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I'm genuinely surprised by how some don't seem to realize how bad the situation really is. This is by far worse than any of the 'bad runs' by any of our previous managers. It's our worst start to a se

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We own Mou!!!

Tottenham haven’t been selling any Jose Mourinho’s merchandise in their official club shop, almost a year into his tenure as the club’s manager


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4 hours ago, Blue Armour said:



Jose Mourinho names his all-time XI of players he has worked with - as EIGHT of his former Chelsea stars make the cut

Was Daily Mail running low on stories?

That story was already out in March - https://www.standard.co.uk/sport/football/jose-mourinho-all-time-best-xi-cristiano-ronaldo-no-room-man-utd-paul-pogba-a4401881.html

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Mourinho’s second coming at Chelsea: A story of domination then meltdown


Jose Mourinho's second spell at Chelsea: The meltdown – The Athletic

Mid-May, 2015, and in one of the suites high up in Stamford Bridge’s west stand, the conversation has turned to Jose Mourinho. Chelsea are still waiting to take formal possession of the Premier League trophy, with all the associated pomp and circumstance, but the Portuguese’s third title over two stints in charge has actually been wrapped up for nigh on a fortnight. He had accepted the top-flight’s manager of the year award earlier in the day with mock surprise, pointing out that he had never claimed the monthly accolade over the course of the campaign. This must be a quirk. An anomaly.

“But I worked for the cake, not the icing,” he had offered. “The cake is much more important, and the Premier League is the real cake.”

Members of the Chelsea hierarchy are chatting with a huddle of journalists, reflecting on a season that had begun with swashbuckling dismissals of Burnley and Swansea City, of six goals rattled in at Goodison Park and 16 wins through a vibrant unbeaten 21-match sequence in all competitions stretching into December. They are considering, too, the reaction to the rare setbacks endured over the festive period and how the team, hauled in momentarily by Manchester City, had steeled themselves to go 16 league games without defeat from the turn of the year, contests where points were largely ground out in grittier style. The prize was secured with three matches still to be played.

Sure, there had been awkward moments en route. No one had envisaged Paris Saint-Germain jettisoning the London club from the Champions League or, more mind-boggling still, that Bradford City of the third tier would prevail at Stamford Bridge in the FA Cup. Then there had been those allegations that match officials had mounted a “campaign against Chelsea” when refereeing decisions started going against the team, with the manager sanctioned for voicing his conspiracy theory. But, in the serene afterglow of success, the talk is less of controversy and more that Mourinho is a far calmer character these days.

His relationship with Roman Abramovich had been strained to breaking point at the end of his first spell in charge, but all parties are more experienced now. They know better how to deal with each other’s foibles. The fit seems right.

A contract extension is in the offing, a line that is lapped up enthusiastically by those present. But there’s no rush on either side. It is just a natural time to confront renewal. When the post-season tour to Australia and the Far East has concluded, and the management have holidayed, there will be a meeting to sign it all off. In the past, when Mourinho was not quite as au fait with working at a big club and Abramovich was still finding his feet in football, the tension had been unbearable at times. Now there is a natural equilibrium to it all.

“But it’s easy to say all this when things are going well,” chuckles a member of the board through a smile. “Wait until we lose five in a row…”

Such flippancy would end up sounding prophetic.

Over the ensuing seven months, a team who had topped the Premier League for an unprecedented 274 days over the 2014-15 season would collapse in disarray, Mourinho’s stewardship unravelling in a manner utterly unforeseen, and all with the ink yet to dry on that lucrative new deal. His second coming degenerated into a frenzy of controversies, from outbursts at his own medical staff to a rap sheet from the Football Association (FA) over his increasingly frazzled conduct on the touchline. Confidence among the playing squad drained away. Stamford Bridge, once impregnable, was plundered by Crystal Palace and Southampton, Bournemouth and Liverpool.

On December 17 five years ago, the manager of the year was sacked while the caterers were still clearing the tables after the staff Christmas lunch in the canteen downstairs. With an elaborate decoy plan wrong-footing the media scrum outside, The Athletic can reveal he departed the club’s training ground for the last time smuggled away in the boot of one of his assistant’s cars. His was an undignified exit.

Chelsea, reigning turned ailing champions, hovered one point above the relegation zone in 16th place with the technical director, Michael Emenalo, citing a schism between a coach he refused to name and players who had been unrecognisable when justifying the decision in an interview on the club’s in-house television channel.

This is the story of “palpable discord”, perceived rats in the camp and the disintegration of a title defence, the like of which is unrivalled in the modern-day Premier League.

“Last season we were building something. This season there was work ethic, group ethic and a few players we brought here gave us qualities we didn’t have before. I’m so happy for them, and so proud because we got what we deserved. I’m in the right place. I stay here for as long as Mr Abramovich wants me. He has won it all. If he has replicas made (of the trophies he has won), he needs a big house.”

Jose Mourinho after the 1-0 victory over Palace on May 3, 2015

It was the speed of the descent that really took the breath away and, to comprehend the collapse, it is worth lingering a while on Chelsea’s title success.

The head coach had, naturally, seen it all coming. Back in 2013 on his return to the club after a six-year absence, Mourinho had ditched the old hat “Special One” routine and offered something a little less catchy, but just as brazenly bold. “If we don’t (win the league) but show an evolution in the first season, show we’re moving in the right direction, then we will be champions in the second season,” he said at his inaugural press conference. Plenty rolled their eyes, but this was not bluster.


What the team he inherited had lacked was “balls”, the word he had scrawled on a reporter’s notepad as the missing ingredient after a particularly anaemic loss at Selhurst Park towards the end of that first campaign. So that is what Chelsea recruited. Diego Costa, a streetwise Jorge Mendes client well known to the Portuguese, was lured from Atletico Madrid. Mourinho swerved his son’s final youth-team game of the season for Fulham to deliver a personal sale’s pitch to Cesc Fabregas and convince him to return to London from Barcelona.

The pair had been the manager’s priority picks, recommendations pushed in a report submitted to the board just 24 hours after the conclusion of the 2013-14 campaign. They were Premier League ready, boasted pedigree and instantly made the team more imposing. Deals for both were concluded swiftly, with the director Marina Granovskaia leading the negotiations. As a focused recruitment operation, this was ruthlessly efficient. At a combined £60 million, it was money well spent. The pair duly provided goals and creation as Chelsea tore teams apart over the first half of the season.

When momentum was checked at the midway point, most notably with a 5-3 hammering at White Hart Lane on new year’s day, there was still a core of rugged, disciplined performers — Nemanja Matic, John Terry, Gary Cahill, Branislav Ivanovic, even the veteran Didier Drogba — upon which to fall back as the team turned pragmatic and scrapped for the finishing line.

Mourinho probably accepted some blame for that loss across the capital having veered from the normal routine so as to grant his players more time with their families on New Year’s Eve, pushing back the rendezvous at Cobham and Stamford Bridge respectively before the squad travelled by coach to their central London hotel. Those extra few hours at home ensured Chelsea’s players checked in closer to 1am and, in the process, skewed their collective body clocks. They were sluggish at Spurs, and duly trounced.

“When a team’s approach is planned so meticulously, even the most innocuous things can throw it all off-kilter,” a figure within the set-up at the time tells The Athletic. “Jose had done that to help the team, but it probably backfired. His reaction to a heavy defeat was to pull everyone closer together, taking fewer risks in their approach.” The prospect of Manchester City, with Frank Lampard in their number, hauling them in was particularly unpalatable.

