Players will decide Jose's fate

PHOTO: AFP

Jose Mourinho's siege mentality always made him one of the boys.

Chelsea's band of brothers united against an envious football world. It was Mourinho's men against the rest, the jubilant against the jealous, the Blues against the bitter, us against them.

Now it's "us against the uncertain".

If it becomes "us against Mourinho", his days are done.

Chelsea's beleaguered manager runs the risk of instigating a mutiny within his ranks. Mourinho is trashing the camp. His own camp.

He won the boardroom battle, but may lose the dressing room war.

Holding off Roman Abramovich's axe men will be a Pyrrhic victory if he continues to alienate the last of his loyal subjects.

His precarious future depends on his players. Lose them and he loses everything.

Mourinho survived two showdowns, but dismissing club doctor Eva Carneiro and demanding support from Abramovich is less dangerous than antagonising his squad.

The manager's treatment of Nemanja Matic against Southampton was already tactless, but his subsequent justification defied belief.

Matic was, in Mourinho's words, not playing well, not defensively sharp and making too many mistakes. And his confidence was shattered.

The manager insisted he hadn't humiliated the Serb and, in a way, he hadn't. This went beyond humiliation. Matic was flayed alive, publicly pummelled by a manager seeking to deflect attention from his latest, confusing selections.

Matic was introduced against Southampton at half-time and then substituted 27 minutes later.

Whatever the real reasons, Mourinho just needed a couple of white lies to appease the media and protect a wounded soul from the vultures.

Matic pulled up short. Matic tweaked a hamstring. Matic went down with a migraine. Matic did anything other than suffer one of the most alarming professional breakdowns in recent times.

POORLY JUDGED

Instead, the blunt attack on both a player's form and his fragile state of mind was poorly judged and, more worryingly, so unlike Mourinho.

Last week, Steven Gerrard revealed his profound admiration for a manager whom he'd never played for. Mourinho did that to fellow perfectionists. If he wasn't always revered, he was at least respected.

Whatever the circumstances, exiting players rarely criticised the Chelsea manager. Nuri Sahin's parting shot when he left Liverpool - "Thank God I have left Brendan Rodgers" - was not something heard by a former Blue.

But it soon could be.

Chelsea's two wins from eight games and their lowly 16th position are potentially less damaging than a fractured dressing room no longer convinced by their manager's loyalty.

John Terry was hauled off at half-time against Manchester City, while Gary Cahill, Cesc Fabregas, Diego Costa, Eden Hazard and Matic have all felt the wrath of Mourinho's forked tongue in public.

That's the difference.

Like a reclusive barber, Sir Alex Ferguson kept the hair dryer behind closed doors, savaging his under-performing Devils privately before softening his stance at press conferences.

Arsene Wenger rarely castigates individual Gunners, preferring a collective, hazy approach. When he must paint critical pictures, he does so in broad strokes.

Indeed the Arsenal manager turns on anyone who says otherwise, as witnessed last week when he rebuked those who rounded on David Ospina.

After 19 years at Arsenal, Wenger recognised long ago the need to shield vulnerable players, rather than expose them.

IMPATIENT SNIPING

But Mourinho has never played the long game. After a customary sunny start, the shadows are again falling on his third year at Chelsea. His initial, committed support for his squad is giving way to impatient sniping.

He can no longer conceal his displeasure with certain individuals.

The Chelsea board publicly backed the manager this week, but it can hardly do anything else. Abramovich and Mourinho share the same predicament. There's nowhere else to go right now. They're stuck with each other.

But fragile players are less pragmatic. Mourinho has always walked a fine line between forthright motivation and outright bullying, particularly in recent weeks when he continually targeted Costa, Hazard, Cahill, Fabregas and Terry.

But he strayed too far with Matic.

Whatever motivational ambitions Mourinho had in mind, they were shot down by a character assassination.

Matic was struggling before. Now he feels surplus to requirements.

If such negativity proves contagious, the Chelsea boss will face an internal revolt more dangerous than anything conjured by Roman's army.

Last season's title charge was carried on the backs of loyal lieutenants. Without them, Mourinho is a lost cause.

npsports@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on October 7, 2015.
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