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Why Is Learning to Lose a Vital Lesson?
Five months ago, Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho was lifting his third Premier League trophy. Today, Chelsea Football Club are 15th in the league, and their manager's job looks less assured by the passing hour.
As a purported sportswriter, it's my job to analyse and decipher what's going wrong in the defending champions' camp. The reasons I've established are varied, but they don't explain everything. It's like attempting to solve a puzzle with half the pieces missing.
After 2014/15, instead of resting, Chelsea went to Asia and Australia for a post-season tour—playing the Thailand All-Stars on May 30 and Sydney FC on June 2.
One-and-a-half months later, the Blues were in North America starting their 2015/16 pre-season schedule. From July 22 through August 5 (including the 2015 FA Community Shield), Chelsea played five matches in four cities—three in the United States.
I suggest the trip to Asia, just one month of rest and a log-jammed pre-season schedule was the beginning of Mourinho's current issues. His players weren't ready to start the Premier League campaign—their collective sluggishness mutating into apprehension.
Next was the summer transfer window. Manchester City's lesson of 2014/15 stared Chelsea in the face, but they elected not to tamper heavily with their winning side. Barcelona's Pedro was the only legitimate first-team addition Mourinho received. Asmir Begovic and Radamel Falcao were merely replacements for long-serving, legendary Chelsea figures, Petr Cech and Didier Drogba.
Chasing Everton's John Stones for months came to nothing, and instead the Blues bought two less-than-auspicious deadline-day centre-backs (Papy Djilobodji and Michael Hector).
The failure of Chelsea's board to get Mourinho the players he wanted, or baulking to provide the necessary funds, was (albeit in hindsight) a massive oversight. The dressing room, losing key leaders, needed to be ignited with extreme competition for places.
That spark never arrived.
While balancing the transfer window and his players' fitness levels, Mourinho started one of the more discussed stories of 2015/16.
In Chelsea's first competitive match vs. Swansea City, Eden Hazard underwent medical treatment in the dying stages. Already down to 10 men, the Portuguese publicly voiced his displeasure with his medical staff (Jon Fearn and Eva Carneiro), labelling the pair "impulsive and naive," as documented by BBC Sport.
One half of the medical duo, Carneiro (being a cult figure in English football), made the story national news. Nothing positive came from her trial in the court of public opinion, with Mourinho found guilty.
Attrition, competition and negative headlines have combined, making a deadly cocktail for Mourinho to handle. Making things worse, the Portuguese has never dealt with consistent, negative results in his career, spanning over 15 years. His inexperience with negativity shows on the touchline and with the media.
Most of his experiences in football have been positive. The 52-year-old, since 2003/04, has never finished worse than third in a domestic league.
Living a relative life of privilege, when an inevitable poor season strikes, Mourinho has no reservoir on which to rely. His uncertainty, like a permanent marker, bleeds throughout his squad.
Mourinho is losing and doesn't know how to without creating waves. Thus, we find champions five months ago hovering above the relegation zone, unsure of their next move, scrambling to regain footing and on the cusp—according to Mirror Sport's Neil McLeman—of sacking their manager.
Owner Roman Abramovich is known to have a quick trigger with managers; if he was going to sack Mourinho, it would've already happened. His current manager has earned every opportunity to turn the flailing Blues around. The Russian billionaire's original goal was winning the Premier League every season. Over time, he's realised how unfeasible that desire is and seems to be comfortable with a title-challenging squad.
Chelsea, in all likelihood, will not repeat as champions. Abramovich's question must then become: "How much rope do I give Mourinho to secure Champions League football?"
As previously mentioned, I would contend Chelsea's board aren't blameless in their club's current condition—given the lack of transfer-market activity—so Mourinho's rope should be longer than currently projected by newspapers.
Since 2010/11, England's fourth-place team has averaged 72 points. On their current total, Chelsea can drop 23 more points and have 72 come season's end. Their margin for error has been destroyed by the opening 10 fixtures, but there's no better managerial option available to trust with the 23-point gap than Mourinho.
The primary issue for Chelsea's manager is disposition. If he manages himself with proper decorum and becomes less radioactive, the Blues' brass will have no choice but to retain him. If, however, the pressure to cope becomes too great and he breaks down further, Mourinho's second west London spell will end before its projected date.
Is winning too much a bad thing? No.
But is winning consistently sustainable? No.
For a manager, learning to deal with losing is nearly as important as learning to cultivate a winning atmosphere. Pressing the right buttons can defuse pressure, but pressing the wrong buttons can have catastrophic consequences.
From my perspective, Mourinho's never played the role of defuser.
To his credit, the achievement speaks towards his unbelievable consistency as one of football's greatest managers, but it also suggests when turmoil strikes, he lacks the requisite knowledge to establish normality.
If Chelsea and Mourinho get through 2015/16, they will both be better from the learning experience.
The board will learn resting on their laurels is a recipe for disaster. Mourinho will learn to deal with hardship. The players will have motivation for 2016/17, and Blues' supporters will understand perennial winning is no birthright.
Sacking Mourinho hits the restart button on the last three seasons of progress.
I'm not sure that's an optimal outcome at Stamford Bridge.