As the ensuing unbeaten run edged an injury-hit squad closer to a first title in five years, those at Cobham braced themselves for Mourinho to intensify his work, cracking the whip to up standards yet further. In reality, the Portuguese veered the other way. Those present recall a “loosening” of discipline around the training ground, with the head coach cracking jokes, hugging players in the corridors and relaxing the in-house fines for petty indiscretions. When pushed as to why, Mourinho merely pointed out his players were under pressure enough with success so close. “I can’t afford to have anyone crack,” he explained. After Spurs, they did not lose in the league again until the title was theirs.

They crossed the finish line to envious complaints of “boring, boring Chelsea” from opposing supporters — “Dogs barking as the caravan goes by,” said Mourinho dismissively — but this was undoubtedly the best team in the division. They could mix the resolute with the scintillating. The chasing pack, whether led by Arsenal or Manchester City, Manchester United or Tottenham, enjoyed flurries of positive results, but none could match the relentless efficiency or consistency of Mourinho’s side. Other than Spurs leading on goal difference for the second full week of the season, Chelsea were top throughout.

By the time Palace were beaten at Stamford Bridge to confirm the title, Eden Hazard converting the rebound after Julian Speroni had blocked his original penalty, Chelsea had trailed for only 171 minutes all season. No other side could match their 17 clean sheets. There was a drive and unswerving belief to the entire club’s approach, a unity that stretched beyond the playing staff. The medical department’s diligence ensured Terry, 34 at the season’s end and previously plagued with lower back problems, played every minute of the league campaign and was one of a trio to start all the games. Hazard, the PFA’s player of the season, was another. They had 11 players who started at least 24 top-flight games. No club used fewer players in that league campaign.

And, in Mourinho, they had a serial winner in charge. A three-time Premier League winning coach who, on the day Palace were seen off, averaged a trophy every 34 games over his career. “He has an edge that goes above anyone else I have ever worked with before,” said Fabregas, a player schooled by Arsene Wenger and Pep Guardiola at previous clubs. “The mentality shows in every single training session. In every game. Everyone thinks we have a big squad, but we don’t. And yet he knows how to manage a team.

“A manager who can motivate a player every three days when you play 60 games in a season… that’s not easy. He does not let complacency creep in. I understand now why he has won what he has in his career.”

“When I win, I want to win again. My medal is at home in a drawer because I feel fantastic motivation for more. You see my players on the pitch and you can clearly identify two or three who can do better. I don’t know why performances have dipped. I don’t have an answer for everything. But will I accept this? Cross my arms, sit in a nice chair and wait calmly for the performance level to be back? No. I have to work, react, analyse and, if the players are not in conditions to give more, I have to make changes.”

Jose Mourinho after a 2-1 home defeat to Crystal Palace on August 29, 2015

The perfect storm that followed had its roots in the events of that summer. The group that paraded the trophy around the pitch in triumph on the final day after a 26th league win of the term were not done yet. They might have played 54 matches in all competitions, winning the League Cup and Premier League en route, but they were due in Bangkok for a friendly against the Thailand All-Stars less than a week after their celebratory win over Sunderland. Their circuitous route home involved a second fixture, against Sydney FC, in front of 83,598 fans three days later.

Chelsea tended to avoid post-season tours. Their players were invariably involved in summer tournaments with their national teams, anyway, so they were seldom an option. But those games, tagged on to the end of the regular campaign, clearly contributed to Mourinho’s decision to delay recalling the bulk of his squad back to Cobham for pre-season testing until July 14. Less than 24 hours later, they departed for a training camp in Montreal and a three-game involvement in a pre-season tournament, the International Champions Cup. Already, plans had veered from the tried and trusted.

The manager had always favoured spending pre-season in the United States. He was at ease at his favoured Beverly Hills hotel and relished putting his players through their paces on the pristine training pitches at UCLA further on around Sunset Boulevard. Except, on this excursion across the Pond, Chelsea were actually staying across the Canadian border in Montreal and flying to and from the venues for their fixtures: New York Red Bulls in New Jersey; PSG in Charlotte, North Carolina; and Barcelona at FedExField outside Washington DC.

The facilities at their disposal were not particularly plush, either. There was building work ongoing at the site. Journalists arriving at the team’s base at the start of the tour stumbled upon Ivanovic undergoing a massage while lying on a makeshift bed in reception.

Mourinho recognised things were far from ideal. He liked to decorate pre-season tours with practical jokes to lighten the mood. The previous year, when a 26-man squad had decamped to idyllic Velden, Austria, he and his coaching staff had waged a water-bomb war on the backroom personnel that extended through the full fortnight spent abroad. What began with the manager emptying a bucket from his hotel balcony over unsuspecting colleagues on the terrace below ended with Mourinho and his assistants, Rui Faria and Silvino Louro, meticulously planning ambushes, escape routes and even decoy acts with almost military precision, having raided local shops to buy up the locals’ supply of water pistols. Yet he went to new extremes to raise spirits in Montreal.

He needed a victim for his pranks and, invariably, that left the members of Chelsea TV’s travelling staff vulnerable. Early on that trip, the head coach arranged eight chairs in “flight configuration” at the side of the training pitch, complete with two pilot seats and a rear gunner with his back turned to proceedings.


He made the entire squad stand and watch as he allocated places to seven of the party, including Terry and Faria, and finally asked Lee Parker, the in-house channel’s presenter, to take a position slap bang in the centre. Then, while the players watched on in the belief this was some kind of team bonding exercise, Mourinho stood in front of the improvised cockpit and issued a series of instructions — “bank to the left” (he leans and they follow), “bank to the right”, “bandits at six o’clock” (Faria, the rear gunner, fires off an imaginary machine gun) — which the eight dutifully followed.

Unfortunately for Parker, smartly dressed in a shirt and tie in the baking heat, all those present were in on the gag. As the drill intensified, and on Mourinho’s signal, Silvino ambled in from the periphery and emptied a bucket of ice-cold water over the unsuspecting presenter in his central point in the makeshift cabin. Poor Parker had to stand in front of camera and file his report soaked to the skin. He was told to consider the trial a badge of honour. “But it was actually Jose’s way of providing the players with a bit of light relief,” says one of those present. “Pre-season has to be intense. It has to be relentless. He recognised the tension needed lancing occasionally.”


That summer more than most. There were the usual staggered arrivals to the touring party, with those players who had been involved in the Copa America — Diego Costa reported back, by his own admission, slightly overweight — only joining up after the heavy defeat by Red Bulls. All the to-ing and fro-ing took its toll. The champions only had two full days to prepare for the Community Shield upon their return to London and, leggy and lethargic, they duly lost that to Arsenal. It was the first time in 14 attempts, stretching back 11 years, that Wenger had overcome a team coached by Mourinho. Another fixture, at home to Fiorentina, was crammed in a few days later to give the whole pre-season period an utterly chaotic feel.

Sluggish at Wembley, the hangover dragged into the first few fixtures of the new campaign. Other teams were further ahead in their preparations and hit the ground running. Chelsea’s start condemned them to lower mid-table from the outset. As incomprehensible as it seemed, they never really recovered.

Swansea twice came from behind to draw at the Bridge on the opening afternoon, with Thibaut Courtois dismissed for a professional foul on Bafetimbi Gomis. The ramifications of that fixture would be significant for events deep into stoppage time (more on which later), but Chelsea were only fluent in patches and far from secure. Manchester City ran riot at their expense the following week with Matic off the pace, Ivanovic treading water and Terry substituted for the first time in 177 games under Mourinho. The captain was sent off in a win at West Bromwich Albion and absent as Mourinho suffered only a second-ever home league defeat with the club, against Palace, in his 200th Premier League game.

That reverse had the manager openly questioning his players’ attitude. Already, a stodgy start had the whiff of crisis.

“Pressure? Pressure is being a refugee. I enjoy my job. It is a pleasure and an honour to be in charge of Chelsea, even if the results are the worst of my career. I am not feeling pressure. The results are not adapted to my quality and my status, but I am coping well with the situation. I am the best man for the job.”

