BNI Indonesia All-Stars in Jakarta—it’s pretty much business time again for the Europa League champions.
Chelsea began training at Cobham last week—sans John Obi Mikel, David Luiz, Oscar, Juan Mata, Fernando Torres and César Azpilicueta who were representing their respective countries at the FIFA Confederations Cup in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil—then departed for Asia last Thursday where it is now preparing for the Asia tour.
The club is scheduled to return to West London on July 26.
The buzz around the Blues training so far reveals an entertaining and positive environment with a wonderful mix of young and veteran players thrilled to be working toward improvement and cohesion under Mourinho, club Technical Director Michael Emenalo and other staff.
A story on the club’s website revealed that during training in Bangkok, the club participated in speed, stamina and agility drills including a 40-yard course which saw players running, dodging and skipping their way to its end where they met at locked horns with a teammate.
At that point, they then reportedly competed in a one-on-one street-style match-up where they tried to put the ball into their opponent’s goal before the next pair of teammates arrived.
The piece said that club captain John Terry and vice-captain Frank Lampard “were equally impressive in their determination and refusal to give up during their tussle.”
Now that surely would be a sight to see.
And thank you CFC.com for keeping the word ‘tussle’ in our lexicon. I have sent a pail of fresh blueberries I’ve grown in my basement for your enjoyment to SW6. Strawberries just didn’t seem right. And I hear Uncle Roman doesn’t like the color red.
The website’s story also said, “There then followed more tactical work, with Mourinho hands-on in his approach, regularly breaking the game up to explain what he wanted from his players, who were not letting up.”
In the match, there was only one goal—a penalty kick conversion by Lampard past goalkeeper Petr Čech after Terry and Ryan Bertrand brought down new-signee André Schürrle in the box.
The pictures from the drills are well worth a look and can be seen by clicking here.
And it’s safe to say that by the looks on the players’ faces, they are all having an awfully good time under the tutelage of their new manager.
Hey, practice makes perfect brother.
It seems over the last couple of seasons that Chelsea has somewhat ignored the talent in its own youth system and it appears Mourinho will try to put an end to that.
Probably the two biggest players who can make an impact on the Blues first team this coming season are striker Romelu Lukaku and midfielder Kevin De Bruyne, both from Belgium.
Staying up with, or even on the big club has been a challenge for the duo, with Bayer Leverkusen desperately wanting the 22-year-old De Bruyne first as part of a deal for Schürrle, then on loan for the season.
Although nothing is concrete right now, it seems De Bruyne will get his shot in West London this season in a now loaded midfield. And Mourinho, who went to watch the youngster play as part of his Belgian national in World Cup qualifier squad last month, is obviously impressed with De Bruyne.
This kid can really play.
As far as the 20-year-old Lukaku—who spent last season out on loan with West Bromwich Albion where he led the club with 17 goals—a recent report from Sky Sports says he will not consider another loan move but we all know, in the end, it’s not up to him.
"Yeah we spoke and I want to keep it private because when you have confidential talks with the manager, it has to stay between you and him," Lukaku said of his meeting with Mourinho. "We had a good talk and now it's up to me.”
“You never know in football but my mind is in Chelsea now and I have come back to do well in preseason and if I do a good preseason, I think I will have a place in the squad and hopefully in the starting XI.”
With the striker spot being one of the positions where Chelsea has still not landed anyone, and just Torres and Demba Ba now on the roster, Mourinho has done the wise thing in giving the kid his chance and, to me, Lukaku will be the next big thing at Stamford Bridge.
The Blues have a number of others players in their system who may one day get their shot including Nathaniel Chalobah, Islam Feruz, Thorgan Hazard, Josh McEachran, Lucas Piazón and Nathan Aké, among many others, but cracking into the first team, let alone the starting XI is not as easy as all of us genius armchair managers make it out to be.
Eighteen-year-old midfielder Aké is set to be set out on loan to Vitesse Arnhem in the Netherlands’ Eredivisie, but a recent story in the Daily Mirror says the Dutchman is set to defy The Gray One and wants to stay in England and either play (on loan) for another Premier League club or in the Championship.
We’ll see who wins that battle.
All in all, it’s a pretty nice problem to have if you’re a manager but can be frustrating for many of the young guys who, in their minds, have paid their dues and want their shot at some first-team football.
Either way, expect Mourinho to do the right thing and his seeming commitment currently to De Bruyne and Lukaku speaks volumes seeing as how KDB could theoretically now be gone for good and in the Bundesliga and the manager could have already sent Lukaku out for another loan spell.
At least he’s giving them their chance over signing some overpaid, older prospects. It should work out well for all parties involved.
On the other end of the age spectrum, Mourinho has also shown he will be giving club legends Čech, Terry, Lampard and Ashley Cole, all over the age of 30, their chance too.
And rightfully so.
