Chelsea workers avoid surly Mourinho

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Mourinho (centre) has remained sullen-faced for the majority of the first six weeks of this seasonLONDON-As Jose Mourinho stomps around the training ground, Chelsea employees dive into side rooms or peek around corners to avoid their temperamental manager.

Nobody wants to come into contact with him these days. Not when the mood is black and the atmosphere oppressive.

Mourinho will not speak about the moment he shouted ‘filho da puta’ at the club’s popular doctor Eva Carneiro during the 2-2 draw with Swansea City on the opening day of the Barclays Premier League season. Privately, employees at the club are firmly on her side.

It is one of the reasons Mourinho is struggling to motivate the dressing room, creating tension between him and the players.

Carneiro has not been to work for the past 36 days, in limbo as Chelsea prepare for a potential civil action that could cost them hundreds of thousands of pounds in damages.

Mourinho is refusing to apologise, to take responsibility for publicly calling out a highly-respected member of the medical profession during an explosive confrontation.

There are rumours at the club that Roman Abramovich’s partner Dasha Zhukova, along with the wives and partners of the players, felt Mourinho was heavy-handed and disrespectful. He is struggling to hold this team together, to unite this dressing room after they slipped to their third defeat of the season at Everton last Saturday.

It was a pitiful performance, with the body language of the players when they stepped off the team bus suggesting they were about to surrender. Where was the swagger of champions, the aura that is usually associated with Mourinho’s title-winning teams?

Some of the issues can be traced back to last season and the manager’s frustration with Diego Costa goes much deeper than the continued frustrations with the £32million striker’s troublesome hamstrings. After Chelsea had sewn up the title with a 1-0 win over Crystal Palace on May 3, Mourinho rewarded his players with four days off to give them time to celebrate.

Costa, who flew to Madrid to party, indulged a little bit too much and took an extra day. Mourinho responded by axing him from the team that drew 1-1 against Liverpool on May 10, but by then the problems were beginning to pile up for Costa.

Over a three-week period in the build up to the title triumph there had been numerous complaints about loud noise and parties at chez Costa. By then, the goals had pretty much dried up.

Physically the Brazilian is back in good shape this season, with Chelsea players noting that he has returned to peak condition following the summer’s excesses. Despite that, he has scored just once.

Radamel Falcao, the back-up striker who shares the same agent, Jorge Mendes, as Mourinho, is paid £150,000 per week by Chelsea as part of the arrangement with his parent club Monaco. He has made little impact.

There is also resistance among the players to Mourinho’s autocratic — yet hugely successful — system, a legacy from last season’s title run-in. There are players in that team — Oscar, Willian and Eden Hazard — who would prefer to play with more flair.

But Mourinho is unmoved and the downturn in results this season have made him dig in even more.

To get out of this hole the manager will have to address the internal divisions that are creating so much conflict and bring the players back on his side.

This was supposed to be the year when the academy players would flourish, with Mourinho promising at the end of last season that he would integrate four youngsters in the first-team squad. Abramovich is applying the squeeze from above.

Everyone at the club is under pressure to end the 18-year wait for a youth-team graduate to become a regular fixture in the first team. The wait will go on.

There is a general perception within the game that Mourinho will not promote young players, a theory that cost the Portuguese the chance to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United.

When they met with Mourinho, United’s powerbrokers were not convinced that he would continue the great traditions of the club by developing young players.

They called it right, with a staggering 33 Chelsea players currently out on loan to other clubs.

At academy level, there is surprise that Dominic Solanke, one of the most talented young forwards in the country, has been loaned to Vitesse Arnhem. Most assumed he would be Chelsea’s fourth striker this year. Instead the club are deep in crisis, with the excuses that this team was under-prepared for the season ahead long forgotten after their alarming start to the season.

This is another big weekend for Mourinho, as his side face Arsenal on Saturday.

The last time Chelsea played Arsene Wenger’s team — in the Community Shield clash at Wembley last month, Mourinho lost to the Frenchman for the first time in his managerial career.

If he is beaten again, Mourinho will be running for cover.

Meanwhile, Mourinho says he thinks he knows what is wrong with his team and insists his methods will pull the club through. But could they be part of the problem?

Mourinho is no lover of improvisation. On the pitch, he wants to see 11 automatons – all perfectly drilled in his flip-chart exercises. Think of the players he has criticised or jettisoned for failing to track back – from Joe Cole to Juan Mata. Think of the defenders who incurred his wrath because they failed to do things just the way he wanted – from Asier Del Horno to Tal Ben Haim.

Players, when asked, talk of him as a hard taskmaster – who knows exactly how he wants things done, and is unforgiving on those who demur from the plan.

Witness Thibaut Courtois – lobbed from 60 yards by Charlie Adam earlier this year, but who then immediately retook his posting way beyond the edge of the penalty box. Or this season’s much maligned Branislav Ivanovic, who continues to back away from attacking forwards, his arms fastened behind his back.

These players don’t do these things because they are stupid, or reckless or cavalier – they do them because, over thousands of hours at Cobham, Mourinho has ingrained it in their psyche. Every man who pulls on the shirt for Chelsea is expected to do exactly what Mourinho has trained them to do, in any given situation, or they risk his not insubstantial displeasure. Even in his own ploys, there is little room for manoeuvre.

The classic Mourinho switch when chasing a game – full-back off, forward on, get a goal or two, forward off, defender on – became something of a trademark. If there is an obvious reason and record for that one, another newer ploy is slightly less understandable: bring on Falcao to defend a corner.

In the second of Chelsea’s three defeats this season, against Crystal Palace, it resulted in the Eagles‘ winning goal. Again it happened at Goodison Park on Saturday – and perhaps the fact that Chelsea did not concede straightaway proves, in Mourinho’s mind, that there is no madness in the method.

What is the point of all this? That Mourinho has, through his stubborn dedication to his practised methods, become predictable in what he says and does.

Awaiting his arrival for the post-match press conference at Everton, reporters chatted who he might blame this time – as it is never Chelsea’s fault when they lose under Mourinho. One suggested it was about Bird Flu Time in the cycle of events – referencing the comments he made putting into context what real pressure meant in April 2006. Sure enough, and less than 10 minutes later, he sat in front of journalists saying football management was not a pressure job: “I think the refugees are under big pressure.”

But, if the method is tired and predictable, Mourinho will be happy to point out that it generally works. Look at the medals he has flung into the crowd over the last decade and a half.

One of the problems right now seems to be, as with that press conference, those whose job it is to watch him and accurately predict what is coming next. That is a problem for a manager whose success is, to a significant extent, based upon well-drilled routine. It may seem odd to say it about one who is so known for his ability to turn a game, but is he running out of well-worked clichés to produce the right results?

If Mourinho is to believed, he is a long way short of done with Chelsea. And Chelsea are a long way short of done with him. But with questions being raised about his recurring ‘third season syndrome’, and Chelsea’s dreadful form backing that up, perhaps it is time for one of the world’s top coaches to refresh his ideas about the game.

Weekend fixtures

Sept 19: Chelsea v Arsenal, Stoke v Leicester, Swansea v Everton, Newcastle v Watford,
Aston Villa v West Brom, Bournemouth v Sunderland, Manchester City v West Ham.

Sept 20: Tottenham v Crystal Palace, Liverpool v Norwich, Southampton v Manchester United. –Daily Mail/Eurosport

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