Jose Mourinho after a 3-1 defeat at Everton on September 12, 2015

Full-time at Goodison Park and Mourinho skulks down the tunnel. Chelsea’s worst start to a top-flight season in 29 years is stinging his pride and “Money Can’t Buy Me Love” is blaring over the public address system. Fake £50 notes lay strewn around the visitors’ dugout. Out on the pitch, John Stones lingers to applaud all four sides of the ground, with the locals bouncing in delight after the comfortable win, and offers those in the heartland of the Gwladys Street end a thumbs up.

The roar of approval from the masses is recognition all is forgiven.


Stones had been the subject of three bids from Chelsea that summer, their offers rising from £20 million to £26 million to £30 million for the England centre-half. Everyone assumed there would be a fourth, probably worth at least £35 million, after the player handed in a transfer request, so the Everton chairman Bill Kenwright had moved to stifle the farce. He and the manager, Roberto Martinez, met with Stones and convinced him this was not the time to leave. There was a statement released ahead of the transfer deadline insisting the 21-year-old was not for sale and “will remain a highly valued member of our first-team squad”.

If Chelsea’s efficiency in the transfer market in 2014 had been key to their title success, then their rather muddled attempts to strengthen a year later surely contributed to that early-season sloppiness. They had replaced like for like well enough, on paper at least. Radamel Falcao had joined on loan to fill the back-up striker role occupied by Drogba. Asmir Begovic, thrust into the first-team with Courtois ruled out for three months through injury, took over from Petr Cech. The young Baba Rahman, for whom there were big hopes, was secured, with Filipe Luiz sold back to Atletico.

But these were deals on the fringes. The swirl of stories centred on Antoine Griezmann and Koke, Paul Pogba and Stones, but there had been no marquee addition that would leave the chasing pack quaking. Not, at least, until Pedro Rodriguez, convinced via phone calls from Mourinho and Fabregas to keep him out of the clutches of Manchester United, signed from Barcelona for £21.2 million in mid-August. “You can ask why we didn’t do our business before the start of the pre-season like we did last year, but it’s not because we didn’t want to,” said Mourinho once Pedro had been secured. “It’s because it’s not possible. So, in this moment, we are a bit limited.”

As it was, there was to be no mass outlay in what remained of the window. While all bar Arsenal of those considered contenders spent significantly — City, runners-up the previous year, forked out over £100 million on Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne alone — Chelsea, conscious of financial fair play regulations and convinced by the youthful talent emerging from their academy, had opted to go another way. They already boasted a championship-winning squad. One or two additions, players of the calibre of Pedro, would probably suffice. Stones was to be that second major arrival.

Mourinho was apparently on board, for all that his mantra towards the end of the previous season had been about kicking on, adding further competition to keep all-comers on their toes. “He is a chequebook manager who, every now and again, will buy a massive player with sharp elbows,” says another figure close to the squad. “When things are going slightly wrong, he’ll bring in that charismatic player — a Michael Ballack or Didier Drogba — and drop them in the middle to motivate everyone else to raise their game. A rising tide lifts all boats.

“He’d agreed with the board that we would go light in the market but, ultimately, he wasn’t used to dealing with pretty much the same team who had just won something, and then had to go again. It was just another factor alien to him that season.”

Once it became clear Stones was not an option, Chelsea put out feelers for Ezequiel Garay at Zenit Saint Petersburg, Monaco’s Aymen Abdennour, Marquinhos at PSG, Aymeric Laporte at Athletic Bilbao and AS Roma’s Kostas Manolas. In the end, they did sign two centre-halves as the clock ticked down towards deadline, though their combined careers at the club amounted to one minute of competitive action.

Michael Hector joined from Reading for £4 million. The 24-year-old had a fleeting encounter with Mourinho in the canteen at Cobham — “He just said he would be keeping an eye on me and my progress, and that I should work hard,” he tells The Athletic — before departing back to the Championship club on loan where Chelsea hoped he would continue to develop physically. Papy Djilobodji, a Senegal international who had apparently been tracked by the recruitment department for two years, cost £2.7 million from Nantes. He was 26, into the final 12 months of his deal and interesting Celtic. At Chelsea, he was, at best, a relatively experienced older head who could possibly fulfil a role as back-up as the team competed on four fronts.

In reality, he was horribly out of his depth and Mourinho was distinctly unimpressed.


Within days of his arrival, with a few training sessions under his belt, the club opted against including him in their Champions League squad. His career with the Londoners amounted to a 60-second cameo at Walsall in the League Cup. By January, he was on loan at Werder Bremen. It is a mark of Granovskaia’s powers of negotiation that, when he was sold the following summer, Chelsea somehow squeezed closer to £8 million out of Sunderland for his signature.

“I wasn’t happy with my medical staff because, even if you are a medical doctor or secretary on the bench, you have to understand the game. You have to know that you have one player less and if you go to the pitch to assist a player then you must be sure he has a serious problem. I was sure that Eden didn’t have a serious problem. He had a knock and was very tired. My medical department left me with eight fit (outfield) players in a counter-attack after a set-piece.”

Jose Mourinho after the draw with Swansea City on August 8, 2015

Dr Eva Carneiro had joined Chelsea back in 2009. She was highly respected having worked at the British Olympic Medical Institute’s intensive rehabilitation unit at Bisham Abbey, and then on UK Sport’s training programme. At Stamford Bridge, she was a regular on the bench under a succession of first-team managers. By 2014, that had earned her promotion to the role of assistant medical director.

At around 7.20pm on that opening day, with a frenzied contest against Swansea deep into stoppage time and the depleted hosts maintaining parity, the visitors’ captain Ashley Williams cynically clatters Eden Hazard. The referee Michael Oliver shows the defender a yellow card and, having twice checked with the Belgian as he lies stricken on the turf, ushers on the medics from the Chelsea bench. It is the physio, Jon Fearn, who first crosses the touchline. Dr Carneiro follows. Once summoned on to the pitch by the official, they are obliged to attend to the injured player.


It takes a while for Mourinho, standing hands in pockets on the edge of his technical area and consumed by the tension of the game, to realise what is happening but, as soon as the penny drops, he erupts. Twice he screams furiously at his staff as if to call them back, then spins round to his bench and shouts what he later claimed in a witness statement ahead of an employment tribunal was “filho da puta” (“son of a whore”). Dr Carneiro, a Portuguese speaker, was adamant in her own statement that she had heard him say “filha da puta” (“daughter of a whore”) from behind her.

The head coach is left waving his right arm dismissively in his frustration, helpless as Hazard receives attention and, once treated, shuffles to the touchline for the resumption of play with a nervous glance towards the dug-out. Chelsea, with seconds left, are momentarily down to nine as they prepare to take an attacking free kick deep in Swansea territory. They cannot commit more bodies upfield for fear of a counter.

Mourinho addresses Dr Carneiro as she returns to the bench, making clear his anger, and she answers him back. Fearn, in contrast, avoids eye contact as he makes for his seat. The Chelsea manager went on to denounce the pair as “impulsive and naive” in his post-match media conference.

The episode felt baffling at the time. The assumption was the tension of the occasion had spilt over with Mourinho, who had only signed his long-mooted new four-year contract the day before, already incensed at the non-award of a first-half penalty and the subsequent dismissal of Courtois for denying Gomis a clear goalscoring opportunity. Some saw his post-match comments as an attempt to deflect attention from a sloppy start to the title defence. A typical diversion tactic.

