Back in the summer of 2014, as Chelsea forensically restructured the team to eventually win the league, the director of another Champions League club marvelled at the stealth at which the English club did their business. He was gushing about the speed and slickness of it.
It is somewhat ironic, then, that the Premier League champions could be caught out by the pace of recent events.
Most obviously and most pressingly, there is the remarkable speed with which Jose Mourinho’s aura as a manager has evaporated.
It is mere months since he won the Premier League with a psychological hold on his squad apparently above anyone else in the division, to re-assert his status as one of the finest managers in the world. Now, all that seems to lie in ruins.
Chelsea have had the worst opening 10 games of any defending champions since the Premier League was launched in 1992, and the majority of their players are now questioning their manager's methods. It all has the potential to be more damaging to his reputation than the political intrigue of Real Madrid, as Chelsea themselves now tentatively discuss the idea of sacking him.
If they do, however, the wonder is whether the timing will cost them again. Some stories have it that Liverpool made the executive decision to abruptly replace Brendan Rodgers with Jurgen Klopp precisely because they heard Chelsea could be circling the German.
Now, if the Stamford Bridge club do dispense with Mourinho, their options are rather limited. They have already sounded out Carlo Ancelotti, who left in 2011 and almost appears to have developed a status as the big-club place-holder, while long-term Roman Abramovich target Pep Guardiola still has no interest.
This is what it has come down to: a cabal of about seven to nine super-clubs, and only a handful of managers they are likely to take a punt on, with more potential than ever for the same few coaches to gradually play a grand game of musical chairs. On Monday afternoon, Neymar’s agent Marcos Motta stated that the movement of these coaches could bring the biggest “domino effect” in the history of European football. It could certainly mark a new era, and is a scenario that also raises questions about how we should view modern management.
Since the end of the second world war, and particularly in Britain, ‘the manager’ has been viewed as the figure primarily responsible for shaping football history.
It’s a perspective that’s been hard to dispute when innovators like Rinus Michels and Arrigo Sacchi have changed football tactics, alchemists like Brian Clough have taken clubs to levels they had no rights to go, and patriarchs like Alex Ferguson have forged such dynasties.
Much of that is because these men were afforded the scope, freedom or time to do such things; because there was a sense of uniqueness about each of their jobs.
Now, few will have the scope, there won’t be as much freedom and there certainly won’t be the time. It seems like the majority of managers will get at most three years at a top-level club and, if he then goes and joins one of their rivals, while his old club appoint one of his rivals, it does foster a feeling the managers themselves become less relevant than they used to be. It will mostly be a case of good to very-good coaches hanging around the top clubs for opportune seasons, a very well remunerated carousel.
If the managers become interchangeable, though, it makes the actual structures of the clubs crucially important.
As with NFL, we may end up with a situation where the real brains - the real shapers of football - are the executives, sporting directors and agents. There have already been signs of that, with Chelsea at the vanguard. That’s where their slickness can become crucial.
If all this really begins to take hold, there will only be a select few managers capable of properly imposing their personality on teams in that time. You only have to look at the clamour for Klopp, or Guardiola. The latter is likely to be one of those few managers who can really lift teams above the cabal, who will be able to offer achievement that feels more substantial than just happening to be at one of the wealthiest clubs at an opportune season.
Mourinho used to seem like that kind of coach. That reputation will be damaged if he leaves Chelsea after just one title, making it just two in five and a bit years at Stamford Bridge and Real Madrid.
He needs to turn things back around fast.
No-one is marvelling at their business right now.
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