How the mighty have fallen

Pedigree is not a trait which eludes men of great standing overnight.

Jose Mourinho and Louis van Gaal are currently proving exceptions to football's most golden of rules.

Form is temporary but class is permanent?

Tell that to the under-fire managers of Chelsea and Manchester United.

Their statures remain undisputed, but their authority is now subject to both internal uprising and intense scrutiny.

Theirs is a combined three decades of dominance at the pinnacle of coaching that has transcended leagues across Europe and even the opposing sides of El Clasico's divide, yet the English Premier League now threatens to herald their rapid and unexpected downfall.

Correlation between Mourinho's successes and his subsequent staying power has returned to the fore with his Stamford Bridge reign teetering on the brink of collapse, once again at the juncture of a third season.

Things have not been better, nor different, the second time around.

Chelsea's top management, led by owner Roman Abramovich, met last night to discuss the Portuguese manager's future and these are deeply worrying times for his fans.

Short-term success followed by stagnation has become the calling card of the previously undisputed best manager in world football.

STRIKE THREE

It was a pattern which last repeated itself during a mutinous final season at Real Madrid, his third in total, in 2013.

Then as now, self-preservation played its part against a backdrop of player discourse.

This season, Mourinho has been more preoccupied with saving face in anticipation of Abramovich's managerial axe than addressing his ongoing third-season syndrome.

"Betrayal" became his preferred watchword following the latest nadir of Chelsea's pitiful English Premier League title defence this week. Eden Hazard and Diego Costa remain in the firing line less than 12 months after they inspired domestic success.

Neither have been remotely close to their best.

Like so many of Mourinho's star performers last season, they are running on empty, symptoms which lend weight to Fabio Capello's claims that he psychologically "burns out" players after two campaigns.

Chelsea are already planning for life without the Special One before this season is out. It is a theme which threatens to be mirrored at Old Trafford, where jettisoning managers, particularly in mid-season, was once considered something of an alien concept.

Out of the Champions League and winless in five games across all competitions, the vultures are already circling above van Gaal. He is being forced to confront rebellion from within on multiple fronts.

RESTLESS

The Stretford End natives have grown restless at a counter-productive brand of football, far removed from the famous "United way" preached by Matt Busby and Alex Ferguson.

Rigid tactics and training methods have ensured the sentiments of those loyal followers are being echoed increasingly vociferously within the Old Trafford dressing room.

Wayne Rooney's demise from a proven goal-getter to a shot-shy tired veteran in the space of 12 months can be no coincidence.

Unlike Mourinho, however, circumstance has offered the Dutchman's reputation a legitimate defence, at least, should the fate suffered by David Moyes also befall him.

United have been mired in uncharted territory ever since Ferguson's retirement two years ago.

Their air of invincibility departed the second he stepped out of the dugout. It is a setback from which they may never truly recover.

At a decade Ferguson's junior, turning to van Gaal's wealth of experience was considered a progressive step in the club's rehabilitation from the debilitating Moyes era.

Events of recent months have altered that perception significantly.

Van Gaal's move to Old Trafford was his last hurrah; a final shot at a bounty among the European elite.

Failure to arrest the current malaise threatens to jeopardise an otherwise glittering career.

Mourinho, too, risks indignity. His time at the top is approaching its end.

Chelsea's implosion this season sounds like a death knell, and there is unlikely to be a way back for him, either, at least at club level.


This article was first published on December 17, 2015.
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