As the defeated Chelsea squad finally left their dressing room on Saturday, no one stopped to talk; Jose Mourinho similarly refused to do the routine Monday newspapers briefing.
It’s the kind of sorely emotional reaction you get with all teams after a poor result but, this time, it felt bitterly deliberate.
Mourinho clearly wanted his caustic two-minute press conference to be the only public words from Chelsea; to set the agenda. The fact that he refused to take questions, then repeated his sarcastic congratulations to the referee Mike Dean on television in almost identical fashion, emphasises that.
It is a managerial tactic that often works, as blame is evaded because the outlandish nature of their criticism demands focus. Here, it should backfire.
Mourinho deserves the blame for Chelsea’ s 2-1 defeat to Sunderland. He deserves even more criticism for his graceless response to it.
There was a fair amount of indignity on show at Stamford Bridge. Rui Faria started it with a furious attempt to confront Dean following Fabio Borini’s penalty. If Cesar Azpilicueta’s rash slide on Jozy Altidore was a schoolboy decision, this was school playground stuff. The sight of Mourinho restraining his coach by the hair was a truly farcical touchline moment in a Premier League season featuring many of them.
Yet, in barely containing his own ire in front of the media, the Chelsea manager was arguably worse. Faria’s fury at least came in the heat of the moment. Mourinho’s press conference was an attempt at coldly malicious manipulation.
It strikes the wrong tone, in front of the wrong audience. Match of the Day has many young viewers, but few would want to replicate the immature reactions of Mourinho and Faria. Mourinho may not be a role model, but he has put himself forward as a statesman.
There is one caveat. He did congratulate Gus Poyet and Sunderland. Even then, though, Mourinho couldn’t help referencing the “way they won”. He also couldn’t help reverting to the pattern of a career.
The 51-year-old has never been one for public introspection or self-criticism. Stories abound that it isn’t too common in private either. A setback is always someone else’s fault, always some other reason. That siege mentality has undeniably served Mourinho in a glorious career but does occasionally dip into something else.
It is as if he can’t accept any distortion of the narrative built up around him. This defeat did disrupt one of the records that had underscored it, as Mourinho finally lost a match at Stamford Bridge.
That statistic should sting most of all, and is of deeper relevance than his refereeing complaints. Because, if Dean made many questionable calls on Saturday – and some that served Chelsea well, not least the failure to punish Ramires for a nasty swipe with his elbow – they were all understandable in the context of the speed of a match and the limited view referees have. Mourinho himself has called for the fourth officials to be given a monitor to aid such decisions.
By contrast, the bare facts of this defeat are all too clear. Chelsea were 1-0 up, against the bottom side in the Premier League, on the back of that home record, in a title race... and still lost.
That is a criminal defeat in the circumstances. It also goes against the cast-iron mentality Mourinho usually imbues in his teams. Champions don’t lose these games, especially when the margins in the race are so unforgiving. They win them. Mourinho himself has repeatedly done so.
Instead, this match displayed a recurring problem of the season. Chelsea don’t score enough goals. They struggle to open sides up. Mourinho may complain about the “profile” of his squad in that regard, but Brendan Rodgers has shown a manager can bring a shift in emphasis regardless. Chelsea were merely laborious. There was no chance to ask Mourinho any of this. In that sense, his press conference worked.
Now, though, he faces a deeper question. If Chelsea fail to lift this title, it will be the first time Mourinho has ever gone two successive years without winning a league. If he also fails to win the Champions League, it will be the first time he has ever gone two successive years without any trophy at all. That would really distort the narrative. Much will depend on the effect of the Sunderland game.
Tomorrow against Atletico, Mourinho must show the best of that siege mentality.
On Saturday, we saw the worst of it.
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