José Mourinho must feel this is a special achievement even by his standards
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho says the Premier League title is his reward for the risk he took in returning to Stamford Bridge for a second spell.
On a balmy afternoon at Stamford Bridge Chelsea produced a display of orderly, low?throttle, title?bound football that seemed to be heading just one way. With a few moments left José Mourinho could be seen wandering along the touchline to clasp hands sombrely with Alan Pardew and even offer a little kiss on the cheek, completing the sense of match that had felt from the start like a composed, quietly celebratory viking funeral for the Premier League title race.
At the end of which Chelsea are champions, and a genuinely fine achievement for Mourinho – who now has eight league titles in 12 years across three countries – deserves to be celebrated. The last time Chelsea's manager won the Premier League he ended up hurling his medal into the Chelsea fans behind the goal in the Matthew Harding stand. This time you suspect he might just want to hang on to his own memento of a victory that is likely to feel like a special one even for the Special One.
Not because, when it finally arrives, this will be a first significant piece of silverware in three years, a moment to reburnish Mourinho's winning lustre after a mid-career clearing of the throat. But above all because another league title is a remarkable achievement in its own right.
There is an element of history being made here. Mourinho is now the first manager in English league history to return to a former champion club and win the league title again. “In my country we say all the time don't go back to where you were happy before,” Mourinho noted afterwards, and with good reason. There have been 52 other title-winning managers: none of them have ever done this before.
In a similar vein Mourinho is just the fifth manager in 122 years of league football to win league titles 10 years apart, after Sir Alex Ferguson, Sir Matt Busby, and the Victorian secretary managers George Ramsey of Aston Villa and Tom Watson of Liverpool and Sunderland.
There will be the usual caveats in victory from those outside Stamford Bridge, from the mediocrity of the league this year to the widespread aesthetic objections that seem to suggest the meat-and-potatoes English football fan has now been transformed into a kind of armchair Oscar Wilde, holding a lavender scented kerchief to his nose at the spectacle of well-organised, versatile winning football.
Frankly, though, watching Chelsea's players cavort in the blue and white ticker-tape at the end of a match that saw the champions stroll over the line with six defenders on the pitch, and a near-immobile 37 year old centre forward, it is hard to see anything but a triumph of management, based around two key decisions.
First, Mourinho acted quickly last summer. Chelsea needed a striker, a left-back and a new central midfield. Filipe Luís, Diego Costa and Cesc Fàbregas duly arrived, a net summer spend of £5m, enough to transform a slightly clanky team into champions.
Mourinho's second decisive moment came as Chelsea's flying start was gummed by injury and fatigue. It is this, the change to a more pragmatic style from autumn to winter, that the self-appointed purists have bemoaned. In fact it is here Mourinho deserves most credit.
The moment that squished, decisively any sense of a wobble was the Capital One Cup final. With Nemanja Matic suspended Chelsea played four central defenders, won 2-0 and haven't looked back since, conceding five goals in nine matches and taking 23 points from 27. Arsenal, Manchester United and Manchester City have also had tough patches. The difference is none have coped so well with the difficult moments. Had Arsenal, for example, shunted some willing Kurt Zouma-equivalent into midfield and defended with neurotic caution when times were hard earlier in the season they might have been more than energetic pursuers.
Indeed, at times this decisive 1-0 defeat of Crystal Palace felt a bit like a playful riff on Chelsea's season to date. Predictably enough Eden Hazard made the difference towards the end of a familiarly tight first half. First the PFA player of the yearburst on to Willian's cute flick only to tumble in a collision with James McArthur. Hazard the referee with little choice but to award a penalty, and then directed a well-judged header into the corner after his kick was saved by Julián Speroni.
And that, to Chelsea's credit, was pretty much that.
It isn't hard to see what these evolving champions need to do from here. To compete in both domestic and Champions Leagues Chelsea need a new striker. They also need a high-quality central midfielder: a little more energy alongside Matic might just free up his own qualities as a passer and playmaker. Beyond that Mourinho will hopefully look to address the horribly tangled web of Chelsea's army of loan players, and also to make good on his promise to blood some homegrown talent. The failure to call on Dominic Solanke or Ruben Loftus-Cheek, even from the bench, when Chelsea have been crying out for a striker and a central midfielder is the one disappointment of a season that has ended in well-merited – and indeed instructive – triumph.
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