Since Roman Abramovich took over as owner 12 years ago, no other Chelsea manager has enjoyed the level of success Mourinho has; no manager has bonded with the club’s fans the way he did.
Not even Roberto Di Matteo, who served the club so well as a player before taking them to Champions League glory in 2012, can rival Mourinho’s reputation in west London.
Mourinho resembled the new Chelsea. He was brash, barrel-chested and was not afraid to ruffle the feathers of football’s established elite. That was Abramovich’s mandate when he took over at Stamford Bridge in 2003. He wanted to create a super-club to break up the traditional powers across Europe.
And he has succeeded to a point, with Mourinho’s influence at the very heart of it.
He delivered a first league title in 50 years for Chelsea in 2005 and took them to the brink of European glory.
When Chelsea finally got there, it was with the spine Mourinho had created.
Abramovich supplied the billions, but Mourinho had the expertise to pull it all off. Taking Chelsea to a fifth league title last season—Mourinho’s third with the club—showed that nothing has changed.
When the dust settles on this debacle, we’ll realise that Mourinho’s quality in the dugout remains irrefutable.
The former Chelsea boss is a man who understands the feeling of being uninvited to the top table. While Chelsea were scrapping around and attempting to stay in the Premier League in the early 1990s, he was learning his trade the hard way as a translator.
In much the same way the Blues did as the decade wore on, Mourinho climbed each rung of the ladder to reach the top of his game, doing it as an unfancied coach without any playing career of note.
Cesc Fàbregas Soler @cesc4official
Thank you for all you have done for me. I owe you a lot and we will all miss you. Good luck in the future. https://t.co/RQlOTFrtzU2015-12-17 16:57:37
Being unfancied, the unpopular figure who came from the fringes to enjoy success, created a bond between manager and supporter at Stamford Bridge that is unique in the modern game. Mourinho spoke their language, dealt in their currency of raw emotion.
For good or bad, Chelsea fans have long seen Mourinho as being one of them.
Take the 3-0 loss away to West Bromwich Albion last season. Chelsea had already won the league, and the fans who travelled to the Midlands didn’t stop singing about that fact for the entire game, despite the score.
Mourinho’s impassioned salute at the end of that game summed up his emotion for Chelsea. It was the confirmation of fan and manager as being one.
The moment in the video above was about much more than Mourinho and the supporters, though. It connected Chelsea, from owner to manager to players to fans. It established their identity.
In the present, Mourinho has been the glue that has held the club together this season.
How often have champions been so poor without those on the terraces turning their backs on the team and the manager? It’s rare in football that a manager remains so popular despite the struggles on the pitch.
Chelsea fans had craved Mourinho’s return for so long that they didn’t want to see it come to another bitter end. Yet here we are discussing another managerial change in west London, but this time the tragedy of it all runs deep.
Mourinho inherited a team in 2013 that has long been in transition. Years of managerial changes have destabilised Chelsea, getting them to the point where they find themselves now.
They needed to hit the reset button and start from scratch, which is why Mourinho was brought back in the first place. Abramovich had tried many different formulas since the first time he sacked Mourinho, but it was the realisation that none of them worked quite like his that saw the owner make that U-turn.
Winning the title last season was the death knell for Mourinho, though. It stopped Chelsea in their tracks, masking the deficiencies that still remain.
Rather than march forward into a dominant period of their history, they’ve regressed by thinking they're better than they are.
There was no business in the summer transfer window, the deadwood at Stamford Bridge wasn’t cleared out, and the rest of the league accelerated past them at a rapid pace.
The decline has been spectacular.
Mourinho has been criticised for parking the bus at times in his managerial career. Now Chelsea have thrown him under it.
Sacking him has made Mourinho the scapegoat for the train wreck that has been their season.
As manager, he’s played his part in those failures, but prima donnas and a lack of support from the club’s hierarchy have been just as influential.
Chelsea have never been better than when Mourinho has been at the helm. He made the club great, and without him they’re significantly weaker.
The pain of his departure will last much longer than the failures of this season.