Jose Mourinho knows all about the importance of the first win. The highest hurdle for any team to clear is the first one. Many potentially good teams – Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle, or even Emirates-era Arsenal – never won that opening trophy, the one that could have delivered them into the elite.
Chelsea, it must be said, are not exactly strangers to success, even since Mourinho left six years ago. They won the Europa League in May, of course, and the Champions League and FA Cup in 2012.
But this is still a young squad, with just a few players – Petr Cech, John Terry and Frank Lampard – who remember the relentless triumphs of Mourinho’s first spell. Eden Hazard and Oscar have not yet won a domestic trophy with Chelsea. Kevin de Bruyne, Marco van Ginkel, André Schürrle and Willian have won nothing here at all.
Mourinho has spoken all season about the difference between this squad and the one he left behind in 2007, and how much he is relishing the new challenge of bringing on a younger team than he has managed before. “It is more difficult to keep trying to win and trying to be successful, while at the same time developing young players while giving an identity to the team,” he said at his unveiling in June. “It is more difficult.”
It is still too early to make predictions about this season’s trophies, though Chelsea will not be far away from the top in the Premier League. But, aside from the intrinsic value of winning trophies – which is, after all, the point of the game – winning something this season might help this young team to take the biggest prizes in future.
This is how it was nine years ago, in Mourinho’s first season. That team was not quite as young as this, but it did include the first Premier League seasons of Cech, Arjen Robben, Didier Drogba, Mateja Kezman, Ricardo Carvalho and Paulo Ferreira.
In February 2005, Chelsea went to the Millennium Stadium to face Liverpool in the final of what was then the Carling Cup. This was not a Chelsea team that was struggling, but it was the closest they came to a possible wobble in 2004-05. In the previous week they had been knocked out of the FA Cup 1-0 by Newcastle United before losing their Champions League last-16 first leg 2-1 in Barcelona, prompting the famous controversy between Mourinho and referee Anders Frisk.
Defeat in Cardiff and the wheels might well have started to slip off. But Chelsea beat Liverpool 3-2, thanks to a Steven Gerrard own goal, before Drogba and Kezman scored in extra-time. It was Chelsea’s first trophy since the 2000 FA Cup. Mourinho knew afterwards how historically important that win would be.
“We now have the first title and almost for sure we will have the second one – and the second one will be the big one,” he said in the aftermath, and not long later Chelsea did win their first ever Premier League title.
“I’m very happy to win. It’s important for the fans, for the club and especially for the players. It’s very difficult to win for the first time and for these players it is the first time so it is important.”
As Mourinho sensed, much more success followed. Chelsea retained their Premier League title, before winning the League Cup again and the FA Cup in Mourinho’s third and final full season in charge. This team may eventually do as well as that one, but they will have to start somewhere. And the Capital One Cup – in which they travel to Arsenal tonight – could be the place where they start.