Jose Mourinho has dominated the Premiership for two years but yesterday he announced his intention to win the hearts of English football as well with a Chelsea team committed to attacking football. As he begins his third season in England, the Chelsea manager said that his team were ready to be transformed into a free-scoring side with "players who attack more".
It marks something of a departure for Mourinho who, despite having a team that scored more Premiership goals than any side apart from Manchester United last season, has put the accent on a more conservative style at Stamford Bridge. This season he has already jettisoned his traditional 4-5-1 approach in favour of playing both Didier Drogba and Andrei Shevchenko in attack as well as adding Michael Ballack to the midfield.
"If the situation is normal and everybody is available then we have the chance to improve and the objective is to use more attacking players on the pitch," Mourinho said. "We can add different qualities to our game.
"I wanted to change because I prefer to win 2-0 than 1-0. If you ask me if I prefer 2-0 to 6-5, it would be 2-0. But if it's 1-0 or 2-0, I prefer to win 2-0. If you can improve that, but not losing the qualities that made us champions, because we cannot afford to lose that, then you have to try to add these different qualities."
As one of football's arch pragmatists, it is difficult to see what has changed Mourinho's mind although the enthusiasm that Roman Abramovich showed for signing Shevchenko may have played a role. Shoe-horning the £31m Ukrainian into the team, as well as Ballack, will not prove easy, although the German international is unlikely to play tomorrow against Manchester City.
Ballack, who hurt his hip during the Community Shield match last Sunday, is not the only injury that Mourinho has to contend with as he begins the season without Petr Cech, Geremi, Robert Huth, Claude Makelele and Joe Cole. The Chelsea manager was in a good mood yesterday on everything apart from the subject of William Gallas, although it is far from clear how the new Chelsea side will look or play.
As well as changing the way his team plays - which is sure to raise the question eventually of whether Frank Lampard and Ballack are compatible - Mourinho also warned that the depth of his squad is a cause for concern. It was an unusual complaint for a man with Abram-ovich's financial resources at his disposal.
Refusing to acclaim this Chelsea squad as the best yet - "I am not saying it's stronger: it's different" - Mourinho bemoaned the loss of players like Scott Parker, Alexei Smertin, Tiago, Damien Duff, Eidur Gudjohnsen, Glen Johnson and Asier Del Horno.
"These kind of players, we knew they were ready to give an answer and they had the level to go into the team and not make it any worse," he said. "The problem was keeping them when they didn't want to be here as second choices."
With so many first-team players missing, and many of the second string now gone, Chelsea have at last become a side under Mourinho where there is an opportunity for young players. Whether Mourinho is prepared to trust them or not is another question and there was a sharp warning for the 19-year-old Nigerian Jon Obi Mikel that he would have to adopt the "Chelsea culture" or risk going "back to Norway [where he played previously] in a few months".
Having spent around £16m prising him away from Lyn Oslo and Manchester United, it would appear Mourinho is not yet convinced the teenage prodigy is ready for the Premiership. Nevertheless, Mourinho was clear that Mikel, Salomon Kalou and Lassana Diarra could play a key role this season.
"I need the young players to co-operate more than 100 per cent. Are they ready for the challenge when the team needs them? They must be ready to play for 90 minutes or one minute. They must be ready for everything."
As well as the attacking refinements Mourinho expects to make, he could not prevent himself returning to the subject of his defence, which is clearly a concern with Gallas so disaffected and no deal yet struck for Ashley Cole. He added that Chelsea's "challenge" was "to keep the same level of defensive performance but improving in other areas".
He said a third successive title would not mean his departure. "If we win three titles, I will want to win a fourth," he said. "If the club are not happy, that is another situation. But at the moment, speaking from my heart, I love to be here."
* Chelsea last night agreed a fee with Hamburg for Khaled Boulahrouz.Reuse content