Jose Mourinho has only just started putting into practice his preparations for Chelsea's title defence and already he has made himself hoarse due to barking at the players during gruelling double training sessions.
But as Mourinho conducts his first interview since the end of last season at the club’s base for their North American tour here in Canada, his defiant message to their rivals couldn’t be made any clearer.
In the summer transfer window so far, Chelsea have been put in the shade by the other main title contenders. While they have only acquired squad players in Radamel Falcao and Asmir Begovic, Manchester City have paid out an English record £49m for Raheem Sterling, plus another £8m for Fabian Delph, with the prospect of more to come.
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Manchester United have been very busy, too, by adding multiple winner Bastian Schweinsteiger, along with Memphis Depay, Morgan Schneiderlin and Matteo Darmian – all for a cool £75m. Across the capital, Arsenal have solved one of their major weaknesses at Chelsea’s expense by prising Petr Cech away to be their new first-choice keeper. On Saturday he helped Arsenal to their first trophy, after a 3-1 Asia Cup win against Everton in Singapore. Even Liverpool, albeit weakened by Sterling’s departure, have invested heavily.
After dominating the Premier League from start to finish last term, Chelsea’s ability to hold on to their crown is now under question. Mourinho, though, remains unperturbed.
“We are not worried about the others, what they buy, what they have, what they spend – I don’t care,” he insisted. “I don’t criticise [the other clubs’ spending]. I am not against, I understand and accept, I am not afraid. If someone said, ‘Jose, you can stop it’, I would. I don’t want my direct opponents to buy, buy, buy and buy well. I would prefer them not to buy or buy bad, but I cannot stop them. I think it is normal. I am happy with the challenge of fighting against these powers.”
The mystery is why Chelsea, apart from their current attempts to sign John Stones, seem so listless in the market. Mourinho doesn’t deny he’d love to sign Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba. Yet he added with a resigned expression: “I love the Eiffel Tower but I can’t have the Eiffel Tower in my garden. I can’t even have the Eiffel Tower of Las Vegas.”
Despite Uefa’s relaxing of their Financial Fair Play rules, Chelsea are clearly not going to abandon their recent policy of living within their means. So if they are not going to buy their way to a second successive crown, how does Mourinho think they can still finish top?
“The fact we are the same is a great challenge for us,” he said. “The only chance to win is if we can be better with the same people. The players have to be better individually than last year. When they are thinking ‘last season I was great’, this season that won’t be enough.
“John Terry was great last season, this season it won’t be enough – [he] must be better. Cesc Fabregas is the same. The others are going to improve with the players they are bringing in and we have to improve. We feel we have the tools to improve our team without that [£60-70m player]. And the tools are ourselves.”
Some might argue Chelsea are simply constructing their own downfall by taking such a conservative approach, especially after surprisingly giving Falcao another chance to impress in English football. He looked a shadow of the feared striker he once was at Atletico Madrid, while on loan from Monaco at Manchester United last season. A measly four goals was all the Colombia international, who suffered a serious knee injury in January 2014, had to show for his efforts.
But Mourinho had no hesitation in arranging another loan deal for him and feels the void left by departed club legend Didier Drogba has been filled. “He didn’t perform [at Manchester United] for many reasons, it is not up to us to analyse it,” Mourinho said. “We just think he can with us.
“To replace a big player like Didier we wanted to go with another big player with experience, who is ready. When a player is injured or has bad consequences of a big injury there is sometimes nothing you can do. We made ourselves sure that that was not the case with Falcao because if that was the case he would not be with us. Some players don’t perform with me, some players don’t perform with Chelsea, they go to other clubs and they perform. This can happen. So we know that Falcao is in good conditions related to the surgery he had before he went to Manchester United.”
Signing Falcao is one thing, allowing Cech, the greatest keeper in the club’s history, to move across the capital to Arsenal is quite another.On this occasion, it was Chelsea’s owner Roman Abramovich who intervened, deciding Cech’s loyal service for 11 years should be rewarded by allowing him to choose his own destination. Mourinho made no secret of his desire for Cech to either see out the year on his contract or move abroad. Given how Mourinho’s first spell at the club came to an end in 2007 after his relationship with Abramovich became strained, some wondered if this could re-open old wounds.
Far from it. The Special One, who confirmed he is on the verge of officially signing a four-year contract, sees Abramovich’s stance as a source for positivity rather than negativity. He said: “The reality is that I understood the good thing about the decision the club made. I think it brings the club into a different dimension. It makes every player understand what this club is.
“It puts our owner into a position where he is saying to everybody that man, and human relation, and loyalty, is more important than football. He is saying: ‘I don’t care if he goes to Arsenal. I don’t care if he helps Arsenal win titles. I don’t care if Arsenal are title opponents to Chelsea. I don’t care.
“But what I care is that this guy did everything for the club, was here 11 years, this guy last year was the second keeper and was fantastic for the team. I gave him my word. I go with my word’. I understood his position. I was proud to be part of this culture. How many examples do we have of the opposite in football? A player who wants to leave and a club that wants to keep him, and a club that doesn’t want to let him go to another rival club?
“But what did Petr do wrong for Chelsea to say, ‘you don’t play and live in England. I don’t care about your kids. You go to France, go to Madrid, go wherever you want to go but here, you don’t stay’. What did he do wrong for Chelsea to want to change even his personal life? Chelsea was fantastic. Without this owner I think I would’ve gone to a different perspective. And clearly I would say, ‘No, you don’t go here’ or ‘Yes, OK, you go here but I want to negotiate with that club’. But with this owner I went to the different perspective and I am more than happy. That is the end of story. Petr is happy. I am happy with what we have.”
So while he may be struggling not to lose his voice and the increased threat from Chelsea’s challengers, Mourinho remains as defiant and bullish as ever. Those big spenders have certainly been warned.
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