Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel has aimed a not-so-subtle dig at former manager Jose Mourinho, praising interim manager Guus Hiddink for changing the atmosphere at the club as soon as he joined and expressing hope the Dutchman stays on past the end of the season.
As reported by MailOnline's Sam Cunningham, he added the players feel “more relaxed” than they did before:
From day one, since Guus has come in, the atmosphere has changed. The players feel more relaxed, people know what their jobs are and people are getting on with their jobs in a more relaxed way. And a way they can perform very well.
He has given responsibility to people and expects them to thrive on it and make sure they do it in way where they feel comfortable. I think that is what the players are showing now.
When you come into the training ground, the players are more relaxed, he doesn’t get into people’s business, he gets on with his own thing and players feel very comfortable and know exactly what to do so when he gets on the training pitch, he doesn’t need to speak.
I want him to stay. It is the choice of the owner, the club and the board. They will have to decide. But if you speak to the players, 98 or 99 per cent of them want him to stay so I mean, we are very happy, we are performing well and let’s hope this continues.
Per Cunningham, the atmosphere at Stamford Bridge during the final weeks of Mourinho's tenure was anything but pleasant, as the Special One routinely berated his players. He at one point described the defending of John Terry and Kurt Zouma as a “betrayal” and appeared to openly fall out with striker Diego Costa, who even launched a bib in his direction.
The situation reached a boiling point following the 2-1 loss against Leicester City in December, per the Guardian's Stuart James. Mourinho went off on his own team, to the disbelief of former Liverpool star Dietmar Hamann:
Since he was sacked and Hiddink was appointed as a temporary replacement, the Blues have rediscovered their form, and several key players are suddenly playing up to their potential again.
Costa, arguably the team's biggest flop of the first half of the season, is again scoring at an impressive rate, and his stats so far in the new year speak for themselves, per Squawka Football:
As reported by the Guardian's Alan Smith, Mikel doesn't think that's a coincidence: “You can see Diego. It takes a lot to get Diego in a good mood.”
Others have started hitting their stride as well. Midfielders Cesc Fabregas and Nemanja Matic have performed much better of late, and even winger Eden Hazard seems like he's starting to turn the corner.
While the Blues haven't been perfect―they still sit just 12th in the Premier League standings―they've lost just a single match since Hiddink took control of the team.
Mikel's claim “98 or 99 per cent” of the players want him to stay is a bold one, and Matt Law of the Daily Telegraph couldn't help but have some fun with it:
But it's hard to deny the Blues look like a completely different team under the Dutchman, and after a disastrous first half of the season, the players have to relish the fact they can breathe easily once again and work with a manager who doesn't throw them under the bus at seemingly every turn.
For now, Hiddink appears unlikely to stay at the club past the end of this season, but if he finds some unexpected success and maybe even some silverware, that could change in a hurry.