By Martyn Herman
Chelsea’s website hailed Jose Mourinho on Thursday as the best manager in the club’s 110-year history but it did not stop Russian owner Roman Abramovich firing him for the second time in eight years.
One sacking could be considered risky but a repeat performance just a few months after handing the Portuguese a new four-year contract appears foolhardy, even in the mad world of Premier League football.
Chelsea fans who were taking in the news outside Stamford Bridge spoke of their shock.
They criticised the club for a lack of loyalty to a manager who delivered three Premier League titles and numerous other trophies during his two spells in charge.
They should be used to it. After all, this is the club that sacked Italian Roberto Di Matteo a few months after he delivered Champions League glory in 2012 and got rid of Carlo Ancelotti a year after he won the 2010 Premier League and FA Cup double.
But Mourinho is different.
Ever since walking into Stamford Bridge for the first time in 2004, calling himself “The Special One”, he has commanded the complete loyalty of the fans.
He also won one FA Cup and three League Cups and used the Abramovich millions to sign some of the finest players in the game.
Mourinho may even have led them to the Champions League crown, the only gap on his Chelsea CV, this season but we will never know.
Even with nine defeats in the first 16 Premier League games, a calamitous start for any club, let alone champions, the supporters have still sung his name continuously.
Those fans will now be questioning whether ‘player power’ has cost them the services of a manager who, despite his terrible time this season, will be a candidate for any of the top jobs that become available in football’s revolving door.
Even a manager of Mourinho’s skill has been stumped by the chronic loss of form of Eden Hazard and Diego Costa, players who were instrumental in Chelsea winning the title by eight points in May.
Spain striker Costa has scored only three league goals this season and threw his bib towards the manager in frustration when he was an unused substitute against Tottenham Hotspur.
Hazard, the league’s Player of the Year last season, has been almost unrecognisable this term and Mourinho looked perplexed when the Belgian pulled up injured and wasted no time in walking off the pitch during the 2-1 defeat at Leicester City on Monday.
Cesc Fabregas, another player unable to match last year’s performances, said the squad must take the blame.
“If you are a big player, and paid like a big player, you must play like a big player and behave like a big player,” Fabregas told a Facebook question and answer session on Tuesday.
“I am not saying you can’t have a bad season and bad games. We all have big players and small players but the attitude must be spot on.
“We must always be at the top of our games, even when it’s not, and the behaviour has to be better than what we are seeing right now from every single Chelsea player.”
Sky Sports pundit Graeme Souness said Mourinho, for all his reputation, had lost the dressing room.
“If you look at what has happened at Chelsea this year, there has to be something fundamentally wrong,” he said.
“There are more than two or three people who are not pulling their weight for whatever reason.”
Abramovich will no doubt avoid a backlash from the fans such is Chelsea’s reliance on his wealth and the Russian has a handy knack of making good appointments.
Dutchman Guus Hiddink is favourite to steady the ship until the end of the season and if Spaniard Pep Guardiola arrives at Stamford Bridge next summer, even Mourinho’s most fierce loyalists will be applauding.