Legacy (n.) something handed down or received from a predecessor.
With the exciting news that Jose Mourinho has finally been sacked from his position at Chelsea by mutual consent*, it has got me thinking about the mess that his successor will walk into.
*I’d like to know how you can be ‘sacked’ by mutual consent. It’s hard to imagine our favourite trampp in a tracksuit holding up his hands and saying: “I know, I think I should leave too. After all, I have specialised in failure for a solid four months without you holding me accountable.”
Rumours abound that Juande Ramos may step into the breach (please, please!) and, despite managing to drag a sorry Spurs side to a League Cup victory, it’s hard to see that he’ll be able to do much to turn around Chelsea’s immediate fortunes.
Mourinho has done what Mourinho does best, namely joining an insanely rich team, using the megabucks to purchase a handful of stars at the peak of their powers, shocking them into performing for a season or two, picking up a trophy or two, and then getting confused when those aging players can’t cut it any more.
It was abundantly clear last season that John Terry was having every last ounce of strength eked out of his legs in the pursuit of short-term goals, completely ignoring that only Kurt Zouma could offer any cover in a squad with just three centre-backs. And this season, with Terry no longer able to play the volume of games, the constant rotation has undermined Chelsea’s greatest strength under Mourinho historically – their impervious defence. Don’t get me started on Branislav Ivanovic!
The funny thing is, we’ve seen it before in a way. In Alex Ferguson’s last season in charge at Old Trafford, he paid £20m for the services of one Robin van Persie, and effectively for the title. The following season, with the talismanic striker struggling for form and fitness, the team couldn’t even secure Europa League football. Let that sink in. Manchester United failed to qualify for the second tier of European competition.
The only difference between that situation and the current one at Chelsea (and in some ways the situation at Chelsea the first time Mourinho was sacked ‘by mutual consent’) is that Ferguson got out at the perfect moment – for his own sake, that is.
Ferguson bled every last drop of success from his resources at Man United, spending his funds available on ready made talent for very short term purposes, and it meant that on his departure whoever came in had a mountainous task to rebuild the squad.
If it wasn’t for the lifetime contract or whatever it was the Ed Woodward handed to David Moyes, I’d be convinced that his hire was an intentional stopgap to do the dirty work, take the fall and avoid the next proper manager being compared to closely with Fergie.
Mourinho’s biggest mistake is that he didn’t take the opportunity to get out on a high a la Fergie.
In mid-October, Mr Wenger scared a select group of the fanbase silly when he started talking about facing LAA – Life After Arsene – in just under two years. However, more telling was the context he placed around that conversation.
“That is for me very important that I leave the club in the shape that the guy who comes after me can do better.”
I’m not sure we know how lucky we are at times to have a manager in charge who is quite so altruistic. Of course from a personal angle he would like to leave with a legacy of success, and the next two years are critical to that. I think if we won the Champions League in the next two years, the part of it that would please me the most is that we did it with Arsene at the helm.
A bit like van Persie’s classic “I’m sure I could win things at another team in another country, but would it feel like our trophy, my trophy? I’m not sure it would.” We could win Europe’s premier competition with another manager at the helm, but it wouldn’t come from the heart like any success under another.
Arsenal’s Arsene or Arsene’s Arsenal?
This is the man that had great success in his early years and then stuck by us through the toughest decade the club has faced in recent memory, even while he had offers from his own national team and prestigious European giants pouring from his ears.
He’s demonstrated with his recent signings (and his obvious delight with them and their quality during the ensuing seasons) that he is prepared to spend money – have you seen how happy he is in press conferences at the moment when he’s asked about Özil’s form?
This is a man who wants only the best for us, who has a loyalty and pride unmatched in the league.
Of course he always wants to have faith in his squad – that’s clear for all to see – but for me it’s also proof that the money simply wasn’t there post-Invincibles.
Even now, when he deserves to wring every last success out of his remaining time, blowing money on the here and now and winning trophies left, right and centre, he’s still thinking about what comes next. He’s still planning for the future, our future, even though he won’t be such an active part of that.
I wrote last week about what an astounding achievement it has been to be so consistent in the league and Europe despite being handcuffed, and I stand by that. It feels to me that Arsene will only be worshipped more after he leaves than he is now.
That is the mark of a true legend, and it’s also why for me – biased or not – I will always regard Arsene as the greatest manager in the history of the Premier League. The man is so indelibly written into the history books of our great club, and he’s already working on the next chapter.
Truly, we are Arsene’s Arsenal.