Maybe there was some merit to both theories, though there are others. One centres on Mourinho’s peculiar and, in truth, rather risky habit of launching stinging criticisms of people who had not actually done much wrong, all in an attempt to provoke others watching on into bucking up their own ideas. Those closest to him were apparently made aware that he might fly off the handle seemingly unprovoked, or at least learned from experience that it happened now and again. These were effectively coded messages to others in the dressing room and, however unjust they considered his reaction, the rule was that those in the line of fire were to accept it publicly without complaint.

Privately, he would explain. Maybe even apologise. But, in front of others, there had to be acquiescence. He demanded complete loyalty.

Earlier in the summer, in one of the first pre-season training sessions, he had seized upon a couple of stray passes from Terry and Cahill and threatened, according to the captain, to “go and spend £100 million on two new centre-backs if you keep giving the ball away”. They listened, said nothing, and upped their respective games. The collective quality of the session rose thereafter.

Now, there is a considerable difference between berating carelessness in a training drill and lambasting medical staff merely for fulfilling their duties in front of a packed Stamford Bridge, particularly with a player’s well-being potentially at stake. But it appeared as if the same rule of thumb was expected to stand. And Dr Carneiro, by issuing a riposte on the touchline, was clearly not having it.

Her first public utterance on the incident was a post on Facebook on the day after the game, thanking “the general public for their overwhelming support”. The messages to which she referred had essentially been from people urging her to stay strong in the face of Mourinho’s perceived bullying and, by acknowledging them, she poured petrol on the fire. The following day, she was informed that she would no longer be involved in the first-team set-up and would only return to work “in an adjusted role”. Fearn, too, was removed from the front line. The manager insisted the pair’s exclusion had been his decision.

Fearn put up with his lot, but Dr Carneiro left the club in September and launched a constructive dismissal and breach of contract case against Chelsea at the end of October, as well as serving papers on Mourinho for alleged sex discrimination and harassment, citing his banishing of her from the bench as being instrumental in her exit. That provoked the tribunal that took place in the summer of 2016.

The fall-out from the incident would scar Dr Carneiro’s life over the intervening year — she received death threats online after her departure — and provide an ugly backdrop to Mourinho’s toils with his team. Those at the club argued that the controversy did not contribute to the unravelling of the manager’s tenure or, indeed, change the perception of his authority within the playing group. But it looked unsavoury, unnecessary, and certainly cost him allies on the outside. The dirge of poor results and FA sanctions that followed were punctured by updates on an ongoing legal case.

The Portuguese was cleared of using discriminatory language towards the club doctor following an investigation by the FA, although the governing body’s independent board member and head of the inclusion advisory board, Dame Heather Rabbatts, later criticised the FA for not even interviewing the medic as part of its enquiry. The FA pointed out that was apparently because Dr Carneiro had not lodged the original complaint and an attempt had been made to request evidence from her lawyers. The chairman, Greg Dyke, was more forthright in stating Mourinho had displayed “a failure of his personal judgement and public behaviour” and should have apologised.

The skeleton arguments put forward on the first day of the employment tribunal actually suggested the suspicion and mistrust on both sides had been rather more long-standing.


Dr Carneiro’s lawyers spoke of a lack of female changing facilities, that she had never been given a club suit, and “regular sexually explicit comments from colleagues”. They referred to a text exchange between Granovskaia and the medic after the Swansea fixture, in which the director suggested: “people will know you did nothing wrong. People who know Jose also know he is ranting. I don’t think there’s a salary that allows public attack.”

“This is a tale of two employees: one good, one bad,” said the lawyers in their opening argument. “The bad employee forces the good employee out of the job of her dreams and the employer does nothing to stop it. The bad employee berates, sexually harasses and demotes the good employee for carrying out her professional duties.”

The club’s legal team argued the doctor had been “provocative” and queried why it had taken so long for the allegations of discriminatory language to be lodged. They claimed she had rejected an offer of £1.2 million to settle her claims and detailed the financial demands she had apparently made if she was to “draw a line under what happened”. They even alleged she had become “increasingly preoccupied with developing her profile” well before the incident on the opening afternoon.

The open hearing was expected to last two weeks and include a nuanced examination of the precise meaning of Portuguese swearing. Mourinho — by then the recently appointed manager of Manchester United — the Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck and Granovskaia were all to take the stand, while private texts and emails among the club’s hierarchy were likely to be exposed. Dr Carneiro was due to start giving testimony on the second day of proceedings. Except, on that morning, Chelsea’s legal team entered into negotiations over a settlement. The talks stretched to almost two hours before the respective parties re-entered the courtroom and Daniel Stilitz QC, the barrister acting for Chelsea and Mourinho, announced an agreement had been reached on confidential terms.

“The club regrets the circumstances which led to Dr Carneiro leaving and apologises unreservedly to her and her family for the distress caused,” read a statement issued by Chelsea later in the day. “We wish to place on record that, in running on to the pitch, Dr Carneiro was following both the rules of the game and fulfilling her responsibility to the players as a doctor, putting their safety first. Dr Carneiro has always put the interests of the club’s players first. Dr Carneiro is a highly competent and professional sports doctor. She was a valued member of the club’s medical team and we wish her every success in her future career.

“Jose Mourinho also thanks Dr Carneiro for the excellent and dedicated support she provided as first-team doctor and wishes her a successful career.”

The medic dropped her claim of sexual discrimination and harassment as part of the deal. She is now a sports and exercise doctor at the Sports Medical Group in London’s Harley Street. Fearn returned to the bench in March 2016. He remains at the club as one of the lead rehabilitation specialists.

“There is an animal that puts its head in the ground… an ostrich. In the bad moments, you cannot do that and just wait for a better moment to come, or for the problems to be resolved by themselves. Or waiting for the moon to change and give you better vibrations. You make mistakes, you are in a bad moment, no ostrich, head up, face the problems, speak, work. For me, this is the way.”

Jose Mourinho before the visit of Southampton on October 3, 2015

Maybe the players simply hit a wall. Perhaps, after a while, that siege mentality the manager whipped up just started to grate. The togetherness he stoked, the total trust in his methods and approach, was hard to achieve and draining to maintain. “There is a feeling of exhaustion when you reach the end of a Jose reign,” says one source who worked with the Portuguese at Chelsea. “You only realise the pressure he puts everyone under when you’re out of it. He is calculated, strategic, us against the world, all with a view to creating a winning team, and you have to go along with the ride.

“Sometimes you don’t realise you are — it’s not as if he’s making you do stuff you wouldn’t normally do. It’s just that, every day, there’s something. It never stops. It’s so demanding, and this endless drama accompanies it.”

Every time the team appeared to revive that autumn, they contrived to splutter and stumble once more. They looked more their old selves at times at home to Arsenal in mid-September, with Diego Costa back to his aggressive, provocative best and the visitors eventually reduced to nine men and defeated. Then the Brazilian-born Spain striker was banned retrospectively for three matches after video footage showed he had thrust his hands into Laurent Koscielny’s face as they tussled just before the interval, and then flung back his left arm to make contact with his marker’s forehead. Neither incident had been spotted by the referee, Mike Dean, at the time.

Without Costa, the team floundered through the first half at Newcastle United with Mourinho pinpointing six players at the break who had contributed “very bad performances”. “Physically there’s no problem,” he said. “Tactically it’s the same. Clearly, it’s an attitude perspective of some individuals, and when you have individuals with that unstable attitude in terms of motivation, desire and commitment, you will pay.”

They demonstrated some belated pluckiness to recover a two-goal deficit late on and could cling to that comeback as a reason for optimism even while languishing 15th with eight points from seven matches… but then succumbed a few days later in another defensive shambles at Mourinho’s former club, Porto, in the Champions League.

He had rested Hazard and Matic for that game, and left Loic Remy, Oscar and Radamel Falcao back in Cobham to work on their fitness and demonstrate better motivation. It was not always clear who was being punished and who was being granted a much-needed breather. Indeed, the management seemed increasingly perplexed as to how to remind their players of their underlying qualities.

