Eden Hazard or Harry Kane? Chelsea’s dazzling star is now extremely short odds-on to win the PFA Player of the Year award despite the 30th goal of an amazing season for Tottenham’s young striker, but the debate will rumble on for a few weeks before the writers name their Footballer of the Year.
When it comes to Manager of the Year, however, there’s no argument. (Sorry Tim, not you, despite the brilliance of the FA Cup semi-final victory over Liverpool as forecast in last Monday’s column)
Chelsea could be just two games away from wrapping up the Premier League title by leading from start to finish, and the whole thing has been a master class in management by Jose Mourinho.
It was fascinating listening to one of the phone-ins yesterday morning hearing a Chelsea fan grumble at how the media hates Mourinho. Everybody else claims the media love him. Either way you can’t dispute that his influence on restoring Roman Abramovich’s club to the winner’s enclosure has been total.
Manchester United came away from Stamford Bridge on Saturday night grumbling about how they had been the best team, with Louis van Gaal thumping the table in frustration and revealing his players had sat in the dressing room asking him how they could possibly have lost a game in which they dominated so much possession.
The answer was that Mourinho, as ever, knows the art of winning big games. He’d put Kurt Zouma into a dedicated role to blunt the threat of Marouane Fellaini, he’d pushed Cesc Fabregas further forward so he and Eden Hazard could support the ageing Didier Drogba, and he’d made sure in form Juan Mata never got the space to enjoy any sort of triumphant return to Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea are now [1.01] to reclaim the title they last won in 2010 and the roots of it go back to last summer when The Special One got his recruitment exactly right.
While other clubs were dithering about who they wanted and why, he acted to bring Fabregas back to English football, identified Diego Costa as the man to put the goals into his side, and took the huge decision to end Petr Cech’s days as number one goalkeeper while bringing Thibaut Courtois back from loan at Atletico Madrid.
Getting Loic Remy as his standby striker was also sound sense. He even got it exactly right by convincing Drogba he still had a role to play in the Premier League. The 37-year-old seemed to be returning home out of sentiment, but Mourinho knew exactly what he could bring not only to the dressing room in terms of setting examples in training, but to the pitch when needed.
Drogba isn’t the powerful force he was ten years ago, but he can still put in a shift as he proved with a 90 minute effort against United in which his running stats compared well against Radamel Falcao.
Mourinho’s other unsung triumph has been to make John Terry the centrepiece of the side again, bringing his warrior instincts to the team in the games that mattered. Two years after he was supposed to be on his way out of Stamford Bridge, the captain has missed only five of 48 games.
Terry’s chequered past means he will never be a candidate for Footballer of the Year, and the players are reluctant to vote for him too. But he’s been outstanding and arguably Chelsea’s most influential player, and that’s another tick in the Mourinho plan.
United left Stamford Bridge believing they will be genuine challengers next season. The bad news for them, though, is that van Gaal might still be thumping the table this time next year because The Special One is almost certainly already completing his own plan for how to make his side better still.