Jose Mourinho talks about juggling playing time

Denis Doyle

It's something discussed only in hushed tones now, but back in 2007, the media and fan circles were rife with speculation that Mourinho's exit was brought about not merely as a result of a falling out with the owner and the board.

The alleged straw that broke the camel's back was a bust up with John Terry over the length of his post-injury recovery period, with the Chelsea captain keen on starting more often, but Mourinho having other ideas.

The situation on the ground is of course, vasty different now, with the old spine almost dispersed. Drogba and Ballack are Chelsea history, while the present, save for Petr Cech, doesn't look very strong either. Lampard and Terry are arguable in the twilight of their respective careers, and one would imagine their limited roles and influence on the pitch subtend to a decreased clout in the dressing room as well.

Mourinho's going to be reunited with a lot of former faithful charges, and not jus the (now broken) triumvirate, but notably Ashley Cole and Essien, who he's bringing back, and while a few might be content to buckle down, accept their revised standing and role within the team, a couple might also look to revive older alliances as they seek to revive their career.

Which translates naturally, to a great many choices, meaning a fine balancing act would be needed if the Special One is to avoid the farraginous catastrophe from his time in Spain, and recreate the group dynamic that brought us success and silverware his last time around.

Power struggles with players is something that'll be akin to an open wound for Jose, for a short while at least, and so we can fully expect the media to pick at it whenever opportunities arise, starting right now.

Interestingly enough, it is a Spanish outlet that has fired the testing shot, as Punto Pelota, a tv station in the country, recently got talking to Mourinho. Faced with questions about managing expectations, here's what he had to say:

"I am a coach who looks for a meritocracy.

Whoever I think is best must play, without looking at status or the past. You play as you train. It is a normal situation, as it was normal for me to leave [Marco] Materazzi, a mythical player at Inter, on the bench.

He's only been here 3 days, and with those remarks, he's fired a robust opening salvo. It's also no less than what you'd expect from Mourinho, so in a way he's merely stated the obvious and the fair.

Talents who come to a club like Chelsea, as well as established ones who've been around for some time, have to be expected to come in with the understanding that they'll have to scrap for their place in the starting XI, and that losing out on playing time as a result of injuries or loss of form is just as likely as losing out due to stroppy behaviour or simply the presence of a bigger fish in the same pond.

That said, idealistic thinking doesn't translate very well to realistic scenarios, which means that Mourinho will almost certainly be juggling with an unfairly disproportionate amount of player expectation upon his return to Stamford Bridge's dressing room.

"The fans can think that Iker is better than Diego [Lopez]. I accept that, but I am the coach. If there are players who change their 'modus operandi' if they play or not, that is a problem for the player."

In other words, Mourinho isn't going to give a flying [fun] as to whether players' perceptions of and attitudes toward him change as a result of unfulfilled expectations with regard to pitch time. And he'd be perfectly right to, seeing there's really no reason for a manager to hesitate when it comes to consigning disappointing non-performers to the bench.

Nevertheless, the media shall remain fickle as ever, so expect the exact same set of quotes to be bandied about grossly out of context, presumably forming the crux of articles suggesting the Special One 'still hasn't learnt his lesson' or some such rubbish.

Whatever the tabloids make of it, Mourinho's relationship with his dressing room will undoubtedly make for an extremely interesting subplot over the course of the season. In terms of policy, Mourinho is a man firmly set in his ways, so it'll be rather riveting to see how he goes about changing opinions in England and perhaps even Spain, using a near-identical version of the policies that let to the indomitable spirit of his title-winning Madrid side to decay so abysmally in a matter of one season, even directly influencing his departure to some extent.

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