This was all new to the staff, too. Mourinho, Faria et al had never been in this position before, asked to motivate an elite group of expensively assembled, stellar talents who, somehow, had slumped into mid-table and seemed unable to recover lost rhythm. On the pitch, the tactics rarely shifted. Off it, they veered from carrot to stick back to carrot; encouraging, berating, encouraging again, but to little effect.

There was always mischief to fall back upon. The manager took to filling the pockets of his training coat with acorns, rummaged out from beneath the trees on the periphery of the pitches at Cobham, and flinging them at unsuspecting players as they conducted their drills, or members of staff as they waited for the coffee machine in the canteen to deliver a brew. He would play the innocent when they scoured the scene in search of the culprit “throwing nuts”. It was designed to lighten the gloom, but inconsistency bit on the pitch and the mood remained anchored.

“We were hitting the post, having shots cleared off the line,” said Cesar Azpilicueta. “We weren’t accustomed to being in that situation. The truth is, we weren’t even used to losing two games in a row, so it was a new challenge psychologically.”

How they yearned for natural-born leaders, the kind who had formed the nucleus of Mourinho’s first great Chelsea side, who could hoist standards within the set-up, but Terry was in and out of the team and far from the force he had been only recently. Lampard had long gone while Cech and Drogba, both past their pomp, had followed in the summer. The stark deterioration of Ivanovic’s form was a microcosm of that of the collective.

“Jose told us the hardest season in football is the year after you win the title because everyone else has extra motivation to beat you but, even so, I cannot explain this situation properly,” said the Serbian defender. “Player by player, we could not deal with the pressure of what being champions of England means. Maybe we had lost some leadership in the previous few years. Maybe that was part of it because nothing else radically changed in the club. We lost control of our game, of our minds. We didn’t know what was going wrong.”

Some craved better organisation and structure, and fewer off-field distractions of which the Dr Carneiro controversy was certainly one. Pedro, a consistent winner at Barcelona, was lost in alien surroundings. Fabregas later claimed that, as a group, “we just forgot to play football”. “We lost our way tactically, and everyone’s focus was going in different directions,” said Gary Cahill. “We all had different situations going on: whether you’re playing or not, the manager, this or that… and different distractions are never healthy. It’s the hardest thing when everyone is not on the same wavelength. People talk as if you wake up one day and, suddenly, you’re a bog-standard player. It doesn’t happen like that.”

Except their displays were distinctly average. In the aftermath of the defeat at Porto, Mourinho had convened a series of team meetings in which players and staff spoke openly about the side’s shortcomings. The hope was that those meetings might help clear the air, that there would be a recognition that standards had to be raised, that the campaign could still be resurrected.

And then came Southampton.

Ronald Koeman’s team may have been a point better off than their hosts at Stamford Bridge, but they had endured their own traumas already that season having been eliminated from the Europa League before the group stage had even been drawn. An expectant home crowd spied this as the moment the natural order would be restored, a sentiment reinforced when Willian eased the home side ahead.

Yet everything thereafter was disastrous. Sadio Mane ran amok, Steven Davis’ energy wrested control of midfield, and Graziano Pelle bullied his markers into anxious submission.

There were boos at the substitution of Willian who, unbeknownst to the crowd, had been sick at the interval. Matic was introduced at half-time and taken off 28 minutes later. The 3-1 loss confirmed Chelsea’s worst start to a season in 37 years. Mourinho tore himself away from his post-match complaints about the performance of the referee Robert Madley and, over a seven-minute monologue, issued a direct challenge to the owner.

“I do not run away. No way I resign. If the club want to sack me, they have to sack me because I am not running away from my responsibility. Why? Because Chelsea cannot have a better manager than me. There are many managers in the world that belong to my level, but they are not better. So no chance I run away.

“I want the best for my club, and that is for me to stay. When we were champions last season I said I was going to stay until the owner and the board wanted me to leave. I’m going to stay until the day the owner or the board tell me: ‘Jose, that’s enough’. I said that when I was champion. I say that now when I’m 16th in the table.

“This is a crucial moment in the history of this club. Do you know why? Because if the club sacks me, they sack the best manager this club ever had. And the message again is that if there are bad results, the manager is guilty. This is the message people have got over the last decade from Chelsea, so this is a moment when people assume responsibilities. We need to stick together.

“It’s time for the club to act in a different way, to mark a position of stability, a position of trust.”

“Every word I say is a risk. I am just happy I don’t have an electronic tag, but I think it’s not far from that. I also think that (to be fined) £50,000, in the world where we live today, is an absolute disgrace. And the possibility of getting a stadium ban is also something absolutely astonishing.”

Jose Mourinho speaking at a book launch in mid-October, 2015

Roman Abramovich surveyed the wreckage of that performance against Southampton from his box high up in the west stand at Stamford Bridge. There was a brief conversation with the manager, exasperated in defeat with his players now scattering around the globe on international duty for the next 10 days and, and a reassurance he would still be in charge when the Premier League resumed with a home game against Aston Villa.

Once he had departed, Abramovich called a board meeting and discussed how to proceed. Those within the hierarchy insist the owner was completely committed to retaining the most successful manager in the club’s history. One source has told The Athletic the sense among those present that night was that, even if Chelsea’s nosedive continued and the team was relegated – they were only four points off the drop zone at that stage – the oligarch’s instinct was still to retain the Portuguese and offer him the chance to put things right. As it happened, other factors would force his hand.

But, at that stage and with the club’s trigger-happy reputation preceding them, a show of support was required, prompting Abramovich to take unprecedented action. The board constructed a 57-word statement, issued 48 hours later, offering their manager public backing.

“The club wants to make it clear that Jose continues to have our full support. As Jose has said himself, results have not been good enough and the team’s performances must improve. However, we believe that we have the right manager to turn this season around and that he has the squad with which to do it.”

The statement choked the swirl of speculation and may even have served to focus minds within the squad. Certainly, once domestic action resumed, there was an improvement in victory against a poor Villa team — Hazard, his form blunted by a persistent hip injury, was sacrificed in that game for greater defensive surety — and a solid enough draw at Dynamo Kyiv. The players lined up to offer public backing for the embattled manager, each quick to refute the notion the mood was mutinous in the dressing room.

“Asmir Begovic said: ‘We have the best manager in the world’,” said Mourinho. “Kurt Zouma said the same. John Terry: ‘We have the manager we want, the one who can help us to revive this situation’. Diego Costa: ‘If you ask every player in the world, they will all answer the same, that they’d like to work with three managers and one of them is this one’.

“Who else? Cesc Fabregas, the same. Ramires, the same. Ruben Loftus-Cheek, the same. Gary Cahill, the same. Eden Hazard, very similar. So I think the mutiny must be… Baba Rahman? Who else? Papy Djilobodji? Falcao? Oscar? So these four don’t play Saturday, for sure.” That was said through a smirk. At least he had retained a sense of humour.

Yet even as the world was digesting Chelsea’s vote of confidence, the manager came under attack from a familiar angle.

The FA charged him with misconduct on the same day the club’s vote of confidence dropped, citing his comments after the loss to Southampton. His assertion that referees had become “afraid to give decisions to Chelsea” had stung. Madley had booked Falcao for diving with those in the home dugout hollering for a penalty. “We are (already) punished because Diego Costa is suspended with images,” grumbled Mourinho, a reference to the video evidence used to ban the striker after his spat with Koscielny. “It was a giant penalty that he was afraid to give. And this decision was crucial. Do you know why? Because my team, at this moment, collapse with the first negative thing that happens.”