Despite having talented goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois waiting in the wings on loan at Atlético Madrid, the club is keeping Čech in goal and the 31-year-old Czech certainly deserves it and is still one of the best keepers in Europe.
And although the 32-year-old Terry and the 35-year-old Lampard may have slowed a tad last season, they are both still worth their weight in gold.
Lampard led the Blues in scoring in Premier League play (15 goals) and is still one of the best at converting on penalty kicks on the planet while Terry is still one of the grittiest players in England’s top flight and should start again at left center-back.
Both bring a huge amount of leadership skills that can’t be reflected in statistics and with a somewhat young and changing squad, having these two Englishmen to work with this season for Mourinho is simply a treat, especially considering the early May rumor that Terry was possibly headed to Galatasaray and Lampard’s choppy contract negotiations late last season.
The moves so far prove the club has been extremely prudent and wise considering the modern nature of the football transfer market.
The signing of the 20-year-old van Ginkel—who scored eight goals in 33 appearances for Vitesse last season—is especially promising and the Dutchman may eventually replace club legend Lampard in the midfield.
Mourinho has also revealed great confidence in Ramires and it looks as if the 26-year-old Brazilian central midfielder/winger will be staying put at Chelsea. And with his speed, versatility and underrated passing accuracy (85.2 percent)—statistically close to star Juan Mata’s—keeping him around should prove to be an intelligent decision.
As far as deals the Blues have not made, well, they may be just as smart as the ones Chelsea has made. Many agents see Chelsea as simply a club with a really rich owner and a very high profile in which they can gain some leverage in contract negotiations for their clients.
It seems Mourinho saw right through that ploy as the passing on paying close to £10 million for Norwich City goalkeeper John Ruddy to be Čech’s backup proved.
Monster deals to land big names like Radamel Falcao, Edinson Cavani and possibly even Hulk have been, or apparently are being scrutinized to death by the club who looks like it’s just saying 'no' to the potentially massive contracts now.
And names like Zlatan Ibrahimović, Wayne Rooney and Luis Suárez are now making their way around the rumor mill, but at the speculated prices, Chelsea and Mourinho would be smart to try and get those 20 or so goals this season from a kid like Lukaku although if Ba or Torres are sent packing, landing a guy like Suárez would be imperative.
Two others guys who just might be headed Mourinho and Chelsea’s way are Eliaquim Mangala (FC Porto) and/or Daniele De Rossi (AS Roma), the latter who may come in a reported deal (via the Daily Mail) which would send January-signee Wallace to Serie A’s Roma.
One player who Chelsea and Mourinho may have really missed the boat on signing this summer is striker Wilfried Bony (Vitesse) who signed with Swansea City for a club-record £12 million last week, although the deal is still subject to a work permit clearance.
All in all, Mourinho and the Blues have been really thrifty and cautious in throwing money around this summer and if they can land a Mangala or a De Rossi and possibly a big-name striker like Suárez or someone else to fill that possible void, then Chelsea will have done a very good job business-wise this summer and Abramovich should be very satisfied with Mourinho and staff’s decision-making skills.
A report in Sunday’s Mirror Sport indicates Mourinho wants club legend Didier Drogba back in the fold at Stamford Bridge to contribute in some capacity.
It doesn’t get any smarter than that in my book.
The 35-year-old Drogba helped lead Chelsea to its first-ever UEFA Champions League title last May when the Ivorian tied the championship game against Bayern Munich with a historic late-header and then won it for the Blues on the match’s final penalty kick.
“I can use Didier as a profile to persuade youngsters to follow me because he followed me from Day One,” Mourinho is quoted in the Mirror Sport story.
The story also indicates that the new Chelsea boss will offer Drogba “a role” with the club in 12 months if the Blues don’t try to approach Galatasaray about acquiring him this season or if Drogba wants to see out the final year of his contract with the Turkish club.
Should Chelsea find a way to lure Drogba back this season, having to choose between him, Lukaku and either Torres or Ba as strikers on the first team seems like a nice problem for Mourinho to have and a way to get maximum scoring out of the spot on a seemingly advanced midfield-driven team.
But if Drogba does return and play for the Blues, the big question will probably be whether or not Oscar gives him his No. 11 shirt back.
Although it doesn’t fall under the category of things Mourinho will do this summer, his presence returns a sense of stability to the managerial role of Chelsea and will hopefully stop Abramovich’s revolving door habit at Stamford Bridge.
By the moves made so far, the moves not made and the future ones to come in the next month or so, it seems Mourinho is laying the groundwork for a club which will be deep and solid for the foreseeable future and one which can compete for the Premier League title and be a force to be reckoned with in the Champions League.
Who’s knows if he’ll keep or scrap the Blues 4-2-3-1 tactical formation or who exactly will be in his ultimate starting XI but one thing’s for sure—all eyes will be on West London for as long as Mourinho is managing Chelsea.
Follow me on Twitter:@KevinStott11