José Mourinho, the manager of Chelsea Football Club, is one of the most controversial men ever to have grazed the footballing world. His interviews are so coveted that there could, literally, be a fight the next day at the news offices if it’s not the headline of the sports section. His antics, however annoying they may be to you, make it very clear to his players that it’s either his way or no way. There isn’t even a highway, as Juan Mata found out a few years back, along with someone by the name of Kevin De Bruyne.
They were both fantastic players, no doubt about it. But, since they were up against the most egomaniacal manager in the world who accepts nothing short of a workhorse like performance, it was almost as if they were destined to fail. De Bruyne and Mata were both supremely talented flair players. Mata was the reigning Chelsea player of the year that season, and having blossomed into becoming an untouchable part of the team since his arrival from Valencia, he was perhaps the player that was least anticipating the axe from the Portuguese manager.
Kevin De Bruyne, on the other hand, had just arrived at Chelsea after completing his loan deal at Werder Bremen, meaning he was unproven at the Premier League level. Still just 22 years old, Mourinho felt that the player had potential, justifying why he didn’t move him on during the summer transfer window. So, De Bruyne stayed with the team, although rarely did he start. He eventually grew frustrated with the short amount of playing time that he was getting, and in Mourinho’s words, ‘cried’ all the time. So, a transfer saga erupted, and it ended with Wolfsburg buying him for roundabout £18 million. De Bruyne had suffered the same fate as Mata though his was a little bit low profile due to his stature at the time.
As time went on, De Bruyne made his point against Mourinho by helping Wolfsburg to a fifth place finish during that same season, and in the process making himself more renowned in the footballing world. There was a niggling sense that he might do even better the next season, and that’s exactly what happened. He led them to a 2nd place finish, behind the champions Bayern. And this time, he took all the major honors, most notably being named the Player of the Year in Germany. He had avenged himself.
The most visible change, however, in De Bruyne’s playing style now to his younger self is his work-rate, for the lack of which he was consistently dropped by Mourinho. In that sense, Mourinho was also chuckling on the side.
As one player rose to stardom, another dropped from being a maestro in midfield to just a regular midfield player, minus the defensive capabilities. It wasn’t that Mata was bad. He was still a really good player. It’s just that, during his two and a half seasons at Chelsea, he was simply world class. He mesmerized the opposition defense with his through balls, and unsurprisingly, led the numbers in terms of assists. His rapid decline just in sheer numbers after the transfer to Manchester United has been somewhat shocking. According to SoccerBase, Mata scored 20 goals during his last full season at Chelsea in all competitions, whereas he scored 10 during the 2014-15 season with Manchester United. Now, his goal tally is perhaps justified because he doesn’t have as good a support from the players around him as he used to at Chelsea. Anyways, since he is a flair player, when it’s not ticking for him attacking wise, he is not that useful. That is the exact argument that José made when he had to answer his critics. Mata is not the ‘ideal’ no. 10 because he doesn’t contribute as much defensively as, say, Oscar does. And, bear in mind, Oscar is also a flair player, meaning Mourinho’s argument was even harder for some Chelsea fans to reason with. The main point that the Portuguese made was that he said, look, we have a guy that does more or less what Mata does on the ball, and he also contributes defensively when need be, which Mata doesn’t do. So what’s the point in keeping Juan?
Mourinho may have gotten his reasoning right with some of the players that he has released, but the fact is, most of them have gone on to become genuine superstars, and they will come back to haunt him sooner rather than later if he continues to judge young players, really, without giving them a proper chance to prove themselves. His lack of trust in youth factors greatly into this and could be the ultimate decision maker if he were to get sacked this season because the last thing Abramovich wants is to sell the next “John Terry”. Chelsea need their own bloodline as a captain, and while Terry has been doing that for a decade now, he won’t be here for long due to his age. Therefore, as good a manager as Mourinho might be, he needs to change his perspective on youth if he is to keep his Chelsea job in the long term. He has shown that he is ready to change by fielding the young Kurt Zouma alongside John Terry nowadays, but his lack of certainty in this matter is still plainly visible due to the fact that he is only fielding Zouma, fans might say, due to Cahill’s bad form, and it will most certainly be some time before he makes some big changes in his mindset, if he ever does so.