Of course, for Chelsea, the red alert has been sounding for a while now, if only in response to a number of startling micro-crises; the form, or utter lack thereof, of Branislav Ivanovic, the dropping of John Terry, the continued antics, and subsequent fallout, of Diega Costa. There are more, too. But now, as Chelsea succumbed in a fashion so unlike them, at least in recent memory, 3-1 to Southampton at home, Mourinho himself appears to have knitted all these spot-calamities into one huge, all-encompassing, club-wide catastrophe. He did so in his post-match interview, which was essentially a seven minute rant, verging deep into the existential. He was asked by the interviewer: “What did you make of your team’s performance?” and his response was prefaced with a pair of ominous phrases “I think you know me…first of all I want to say…”. He seemed to be winding up for his biggest ever unjustified balk, a whinge the scope of which has never been seen, not even in a Mourinho press conference. He called for honesty, for frank assessment, apparently throwing off the blinders to fix a clear gaze on the gleaming serrated reality of things.
Then he complained that the referees weren’t giving his team enough penalties. Trembling as we were for something new, something astonishing, suddenly our bodies went limp with the mundane familiarity of it all. But then his monologue went on, like an entranced whirling dervish nudged off balance. One and half minutes in, Mourinho mentions Diego Costa’s ban, then a breath later, their midweek loss in the Champions League. Something is building, a bubbling surge of Technicolour bile, fantastic and caustic. Only partially satiated as we were with the entree list of unawarded penalties, Mourinho served up a filling main course by turning a scathing eye to his players; “The first negative thing that happened: the team collapsed. The team mentally, psychologically, is unbelievable, down. It looks like good players are bad players.” His assessment of the match, garnished again with talk of denied penalties, was somehow, at the same time, one-sided and brutally honest.
Then, without another question being asked, Mourinho, in a moment steeped in Freudian revelation, says this: “I can also know what you are thinking, what you are saying in studio, what people (what people, Jose?) can imagine what is going to happen, what is not going to happen… I want to make it clear: 1. I don’t run away. 2. If the club wants to sack me, they have to sack me, because I am not running away from my responsibilities, from my team, and from my convictions.”
Yes, there it was, like a freshly hatched reptile, the greasy sight of Mourinho hypothesising about some future sacking, completely and utterly unprompted. Why Mourinho would make some mystical attempt to preempt talk of redundancy, at first, makes no sense. But, if we pause the playback for a few moments, the stark horror of Chelsea’s title defence comes into focus; they stand fifth-bottom, with the second-worst defensive record in the league. They are in the middle of their worst start to a Premier League season, their worst league start since 1978, the season they finished bottom. They have already conceded more goals than they did over the entirety of Mourinho’s first season at Chelsea. Their eight points from eight matches is leading them, historically speaking, to an expected final finish of 14th, the average league finish for teams that collect this many points from this many matches. No team has finished higher than fifth after this sort of start. With this latest loss, Mourinho saw for the very first time, a visiting team score more than two goals at Stamford Bridge. At one point, Southampton had registered 9 second half shots to Chelsea’s 0. There might be a warrant out for Dusan Tadic’s arrest, after he murdered poor Ivanovic (or did he just desecrate an already lifeless body?)
It’s enough to separate anyone from their sanity, and Mourinho seems a little removed from real life at the best of times. And it wasn’t over yet: “This is a crucial time in the history of this club” Mourinho said, “Do you know why? Because if the club sacks me, they sack the best manager that this club has had…” Prior to driving this iron wedge between himself and his employers, almost goading them into firing him, Mourinho had spoken, visibly and painfully unsure of what he about to say, that he was “more than convinced that we will finish top four, and when the season is so bad, when you finish top four… it’s ok.” The sentence was barely audible over echoes of Arsene Wenger’s laughter, and catcalls of “there’s no such thing as a fourth-place trophy”.
“Living the worst period of my career, the worst results of my career, doing that as a professional hurts me a lot, doing that at Chelsea hurts me twice”. Mourinho said these words with eyes squinted slightly, wincing as the sentence spilled from a mouth now resembling a jagged tear. He finished his diatribe by bringing us, now giddy, full circle, back to the referees. He bade thanks, and bolted. One question asked, and a seven minute answer given. Like a timpani rolling down a hill, there was no stopping this mad noise. Jose will not want to watch this footage back, video evidence of his own crazed unraveling. The Special One is now in a very special place of his own making, a lonely place, and the only consolation that exists for him there is his own babbling.