And so a new chapter in the life of Chelsea Football Clubs begins on Saturday with what might justifiably be called a relegation six-pointer against Sunderland. The first match following the sacking of Jose Mourinho will be an intriguing affair and the chants from the terraces could be as interesting as the action on the pitch.
The dismissal of the greatest manager in the club’s history was not particularly surprising given that they sit just a point above the drop zone and boast a squad of players that no longer seemed to be responding to his instructions. With the January transfer window about to open, the board clearly felt that it was now or never if they were going to make such a change. Nevertheless, it remains a point of sadness that somebody that feels so passionately about the club and has delivered so many of the club’s greatest moments should depart under a cloud.
The issue has struck a nerve among the match-going Chelsea supporters and while Mourinho might have gone he will most definitely not be forgotten. One thing that will have disappeared, at least momentarily, is the goodwill shown from the stands. Chelsea supporters have not always enjoyed the most positive reputation over the years though they have shown true class this season. Despite a torrent of inept performances and negative results, the fans have refused to turn on their team, singing their support of the players and manager that delivered the Premier League crown last season. Where Manchester United fans at Old Trafford are booing their team off for drawing 0-0 at home against West Ham while sitting comfortably in the top four, Stamford Bridge has been stoic in the face of the dross that has been served up. The Chelsea faithful have been brilliantly supportive though that is now likely to change.
The overriding feeling is that the players have been the main culprits behind Mourinho’s departure even if it is also widely accepted that the Portuguese did not do himself any favours with some of his actions over the past few months. The lethargy and complacency that many of the squad have shown this season together with the almost universal silence that has followed their coach’s sacking is damning. That only Cesc Fabregas, Cesar Azpilicueta and John Terry have publically thanked their departing manager — one that turned most of them into Premier League champions for the first time — tells its own story. Considering how staunchly Mourinho has defended some of them, how he has persisted in playing some even when shockingly out of form and even acquiesced to certain requests about which position individuals want to play it is even more galling. On Saturday, many of those players are likely to be reminded of that in no uncertain terms by many of the 41,000 inside Stamford Bridge.
Fortunately for them they have an ally in technical director Michael Emenalo who has absolved the players of any blame in the face of all available evidence. While diplomatically sensible in terms of keeping the players onside, it has gone down like a lead balloon with Chelsea supporters who have all watched with growing horror the appalling displays that some of those same players have been putting in. That Emenalo has a large amount of input into player recruitment, an area in which the club spectacularly failed in the summer, he might have been better off keeping his own counsel rather than referring to one of the greatest managers in modern football history as “the individual”.
As all football observers know, the removal of a manager often leads to an immediate upturn in fortunes, even if only temporarily, which undoubtedly played a significant part in the board’s thinking. With that in mind it would be no surprise to see the Blues play with an extra spring in their step and sweep Sunderland away in a flood of goals. But even if Chelsea were to hit double figures it will be hard to know whether to be delighted at a much-needed win or disgusted at the fickleness of their footballers.
Ultimately though, everyone connected with Chelsea wants the club to succeed. While there are sure to be many dissenting voices and a potentially poisonous atmosphere within Stamford Bridge on Saturday, if the team can start to win matches then all that acrimony will soon be shelved. After all, this isn’t the first time in the last decade that the supporters have endured such a rollercoaster of emotions.
The bottom line, however, is that if Chelsea lose against Sunderland they might find themselves in the bottom three. If that happens, then the mutiny in the stands really will be in full voice.