Do you remember the Chelsea side of 2004-05? Of course, you do. That team set all kinds of Premier League records in terms of wins and points as they took the title for only the second time in their history.
Conveniently forgetting that Ted Drake had turned Chelsea from music hall amusements to a serious footballing side, 50 years earlier, Jose Mourinho pretended that he was the first ‘special’ coach that Chelsea had ever had and that was why they were ‘suddenly’ successful.
Jose also forgot that Ted had actually played football too, on actual football pitches, not screens – winning two league titles and an FA Cup with the great Arsenal side of the 1930s. He once scored seven goals in a single match which remains a top-flight record to this day.
When he got bored, Ted played a bit of first-class cricket with Hampshire too.
Chelsea won the league title like racehorses that season and the League Cup like carthorses. It was also the era of Mourinho versus the rest of the world. He picked arguments with the ‘red nose of Lancashire’ and the ‘nose elevated to a slightly haughty angle from north London.’ He then instigated an Iberian squabble with Rafael Benitez of Spain and also Liverpool, who were once quite good.
Chelsea beat Liverpool in that League Cup Final but, having miraculously defied football history and beaten both Barcelona and Bayern Munich in successive Champions League matches, managed to lose to Liverpool in the Semi-final. Mourinho will still tell you that Chelsea didn’t concede a single goal in the two legs, but the referee, Lubos Michel, disagreed and ruled that Luis Garcia’s goal had crossed the line after just five minutes, giving Liverpool a 1-0 win overall.
To his credit, Michel did not have a secret chat over a cup of tea and a slice of Victoria sponge with Benitez at half-time, nor did he retire on ‘health grounds’ shortly after the match and flounce off to some foreign place where newspapers could not reach him, like Carlisle.
Benitez, similarly, did not bother to listen to Mourinho’s protests and promptly won the Champions League title after having given Milan a three-goal start. This has remained the template for Liverpool sides since then. Except that Klopp has made his own special contribution at Anfield, which requires Liverpool to go three goals clear before conceding like mad and making a game of it.
Finally, after some 400 words, I almost get to the point. Mourinho’s magic dust seemed to land on Stamford Bridge then blow away again – not once, but twice. Benitez never really had any magic dust and neither did he get his own parking space at Chelsea, apparently on police advice. Benitez has taken his average ability around Europe before being found out for being average each time and so fitting the bill perfectly at Newcastle United.
Mourinho has been more successful in Europe but has now settled for Manchester United. The questions, therefore, are what made Chelsea tick so loudly in 2004-05 and again in 2005-06, and does Benitez just have a lucky three-piece suit?
The Chelsea vintage of 2004-05 could call upon some exotic defenders in Ricardo Carvalho, Paulo Ferreira and William Gallas (who also played for Arsenal but thought that Ted Drake was some kind of cockney slang for what he wanted to do with every opponent’s leg that he ever caught up with). Chelsea also had John Terry and, ahem, Glen Johnson, who I think might now be a summariser for Radio Kazakhstan?
Probably more important than any of these, Mourinho could call upon Claude Makelele in front of them and you’d do well to ever get past Claude (much as Nottingham Forest fans used to sing about Des Walker – possibly the last time they had anything at all to sing about).
Chelsea conceded just 15 goals at Stamford Bridge that season (only Preston North Ended managed that in the very first league season of 1888-89 and in far fewer matches and much longer shorts); only nine away from home, and 25 clean sheets. They then started the following season with six consecutive clean sheets as they retained the title.
How then did Newcastle manage to beat the Special One’s Manchester United at the weekend, after not winning at home since October and seemingly trying to set Premier League records of their own for being utterly ineffectual (and quite amusing) over a very long period of time?
Was it because Newcastle’s players finally realised that not everything is black and white in football and that colour television had actually arrived in the rest of the UK two years before The Toon won their last meaningful trophy?
Was it because Mourinho does not have players of the same kind of defensive quality these days? Hopefully, Gareth Southgate has also worked out that Chris Smalling is, in fact, a hologram with a big hole in it.
Has Jose’s magic dust blown away as it did at Chelsea?
Was Rafael Benitez enjoying one of his once-in-a-decade moments of good fortune?
Is Mourinho v Guardiola the new Iberian rivalry that Jose already knows he will lose again, just as he did in Spain?
Is attack now the best form of defence in the cases of Mourinho, Benitez and even Guardiola (who finally despatched the astonishingly-poor Mangala to mess things up for Everton, while breaking many piggy banks to buy Laporte, who is already fulfilling his destiny of becoming a music hall amusement at the Etihad)?
Does that ‘Ghost Goal’ from Anfield in 2005 still haunt Mourinho, while keeping Benitez in good spirits whenever he looks to a special place in the past, rather than the future?