Jose Mourinho and Romelu Lukaku have their history. Like most professionals, however, both understand the past is the past. Chelsea fans who were hoping to get their big striker back at Stamford Bridge? Not so much.
If nothing else, it was entertaining to see certain reactions to Lukaku’s signing by Mourinho and United. Let’s just say the tin foil hats came out for the occasion.
Mourinho espouses a variation on Sir Alex Ferguson’s old theme that no man is bigger than the club. The Portuguese’s ethos can be more egotistical, with no player permitted to become more powerful than the boss. It doesn’t explain every row Jose has had with a player, but it does apply to several. Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos come to mind. Mario Balotelli, although Mourinho isn’t unique in struggling to form a bond with the misguided Italian. Eden Hazard in his Chelsea return. Nemanja Matic, too. Hell, half the Blues squad by the inglorious end.
The new United boss also prefers a certain type of player. Big. Fast. Strong. Athletic. It’s why, in his first go-round at Stamford Bridge, he sent Hernan Crespo packing and went all-in with Didier Drogba, why Arjen Robben was allowed to move on but Florent Malouda was convinced to stay, why David Luiz was banished to Paris after one season during Mou’s second stint in charge. It’s also why he didn’t rate Kevin de Bruyne or Juan Mata.
Sometimes the two factors blend. At others, they conflict. Balotelli and Lukaku certainly met Mourinho’s physical ideal but their personalities clashed with his. Apparently, Mourinho believes the latter has matured sufficiently for a reunion. That the player was willing to come supports that belief although his on-pitch spat with Ashley Williams in April, with Mourinho looking on, suggests otherwise. Alas, only time will tell whether the two-time Champions League winner and I should exchange jobs.[Spoiler alert–probably not]
Antonio Conte appears to have similar tastes and reservations to his Chelsea predecessor, as exemplified by the rift exposed between the former Juventus and Azzurri boss and Diego Costa. Yet, it’s Mourinho’s standards that have Chelsea in a bind as they look for a replacement for the temperamental naturalised Spaniard.
Mark Worrall wrote an insightful piece for ESPNFC on the matter, noting how a buy-back clause here or there might have made a significant difference for the Blues.
Nemanja Matic was initially part of the deal that brought David Luiz to Stamford Bridge from Benfica during Carlo Ancelotti’s watch. Without first refusal on his future transfer, it cost the club £21 million to reacquire the Serbian.
When Lukaku was eventually sold to Everton, after loans to West Brom and the Toffees, Mourinho advised the board that the Belgian lacked the potential to make the discount a buy-back clause would have cost the club worthwhile. That piece of advice enabled United to give Lukaku a choice in destinations when his new/old coach was proven wrong.
It also threw fuel on the conspiracy theory fire, which goes something like this:
No sooner had Sir Alex Ferguson confirmed his retirement than his former nemesis at Stamford Bridge began lobbying to replace him. Even though David Moyes and Louis van Gaal were given first and second cracks at the job, Mourinho never lost hope. When he returned to Chelsea, Jose sold Mata, the club’s reigning Player of the Year, to United. In mid-season. He then allowed Lukaku to depart despite being an obvious replacement for the ageing Didier Drogba. After finally landing the Old Trafford gig, the Portuguese mended fences with the diminutive, happy-go-lucky Spaniard. Now, he’s done likewise with the hulking Belgian. Don’t you see? It was all part of a master plan.
Conspiracy theorists always ignore the obvious question. In this case, if Mourinho thought Mata and Lukaku would win him a title someday with United, why couldn’t they have done so at Chelsea first? The problem is that paying attention to such an obvious flaw in their grand theory ruins all the fun. And life should be fun.
At the moment, however, Jose Mourinho and Romelu Lukaku are having more of the stuff than Chelsea fans. United has a world class striker. The Blues do not.