07 June 2013

Why Mourinho's return to Chelsea could doom Arsenal

At the risk of stating the obvious, Jose Mourinho's return to Chelsea does not make life any easier for Arsenal going into the 2013-14 season. The managerial turmoil at the club has not slowed the club much over the last few seasons, as Chelsea won the Europa League (yes, it does count as an accomplishment), the Champions League last year, the Prem in 2010, and finished above us every year except 2013, when their focus on the Champions League saw them finish 5th.  On one hand, the fact that Chelsea has finished ahead of us in the Prem so often softens Mourinho's impact. Chelsea, with or without Mourinho, would almost certainly finish in the top four next year, so it's not like we're worrying about some other club leap-frogging us next year like we might had he joined Spurs, Everton, or Liverpool, to name a few.

What we do have to worry about, of course, is closing the gap between us and Chelsea, not to mention the Manchester clubs, who will see Mourinho's arrival as exactly the kind of threat I just declaimed: with Mourinho in charge, Man U and Man City will surely feel the pressure to strengthen their clubs all the more. Cristiano Ronaldo, for example, might want to return to Man U all the more to try to exact some revenge on the man who said "he thinks he knows everything and the coach cannot help him". Whether that affects the discussion at all is a moot point, however. One way or another, Man U and Man City are certainly not going to sit back, relax, and see who's available. City has already made a couple of signings but are unlikely to call it a wrap.They will both go after the best players available, whether that's Ronaldo or Cavani or Casillas or whoever.

This impending activity will certainly have a knock-on effect as other players see the deals being bandied about and see a chance to pump up their own asking prices. A more direct problem is that Mourinho will apparently spend £100m this summer to bring in new players (good news: this could spell the end of John Terry's time at Chelsea, something I've suggested could happen sooner rather than later), sprucing up the squad with key signings. Mourinho and Chelsea suffer no moral compunctions against spending and will sign as many players as they can find. Already, the players we've been linked to--Jovetic, Higuain, Lewandowski, and others--are being linked with Chelsea. Given Mourinho's ambition, rapacity, and resources, he could swoop in and sign two forwards, if not more, while driving up the asking prices for others still on the market either by casually bidding just for the fun of it or as players and agents see the seller's market heating up.

That's not all, of course. There's still the actual influence on the players themselves. Mourinho is a master at motivating his players and getting the most out of them. In the graphic above, courtesy of whoscored.com, we see how much better Chelsea has performed under Mourinho. Sure, some of this is down to the players he brought on, but it also testifies to his management. From 2004, we see a sharp spike in points taken per game without much of a change in goals scored per game, suggesting a shrewder marshalling of resources. The residue of his impact appears to have waned a bit over subsequent seasons (save 2009-10), but we're sure to see a resurrection as he returns. If Chelsea improves its points-taken rate from last year's two per game to 2.2, this would be enough to claim 84 points next year--enough to have finished in second this year, eleven points ahead of Arsenal. If Mourinho can repeat his impact from 2004-05, Chelsea would repeat its record-setting total of 95. Like him or loathe him, he's easily among the most successful if not the best managers in recent history.

If anyone on Arsenal's board were anticipating a transfer-window in which we could dither or nickel-and-dime our way to a couple of bargain-signings in the last weeks of August again, Mourinho's arrival had damn-well better shake them out of their torpor. Painting Mourinho as a ominous villain to be stopped rather than joined might be a good place to start. We could point out players being courted by him that he's dealt with his own players, legends in their own time like Casillas and Ronaldo, harshly and shabbily. We could suggest that he's not known for lasting long, wearing out his welcome on a fairly predictable schedule. If these warnings don't stick, and we can't make headway with players by contrasting Mourinho's arrogance, abuse, and depravity against the support, development, and rapport they'll get from Arsène, well, money does talk, doesn't it? Players, agents, and clubs are sure to drag their heels, but the sooner we sign a top-flighter or two, the better we'll be. Again, though, I'm not calling for a Ronaldo or a Rooney. Lewandowski? Cavani? We might have to dig more deeply to sign the likes of these players, but unless we get a head-start, the narrow gap between us and Chelsea could become a gaping chasm.