That earned him a £50,000 fine and a suspended one-match stadium ban — effectively a 12-month good behaviour bond imposed with the FA unconvinced financial penalties alone were proving a sufficient deterrent — sanctions he described as a “disgrace”. He duly lodged an appeal, a process that was still ongoing when, a few days after the stalemate in Ukraine, Matic was sent off just before half-time at West Ham United.

The referee Jon Moss, backed up by his assistants and the fourth official, detailed to the latest disciplinary commission that Mourinho “was waiting for us (at half-time at Upton Park) clearly agitated and began aggressively asking about first-half decisions”. Moss invited him and the West Ham security manager, Simon Sutton, into his dressing room. “Mr Mourinho asked me about a tackle (that saw Matic dismissed), an offside (which denied Fabregas a goal) and a goal-line clearance (which thwarted Kurt Zouma). I gave him brief answers to his questions. After this, I asked him to leave the dressing room area.

“He refused. I asked him again. After he refused again I asked Mr Sutton to escort him from the room. At this point, Mr Mourinho became very aggressive and animated. He shouted that ‘you fucking referees are weak… Wenger is right about you. You are fucking weak’. I advised Mr Mourinho not to take his position in the technical area for the second half due to his actions.” The manager watched his team succumb to a 2-1 defeat from the back of the directors’ box, a lonely glum figure amid the locals’ manic celebrations as Andy Carroll scored the winner.

The three-man disciplinary commission fined him £40,000 — he had now forked out £141,000 to the FA for various misdemeanours since returning to England in 2013 — and imposed the one-match stadium ban, to be served for the away game at Stoke City in the first week of November. He would have faced a further sanction even by remaining on the team bus if it had been parked on-site at the Britannia Stadium that day. Instead, Mourinho remained in the Crewe Hall hotel, where the team had spent the previous night.

Chelsea had their moments but still lost 1-0, a seventh defeat in 12 games. Confidence had long since drained away.

This was a manager working under unbearable strain, yet some sense of perspective was retained. Back in the spring, immediately after his team had won at Leicester City, Mourinho learned that his father, Jose Snr, had undergone surgery relating to a brain haemorrhage. He returned to Lisbon on a private jet to be at the bedside, though the months that followed had brought further complications and dashes home during international breaks. Those who were with him at Cobham insist he never allowed the worry to affect his day job. By late October, the medical reports were more positive. But there were understandably times when he struggled along the way.

Staff at the training ground were tactful and sympathetic. Mourinho was rarely asked about his father’s health by the press, the pack aware but sensing there was no appetite for the matter to be discussed, though the issue was addressed on the eve of the visit of Liverpool a week before the Stoke loss. The cameras were off and news of improvement had come through.

“My father had two strokes as a consequence of the surgery and went to levels where it was very doubtful and very difficult, but he’s winning his fight,” said the Portuguese, his emotion clear even if that mischievous humour was retained. “The negative period went through until, I would say, September. But, in the last few weeks, the evolution and recovery have been amazing. It’s been good news for the last month. He’s at home and almost ready to play again.

“I know what life is. And I know that, in the end, what matters is the family. The strength of a family is exactly that: obviously, your heart feels everything, but they allow you to focus on your job. Your duties. Now my wife goes to Portugal more often than me, and she cannot believe how well he is and how strong he is. It is all about the family. And my family is top.”

“I worked for four days on this match. I prepared everything relating to the opponent. I identified four movements where they score almost all their goals. My players got all that information in training in the last three days. But, with those four movements, they scored both their goals… I feel like my work was betrayed. One possibility is that I did an amazing job last season and brought the players to a level that is not their level, and now they can’t maintain it.”

Jose Mourinho after a 2-1 loss at Leicester City on December 14, 2015

The end came at Leicester, a team whose ascent to the top of the table felt as unlikely as Chelsea’s breakneck plummet.

There had been another flurry of form after the stadium ban. Even a hint of a truce when it came to criticisms of officialdom, for all that the manager found other subjects upon whom to pour scorn. He turned most regularly on pundits, a familiar bugbear given the relative paucity of former Chelsea players offering analysis from television studios, though rumours of rifts with players were never far away.

They were always denied, though on-lookers were increasingly convinced an absence of form and confidence reflected a lack of effort.

Struggling Norwich City were squeezed out. Maccabi Tel Aviv were brushed aside in Israel, though even a 4-0 away win in European competition could not pass without controversy. A relatively tight first half had almost concluded when Costa, a player with seven goals in 29 club appearances stretching back to mid-January, failed to read a Hazard pass and a tap-in went begging. Mourinho reacted furiously on the touchline despite Faria’s attempts to calm him down. Costa, well aware of what had happened, brushed off attempts by Oscar and Terry to intervene and responded in kind as the players departed the pitch.

“In the game, I told him, from a distance, that I was not happy with his movement,” said the manager. “He told me also a few ‘nice words’ from where he was. Nothing happened at half-time. No problem.”

The forward was an unused substitute in the creditable goalless draw at White Hart Lane that followed but still managed to draw the focus. He opted out of the pre-match warm-up then, having conducted a few half-hearted stretches near the corner flag late on, returned to the dugout and, with his back to the coaching staff as he inched along the line of subs, removed his pink bib and lobbed it lazily over his left shoulder. It landed between Mourinho and another of his assistants, Steve Holland, to the amusement of Costa’s team-mates on the bench. He was sitting on the coach on his own while Djilobodji, Loftus-Cheek and Kenedy conducted their post-match warm-downs out on the turf.

Costa, so key to the title success, had not been alone in failing to live up to a lofty reputation. He and Fabregas had laboured with a fanbase who had steadfastly backed Mourinho – they would bellow their support through the miserable defeats home and away until the end – prone now to calling out perceived “snakes” within the camp. Players deemed not to be pulling their weight, or who appeared to be undermining the management, were targets. Costa and Fabregas were in the firing line. As, too, was the reigning footballer of the year.

Hazard, employed as a false nine at Spurs, had been publicly criticised, indulged, selected in his favoured playmaker role after a training ground heart-to-heart, and dropped all in the previous two months. The hip injury that had troubled him all season continued to dull his impact. He had not scored for the club since his championship-winning goal back in May. But, having been encouraged by his commitment across the capital, Mourinho took the unusual decision of compiling written feedback on his display.

“It had everything in it: my own assessment; my vision for him; numbers, figures, stats, graphics on every aspect of his game,” explained the head coach. “He knows how good he was, but his performance was so impressive that he needs that extra feedback to know his efforts were recognised. Hopefully, he can build on it now. With that attitude and dynamic, playing with the ball and attacking opponents, he can be a No 9 or a No 10, a No 7 or a No 11.

“The good is coming. He knows how much we need him.”

The problem was that, while three successive clean sheets and the point at Tottenham had been promising, the next setback was already lying in wait. Bournemouth were newly promoted and had only ever previously played once at Stamford Bridge in the league, an old Second Division game lost back in 1989. They were also one of six clubs below Chelsea in the table. They pilfered the only goal of the game, through Glenn Murray, eight minutes from time with Mourinho howling for offside. In the dressing room post-match, the despairing manager simply asked his players: “Are you trying to kill me?” It was greeted with silence.

The carrot-and-stick routine no longer worked. Nothing did. Even then, the owner’s instinct was probably to stick rather than twist, and qualification for the knockout phase of the Champions League would be secured the following week. But the scenario was becoming too toxic. The team’s record since the board issued their vote of confidence was actually worse than over the run of games that had preceded it. The perception from the outside was that Mourinho was picking fights with the world, with the constant drip-feed of controversy increasingly off-putting to those associated with the club.

Every day seemed to bring some new negativity. The latest concerned leaks from within the squad, “rats” as he called them. The manager’s paranoia was exposed.

