Chelsea, Real Madrid & Man Utd Have Similar Problems, And Now Jose Mourinho Could Complete The Set

On a hugely strange afternoon at Chelsea on Saturday, there was something missing, and it wasn’t just the greatest manager in the club’s history.

That had been coming. What did not come, however, was a song that has regularly been belted out at Stamford Bridge during similar times of supporter revolt. There were no renditions of ‘we want our Chelsea back’.

That is probably just as well because the reality is that this is very much their Chelsea. The last few months - from winning the title so oppressively to political problems to an eventual sacking - almost served as the modern Chelsea in microcosm.

Many Stamford Bridge fans may desire to define the club by Jose Mourinho, because of the sensational success he’s brought them and how he first set a culture of winning, but even he greatly pales in influence next to the man who brought him there.


This is very much Roman Abramovich’s club now, for better or worse. The money obviously means it will generally be better on the pitch than it could have been, but it does come with negatives - and that without getting into Matthew Syed’s regularly-espoused moral argument here - and could lead to a worse long-term managerial appointment than intended.

In that, the next few months could well sum up the grand contradiction with Chelsea, with that best indicated by the latest news: Abramovich is willing to offer Pep Guardiola whatever it takes to come to the club… but there are still no signs whatsoever that the Catalan is interested. It could be the case for a few.

The oddity is that, for all the perceptions, much of Chelsea’s structure is admirable. They have a fine youth set-up, the ongoing debate over the lack academy graduates notwithstanding. Many officials at rival clubs, meanwhile, privately enthuse about the slickness with which they do business - not least Abramovich’s main representative at the club, Marina Granovskaia.

That brings an excellent quality of player - but still may not be enough to bring an excellent quality of manager after Mourinho.


Guardiola is not the only coach to have been put off, partially because it’s impossible to escape the perception that long-term attempts at setting a thorough football culture will always be skewed by the short-term whims of Abramovich, and all the politics at the club.

It is the kind of perception that often leads to unfair criticisms of Chelsea as a brash nouveau riche club, when the irony is that two of the grandest and most historic clubs are suffering similar problems.

In fact, they’re arguably even grander problems in that regard, given what they’re used to. Both Manchester United and Real Madrid are very quickly having to get up to speed with the idea that they have been completely out-stripped in how to build up a football club by their great rivals Manchester City and Barcelona.

For the last decade, Real have careered from manager to manager and ostentatious big signing to ostentatious big signing, without ever really suggesting that they can stay ahead of Barcelona for more than a blip. The Catalans have produced a core team beyond Real, obviously led by Leo Messi. His talent makes him an outlier but he is still output from that famous youth system.

That system is what City are trying to replicate, and it is said that Guardiola currently favours the blue side of Manchester for his next job because of their structure.

Some around United have been aghast at this, and feel their name and history should be enough to sway the Catalan - but that is almost part of the problem.


It feels like United and Real have for too long traded on their name, too consciously trying to build “global brands”, while ironically eschewing some of the football decisions that ensure you build that brand as a natural by-product.

The latter was what happened under Alex Ferguson, since commercialism never trumped his competitiveness. It was also what happened when Real Madrid first made their name so thoroughly famous in the 1950s.

Now, there’s something missing.

Two of these clubs tried to fill it with Mourinho. He worked, for a time, but couldn’t cover enough in the long-term and arguably played into bigger issues.

The wonder now is whether United will go through the same process.


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