What an intriguing situation we have in the Premier League with the Big Three under new management next season. David Moyes, at champions Manchester United, Manuel Pellegrini, with runners up Manchester City and Jose Mourinho back at Chelsea…it’s going to be fascinating to see how they all take to their new roles. Certainly, each one of them has a massive job on his hands, and each has his own different challenge. But, perhaps the trickiest task is Mourinho’s because he attempts to deny that old football adage: Never go back.
The self-styled Special One swept into English football like a whirlwind in his first spell at Stamford Bridge. Having announced himself as a super confident extrovert by dancing down the Old Trafford touchline under Sir Alex Ferguson’s nose after his Porto team knocked United out of the Champions League, Mourinho went on to take Chelsea to unprecented levels of success, cleaning up all of the domestic trophies, before going on to further success with Inter Milan and then hitting the buffers at Real Madrid, where he couldn’t fulfill the obligation on every manager at the Bernabeu and conquer Europe, as well as dislodge Barcelona from top honcho status. The image that characterised Mourinho’s trophy-laden times at Porto, Chelsea and Inter was of a man who was cocky, chirpy and, at times, downright arrogant. Yet that picture was too often replaced last season by a sullen expression, Mourinho often sideways on in the dugout, as if detached from his team.
Mourinho’s return to the Premier League will be wonderful for the English Press, the football-loving public and, in particular, the Chelsea fans, who see him as the returning prodigal son…but he will fit that description only if he rediscovers the twinkle in the eye that so characterised his first stint at the club. He recently talked about his ‘need to be loved’ which is all very well, a natural human emotion – but not necessarily one which you should be proclaiming as a football manager. I can’t imagine the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson ever publicly talking in such terms! So, we need to see Mourinho shake off the surly image that soured his last season at Real and replace it with the bounce and ebullience that he will need if he is to belie the widely-held theory that you should never go back. Famous examples of men who tried, and failed, to replicate earlier successes are my old Everton team-mate Howard Kendall, who twice went back to Goodison, where he had won the European Cup-winners’ Cup, league title and League Cup in the mid-80s, Kenny Dalglish, whose recent return to Liverpool was shortlived, and Kevin Keegan, who must wish he hadn’t gone back to Newcastle, where he was such a hero as player then manager first time around. If Mourinho is to avoid similar embarrassment he must quickly put his problems at Real – where he fell out with captain Iker Casillas and several other big names – and renew the bond he had with the Blues stars during his first period at the Bridge.
Manuel Pellegrini, Roberto Mancini’s successor at City, has a clearly defined priority: He simply has to reunite a dressing-room packed with superstars that was clearly disunited last season. I have previously stated my sympathy for Mancini, axed after delivering the Premier League title and FA Cup in the two previous seasons. However, it has become increasingly clear since the Italian’s exit that he ‘lost’ too many of his players, notable examples being keeper Joe Hart, skipper Vincent Kompany, midfielder Samir Nasri and striker Carlos Tevez. With the unity gone, so was the collective will to push on and retain the title. I mean this in no way as a criticism of United, but City have more outstanding individual players than their arch rivals and, as such, should not have conceded their title so tamely. City’s Middle Eastern owners expect nothing but the best after splashing hundreds of millions of pounds over the past four years, and that means conquering Europe. First, though, for Pellegrini comes the challenge of re-establishing team harmony, harnessing the huge bank of talent at his disposal and mounting a serious title challenge. The Chilean’s man-management skills will be of paramount importance.
Pellegrini and Mourinho know that they face a huge task to dislodge United, whose 13th title success was an enormous tribute to the retired Ferguson, who won the crown with weeks to spare and, as I say, with a team which, individually, was inferior to City’s. A key to United’s triumph was the never-say-die, keep-going-to-the-final-whistle spirit fostered so passionately by Ferguson throughout his twenty-six and a half years in charge. United’s mental strength is unrivalled in the Premier League and David Moyes must ensure that it remains so. Moyes will also know that his first buy is so important, his statement signing that is going to improve a team which has just won the title at a canter. At Everton, David was shopping in the bargain basement. At United, he will be spending big in Harrods. There is talk of Cristiano Ronaldo returning from Real Madrid. Now, wouldn’t that be a stunning statement of intent by Moyes?