At Leicester, Hazard limped off after a challenge from Jamie Vardy and the visitors were beaten. They hovered a point above the relegation zone in 16th place and Mourinho, infuriated that his game plan to negate Vardy and Riyad Mahrez had not been effectively implemented, used the word “betrayed” in his half-time team-talk and again, with the eyes of the world upon him, in his post-match interview. The schism was complete.


There was to be no recovery from that.

Chelsea staff and the first-team squad convened in the canteen at Cobham three days later for their annual Christmas lunch. At around 2pm, some noticed Buck and the director Eugene Tenenbaum reporting in at reception and striding towards an office on the first floor. The chairman texted Mourinho and requested a meeting once the festivities were complete. It was obvious what was coming and the manager seemed quite accepting of his fate. Once the meal was complete, he gave his coaching staff a heads up and sought out Buck and Tenenbaum.

The meeting lasted around 10 minutes and was described as civil. Just 227 days since his team he had secured the Premier League trophy, and four months into a new four-year contract worth £250,000-a-week, Mourinho had been sacked.

Once news started seeping out, camera crews and photographers descended upon that corner of Surrey and massed at the gates to the complex. A Sky television helicopter hovered above, concentrating initially on the academy building across the main thoroughfare in error. That allowed staff in the seniors’ block, watching the rolling news coverage, to drop all the blinds and maintain a level of privacy. A plan was hatched to smuggle Mourinho off the premises involving Kevin Campello, the player liaison officer, being driven out of the training ground in the Portuguese’s Jaguar, yanking his hoodie down to cover his face and making sure the expensive watch on his left wrist was clearly visible.

The pack took the bait. “They followed him for half an hour before working out something wasn’t right,” says one of those involved in the subterfuge. Mourinho, meanwhile, crouched down in the boot of Silvino’s SUV as his assistant negotiated the speed bumps on the main drive, bade farewell to security at the gate and pulled out on to the main road before speeding off towards London unnoticed.

The world was none the wiser.

The post-script was left to Emenalo. With Guus Hiddink, out of work since leaving his post with Holland over the summer, sounded out and ready to take over on an interim basis until the end of the season, the technical director put his head above the parapet and attempted to explain the decision to a rebellious fanbase on Chelsea TV.

“That new contract clearly signifies that what happened today was not a premeditated decision,” he said. “It was a decision taken to protect the interests of the club. While there is huge sentiment for the individual, who has done so much for the club, the fact of the matter remains Chelsea Football Club is in trouble. The results have not been good. There obviously seemed to be a palpable discord between manager and players and we feel it was time to act.

“The owner is forced to make what was a very tough decision for the good of the club. Chelsea, one of the biggest clubs in the world, is one point above relegation and that’s not good enough. Any fan who loves the club, who has any affiliation with the club, can understand this club is in trouble and something needed to be done.

“This is essentially the same group of players who won the league and the League Cup last season. They did it in style by showing commitment and by sweating tears and blood when needed. They played to instruction, they adhered to everything the manager asked them to do. It’s very easy to make that kind of inference (about the blame lying with the players) but it’s not one that the club accepts. We know the players have a responsibility to go out and prove everybody wrong and show a certain level of commitment to the decision that’s been made to try to get the club up the table.”

At no point in the interview did he mention Mourinho by name.

In contrast, the first chorus from the crowd celebrating the Portuguese went up as the Chelsea and Sunderland players lined up for their pre-match handshake two days later. It was bellowed again after Ivanovic had opened the scoring, and when Pedro added the hosts’ second. That was followed by a rendition of “Where were you when we were shit?” delivered with no hint of humour.

The banners read “Hang your heads in shame”, “You let us down” and “Judas players”. Others called for Emenalo’s dismissal. Fabregas and Costa were granted ferocious receptions, particularly upon their substitutions, and another placard outed them and the injured Hazard — who had texted an apology to Mourinho for being unable to conjure a repeat of the previous campaign’s form, a message that was reciprocated — as “the three rats”.


Up in Abramovich’s box, Hiddink must have wondered what he had let himself in for. He was flanked by the owner and a flat-capped Drogba, a figure Chelsea hoped but failed to entice back into the fold in a coaching capacity. The hosts ran out 3-1 winners, not entirely convincingly even if Oscar, whose contribution all season had been fitful at best, played like a man possessed. Costa had showered and left the stadium by the time the new interim head coach made his way to the dressing-room to introduce himself to his new team.

Hiddink, in his second stint as Chelsea’s preferred Red Adair, would instigate a revival of sorts. The team embarked on a 15-game unbeaten run in the league, rarely playing with much swagger but offering a little more in terms of resilience and consistency. PSG eased them out of the Champions League again and, with only two wins in their last 12 matches in all competitions, the campaign petered out in mid-table which, given the turmoil of the first five months, was to be welcomed.

The Italy coach, Antonio Conte, was appointed in early April to take up the reins after Euro 2016. He represented a fresh start, and a figure to thrust them back among the elite where they would jostle for places with Mourinho’s new employers, Manchester United. Chelsea had to ensure 2015-16 was a blip. “That fall had been hell,” offered one member of the hierarchy.

In many ways, the rapid rise again under the Italian would be just as mind-boggling.

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Can Mourinho bring back Spurs’ love of years that end in 1?


Mourinho, Spurs and years that end in 1 – The Athletic

The moment when Tottenham Hotspur’s modern reality started to diverge from the pattern they had set for themselves came in April 2001.

The occasion was an FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal, held at Old Trafford. Daniel Levy had bought a stake in the club from Alan Sugar earlier that season and, like a man wanting to reconnect the club with its past, had sacked George Graham and replaced him with Glenn Hoddle.

This derby semi-final was Hoddle’s first game and it was impossible not to think back 10 years to Wembley on 14 April, 1991, Paul Gascoigne’s thunderbolt free kick and beating an Arsenal team managed, as it happened, by George Graham.

That 1991 win felt much more recent then. It was the latest iteration in a pattern that had sustained Spurs through the years: winning a trophy in the first year of every decade. Like the FA Cup in 1981, the League Cup in 1971, the double in 1961 (the first English team to win it), the First Division in 1951, the FA Cup in 1921 and, as the first non-League team to win it, in 1901.


This might not sound totally serious now, in the age of VAR and xG, but it was something that people latched onto. Chas and Dave recorded Spurs’ FA Cup final single in 1991 about exactly this trend. (“It’s lucky for Spurs when the year ends in one / they first won the cup when the century begun / it’s lucky for Spurs when the year ends in one / so this is the year for Spurs”). The single reached No 44 in the charts and could claim to be a self-fulfilling prophecy after Spurs beat Nottingham Forest in the final.

“It’s always been quite a thing for the club,” says Gary Mabbutt, Spurs captain when they won the FA Cup in 1991. “Sometimes these things just get tagged along, and people just pick up on it.”

So this idea was very much in the ether during the 2001 campaign. It was not a vintage Spurs team at that point, compared to the stars of 1991. Even David Ginola, their only big name, had been sold to Aston Villa. And while George Graham had won the League Cup in his first season at Spurs, he had never won over the fans who could never forgive him his history with Arsenal.

In March 2001, three weeks before the Arsenal semi-final, Graham was sacked. ENIC, who had only recently taken control of the club, were furious with Graham discussing the club’s financial situation in public, especially as they attempted to persuade Sol Campbell to stay at the club.

This gave Levy and ENIC the chance to take the club in a new direction and they decided to go for Hoddle, one of the club’s greatest ever players. He was not there for the 1991 FA Cup triumph — he was sold to Monaco in 1987 — but he was there when Spurs beat Manchester City in a replay to win the FA Cup in 1981, the final made most famous by Ricky Villa’s goal. Hoddle had a chance to keep the famous old pattern going.

