As Chelsea edge closer to the title and Eden Hazard has rightly and well deservedly been crowned PFA player of the year, there is something else happening behind the scenes at Stamford Bridge. It is the re-building of the spine of a new look Chelsea team from one that won the title 5 years ago under Carlo Ancelotti.
That team was made up of notable players like Ricardo Carvalho, Michael Ballack, Michael Essien, Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard, who have left the Londoners.
Clubs often struggle to cope with this transitionary phase of the football cycle, when their cup winning team regulars begin to age and reach the 31+ bracket. Every club goes through the cycle – Arsenal have struggled to cope with the departure of the invincibles, with many coming in and departing slowly without adding any silverware till the FA Cup last season.
In Manchester, the Red Devils are struggling now with the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson's regulars. Already having witnessed the departure of old stalwarts Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, once Michael Carrick(33) retires and once Wayne Rooney(29)hits 31+ United have a serious problem on their hands with the spine of the team completely missing.
These transitionary phases are where managers find it toughest, these stages are when the rebuilding of the football club not only on the pitch but also the winning mentality and the establishment of the ‘spine’ of regulars who fight for the team week in and week out.
Of the last Mourinho era only four remain, John Terry, Didier Drogba, John Obi Mikel and Petr Cech.
But a new spine has formed in the shape of Gary Cahill, Branislav Ivanovic, Cezar Azpilicueta, Nemanja Matic and Eden Hazard.
“For those older guys it’s nice to belong to two different generations,” Mourinho said. “If we are champions this season then Petr, Didier, John and Mikel will have belonged to two generations of title winners. The same as me. It’s nice to belong to the history of a club in different moments, so it’s good for these older guys.
“They’re all very experienced, and these guys are special players but we have others coming through. Ivanovic is experienced. [César] Azpilicueta is gaining experience. Hazard is here now for three years. [Nemanja] Matic is getting experience. This is a natural process, and the years count for everyone.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek is 19 now and has just arrived. But, in five years’ time, he will be 24 and experienced. Chelsea lost, at the end of last year, what I consider, for sure, to be one of the five most important players in the history of Chelsea FC: Frank Lampard.
“We lost that player but life goes on. You have to think about the future and to build, and you have to go with that. In Frank Lampard, Chelsea lost a match-winner with a number of goals he scored, a big character, a player without injuries who played every game, a player who beat every record in the Premier League – playing time, number of goals, goals from midfield – an absolutely amazing player. “
Frank Lampard, like John Terry, Didier Drogba and Cech were the first names on the team sheet in the special one’s last tenure, the players who exerted considerable influence on and off the pitch while winning all major honours in ‘that’ Mourinho side.
To cope with the exit of Lampard, the club brought in Cesc Fabregas who has performed exceptionally well racking up the highest assist tally in the league and keeping Chelsea ticking.
With the addition of Diego Costa this season and with squad players Willian, Oscar and Kurt Zouma, Chelsea have created a new group of players to become the future spine of this new look Chelsea team.
Mourinho has added a wealth of talent at the Bridge and has proved to be an excellent motivator and tactician who has used his entire squad in rotation throughout the season. He is the only manager with the highest substitutions used per game ratio.
He has coped exceptionally with the loss of key players from his earlier team and has built a strong, title winning team of the current young crop.
The most apparent thing though is the shifting of key players at Chelsea. While earlier, Drogba and Lampard were the key attackers going forward, now Diego Costa, Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas contribute heavily in this area.
In a midfield that was once anchored by Makelele, Essien and Ballack, now sits Nemanja Matic.
At the back with the exception of John Terry, there was Ricardo Carvalho, Ashley Cole and Paulo Ferreira. All top class players mind you. Now the backline consists of Branislav Ivanovic, Gary Cahill and Cezar Azpilicueta.
These players have formed a formidable Chelsea team one that could be compared to the 2004, 2005 team of champions. What has unfolded is the passing down of a generation of football talent to a new generation of fresh blood. The average age of the squad is 26, this included Terry and Drogba. But the bulk of the team are 27 or under with the exception of the former two and Cahill and Ivanovic.
Foundation of a new Chelsea
Mourinho has done something quite remarkable in this era of football at Chelsea Football Club, he is building something piece by piece, he is laying the foundations of something that will be built to last, behind the scenes he is working on a plan, he is building a juggernaut to dominate the Premier League in emulation of Sir Alex Ferguson.
The last team he built practically carried Chelsea even through the years without him when he was away at Inter and Real Madrid. We are witnessing the reformation of a new look Chelsea, one that will carry the club for the next 5-6 years at least.
Now the question remains how will he spend money in the coming campaign?
How will he cope with the loss of John Terry in the future? Zouma seems a very apt replacement alongside Cahill but he is relatively inexperienced also there is the well touted Andreas Christensen.
Who will replace Drogba, whose performances have been a shadow of his former self? Surely Chelsea need another striker.
Youngster Patrick Bamford has impressed on loan at Middlesborough scoring consistently in the Championship, but despite this will Mourinho look elsewhere? Mauro Icardi has been mentioned in the media.
The Blues would also look into rotation in midfield with a passer or a holding player perhaps a young midfielder coming in to rotate with Ramires and Mikel failing to impress when Cesc Fabregas was shifted up to the number 10 role in many games towards the end of last season.
It looks to be an intriguing summer ahead for the Blues.
Will Chelsea dominate the Premier League?
On dominating the league and the next season Mourinho remained pensive, “It’s even more difficult to dominate than before,” he said. “How can you speak about domination when everyone knows what will happen next summer?
“Arsenal have a phenomenal squad. Thierry Henry said they need four top-class players, but give to Arsenal four top-class players and I think they will again be ‘The Invincibles’. Manchester United have a phenomenal squad, including the most expensive player in the history of the Premier League, Ángel Di María, who is not even playing. That shows the quality of the squad. They are a club where financial fair play doesn’t make a big difference and they will invest hugely again in the summer.
“City have done phenomenally well, winning two titles in three years and people say they will invest hugely again. Liverpool can be fighting for the title, too. So, next year, it will be even more difficult for everyone than this year. At this moment, it’s very difficult in the Premier League for a team to be dominant. This is not Germany with Bayern Munich. This is not Switzerland with Basel. Not Scotland with Celtic. It’s very difficult.”
Mourinho is absolutely right in his judgement of the coming season, it will be harder to dominate, it will be harder to win.
Arsenal will look to strengthen in areas they lack quality, like a defensive midfielder, a quality defender and another quality striker with Giroud being injury prone.
United will look to find a striker with the misfiring Falcao and Van Persie, a midfielder to replace Carrick and a quality defender. Mats Hummels has been mentioned quite a lot and surely Louis van Gaal will look into his squad and strengthen.
The same can be said of Manchester City whose mega-rich owners will go out and find the best talent within financial fair play regulations.
Liverpool, having spent £100m last summer and floundering this season will assess their squad again and add to it and perhaps look to replace captain Steven Gerrard.
The quality the other Premier League heavyweights will add this summer will be very apparent in what looks to be a busy summer for most teams in the transfer window and Jose knows exactly that, in what should provide an even fiercer fight for the league title next season.
Mourinho has been shrewd in the way he has rebuilt his squad from his last stint, imparting the same mentality into the new recruits while keeping few of the older players on to do just that.
While John Terry seems to be rolling back the years with fantastic defensive performances over the course of the season despite his age, this title if Chelsea win it will be the passing of the old guard to the new one and none other than Terry himself will hand over the baton to the youngsters who will be the mainstays in Mourinho’s new era of Champions.Published 29 Apr 2015, 14:18 IST