The former Blues manager makes his return to Stamford Bridge on Sunday after a year of calamity and controversy ended up with a very messy divorce
Jose Mourinho and Chelsea remain affected by the destruction of their last relationship, despite trying to move on amicably from a divorce that had both legal battles and sporting humiliation.
Chelsea’s problems began to turn serious at this point last year as the Blues dropped down to 15th place after defeat against West Ham. This hit home that things were about to change and that Mourinho’s ambition to retain the Premier League title was not going to be achievable.
Mourinho was a proper Chelsea legend and a true blue, but it will take him a much longer time to become a red, as his sensational start at Chelsea brought immediate success to the Roman Abramavich era and gave the club something to build on, after 50 years without a title.
His first spell in charge was ended by “mutual consent,” and it was a much softer parting of ways than what happened after Mourinho’s last match at Stamford Bridge, when Chelsea lost 1-0 to Bournemouth.
Unfortunately, the second spell ended with a greater finality and left a much bigger scar upon the two sides with Mourinho’s humour replaced with a frown; and Chelsea’s chase for titles replaced with the need to simply reach the Champions League.
Mourinho’s star shone so brightly at Chelsea, Real Madrid and Inter that he left himself exposed to be shot down. In being football’s bad winner, he contrived to annoy opposing fans whilst successfully keeping the spotlight on himself.
He was the focus for broadcasters and journalists who ultimately enjoyed shooting him down during the worst season of his career. The end was also marred with Eva Carniero’s employment tribunal that was a factor in destabilising Mourinho’s dressing room.
Now the Manchester United manager is facing criticism for not being as tactically progressive as some of his rivals including the likes of Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool and, even his replacement, Antonio Conte at Chelsea.
At Stamford Bridge on Sunday, he will get the chance to send a stark message to his critics and prove that he has moved on, and that he is relevant. Yet, if he loses, the circus around his time with Chelsea and if he is still the best will continue.
What happened that season has left an open wound that is still healing at Chelsea with an aging squad which is still a little short of quality to be guarenteed title contenders.
On the other side of the coin, Chelsea will not want to look over at Mourinho as the good old days and, although the only way should be up for Chelsea, a competitive Premier League could keep them away from Europe or title success for many years to come.
Conte has proved he is strong enough to take on the club’s biggest characters, keeping Diego Costa on against Leicester City despite being publicly asked to do the opposite.
He should be the right man to take the club forward, but he will need to be backed up with a more progressive transfer policy than the club had under Mourinho, after he sold off the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku for older and short term replacements.
The early signs appear to be good for Chelsea with the former Juventus boss giving minutes to youth players and making difficult decisions when the old guard begin to struggle. Yet, the beatings at the hands of Arsenal and Liverpool are reminders of the work that need to be done to get over the past season.
After his side’s 3-0 defeat against Arsenal, and in his lowest moment as Chelsea manager, Conte described Chelsea as “a great team only on paper.” The comments were aimed to remind everyone around the club that progress could be slow to begin with.
Chelsea and Mourinho both need a rebrand. Chelsea have to become a mature giant that promotes youth from within their briliant academy and Mourinho needs to stay in Manchester for many years to come – while trying not to upset those he disagrees with.
Both sides have to continue to ask themselves hard questions after last season, but if they do the rewards will be great and plentiful.