But the problem was that Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal, even in a year when Manchester United won the title, were simply miles better than the Tottenham team Hoddle took over. And luck was not on Spurs’ side. Sol Campbell and Les Ferdinand had to go off injured, Arsenal dominated throughout and while Neil Sullivan did his best to keep them at bay, he could not do everything. Arsenal won 2-1.

Interestingly enough, Ferdinand thinks that replacing Graham with Hoddle just before the game might have been the wrong call by ENIC.

“They got rid of George just before the semi-final,” he says, “and I always felt — and I may have been wrong — that if we had still had George we would have got to the final of the FA Cup. I always felt that. Sometimes you think things are written in the stars and that year with George we kept churning out results in that FA Cup.”

Spurs had won at Charlton Athletic in the fourth round — not an easy game then — and 3-2 at Upton Park in the quarter-final. They had a habit of grinding it out.

“He’s up there with the best managers I’ve worked with,” Ferdinand says of Graham. “He was a hard man, hard every single day. He got his pound of flesh out of you definitely, but I thoroughly enjoyed that. That was how I wanted to work and wanted to be.”

Stephen Carr looks back to that semi-final at Old Trafford with a sense of regret about the injuries that they suffered. If Campbell — who was to join Arsenal later that year — had been at full fitness, it might have been a different game. “We lost to Arsenal, but it was a depleted team,” Carr says. “It was weird, we were down players. Looking at key moments, at times when you’re in a situation, you just need that little bit of luck, but you have to earn your luck as well.”

The Hoddle era started with frustration, and while he did get them to a League Cup final the following year, they lost that to Graeme Souness’ Blackburn Rovers.

Rewind back 10 years and you will see why that coincidental pattern looked like it carried so much real-world weight. The 1991 FA Cup win is one of the defining achievements of Tottenham Hotspur in the modern era. It was an unlikely triumph, with Terry Venables’ star-studded side managing to win despite chaos off the field. And it remains, with all due respect to those two League Cup wins, Tottenham’s last major trophy.

On the surface it might not look like too much of an achievement. This was a very strong Spurs side. Even after selling Chris Waddle to Marseille they still had Paul Gascoigne and Gary Lineker. They had finished the 1989-90 season strongly, winning eight of their last 10 games to seal third place in what was then the First Division. They were not the best team of the era, but they were one of the most glamorous.

But behind the scenes, Tottenham were a mess. Irving Scholar and Venables were looking for fresh investment in the club. They were trying to sell Gascoigne to Lazio to bring in enough money to cover some of the debts.

“It was a very strange year,” Gary Mabbutt says. “We were not only fighting against all our opponents, but we were fighting bankruptcy as well. We were probably on the business pages more than we were on the sports pages throughout the season. Terry, and myself as captain, we tried to keep as much of that away from the players. Nobody knew behind the scenes what was actually going to be happening the following season.”


With the club in crisis, and the league form nothing special, the cup became their escape. “We were actually lucky to get away with winning the third round away at Blackpool,” Mabbutt remembers. “We could easily have gone out there. In these ridiculous conditions, with the wind meaning the goalkeeper would take a goal kick and the ball would blow back into his arms.”

Then Spurs beat Oxford United in the fourth round, before going to Portsmouth after that. The night before that game, Gascoigne had worried Spurs staff by playing an unauthorised, marathon squash match, but it did not tire him out: he was brilliant on the day and scored both goals in a 2-1 win. When Notts County came to White Hart Lane for the quarter-final, an injured, limping Gascoigne scored the winner with five minutes left. It started to feel as if Gascoigne alone was going to deliver that trophy, in keeping with the traditions of the club.

A semi-final against George Graham’s dominant Arsenal was not intimidating. “You don’t need any help with adrenaline preparing for the Arsenal game,” Mabbutt remembers. “The fact that they had already won the title, they were going for the double, the fact they were our biggest rivals. We went into a semi-final being completely the underdogs, and we totally outplayed them. We thoroughly deserved the victory.” Again, Gascoigne was instrumental, scoring Spurs’ first with a 35-yard free kick before Lineker scored the next two. It is one of Spurs’ greatest wins of the modern era.

Then, in the final, Venables’ Spurs faced Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest. Gascoigne had just been sold to Lazio but he was so hyped up for his last game that he injured himself fouling Gary Charles early on, delaying his move to Rome by more than a year. Spurs still won in extra time, thanks to Des Walker’s own goal.

“Like in any walk of life or business, you had people who got on better with other people, certain cliques and things, and we had a few cliques in the squad,” Mabbutt says. “But the best thing about the squad in 1991 was that when it came to match days and preparing, we were all together. We had a very good squad of players, we got ourselves prepared well, and for the big occasions we rose to them.”

This win was a continuation of a tradition, extending the run that took Spurs back through 1981, 1971, 1961, 1951 and beyond. But it also marked the end of something. Gascoigne’s last game for the club. Venables’ last as manager before he moved upstairs. Irving Scholar’s last before the Alan Sugar takeover, alongside Venables. And the last time Tottenham won anything more prestigious than a League Cup.

The question ever since has been whether Spurs could repeat what they did in 1991, or go even better than that.

Look at the Alan Sugar and Daniel Levy eras in terms of major trophies, and they have not succeeded. There have been two League Cup wins, in 1999 and 2008, but they were both under managers — George Graham and Juande Ramos — who did not leave much of a legacy at the club aside from that trophy.

That last League Cup was almost 13 years ago now, and if you put League Cups to one side, then Spurs’ major trophy drought extends to almost 30 years. Far too long for a club that plays in the best stadium in the country, with the best training ground, which has Harry Kane up front and Jose Mourinho in the dugout.

They have gone close a few times in the last 30 years, but never close enough. Spurs lost the League Cup final in 2009 and again in 2015. That was Mauricio Pochettino’s first season and he took Tottenham closer than anyone, launching serious title challenges in 2015-16 and 2016-17 that, with a bit more luck and a bit more nerve, could have won Spurs their first title since Bill Nicholson. Even though they finished third in 2015-16, that was probably their better chance, rather than when they were up against the juggernaut of Antonio Conte’s Chelsea.


In the final months of his tenure, Pochettino steered Tottenham all the way to the Champions League final, but Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool were too good for them. Pochettino was gone less than six months later and the long wait for a major trophy went on.

So, as Tottenham head into the new year in a better shape than they have been for years, the question is simple: will 2021 be more 1991 or 2001? Ever since Mourinho was appointed, the focus has been on winning a trophy, any trophy, a change from the Pochettino approach.

“One thing that’s great about the manager is that you know that in every competition we’re in, we’re going to be trying to win it,” Eric Dier told The Athletic at the start of the season. “It’s really straightforward. There is nothing else to it. That is a very nice feeling to have now. To know that in every competition, we’re going to be trying to win it.”

And with Tottenham flying in the league and still in all the cups, who would bet against them? This is the best chance they have had to reunite reality with that old 20th-century pattern. Nobody is better placed to judge that than Mabbutt, their 1991 captain.

“It’s very, very different this year,” he says. “We were fighting bankruptcy the last time we won the FA Cup. This time we’ve got the best stadium in the world. We’ve got a group of players now, and a manager who is a winner. Everything is in place this season. There was talk in 1991 about whether or not the club would survive. It’s a long, long time since we were particularly successful on the field. This season, I just feel things are falling into place.”

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Apparently refused to hold training due to Spurs involvement with the super league. 

Apparently Spur’s have said it was result based but if that was the case why did they not sack him a while ago? They were also a week away from a cup final..

100% more likely to do with super league for me. Will he be the first of many? Looking forward to his statement as this will clear it up you would imagine.

Edited by OneMoSalah
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