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Jose Mourinho and Chelsea's new identity

Alex Livesey

In the dark days before the conclusion of last season, a curious complaint was levelled at Chelsea. Under Rafa Benitez, claimed Andre Villas-Boas, Chelsea had no 'identity'. Over at ESPN, Michael Cox elaborated:

Chelsea didn't have a clear strategy. They half-heartedly counter-attacked, with Ramires wasting their main opportunity on the break when he slipped over after great work from Juan Mata. They didn't defend with any certainty, particularly down the flanks. And they didn't keep the ball, killing the game, as a good possession-based side would. They did nothing.

They had a point. Chelsea were incoherent for most of last season, partially due to their personnel and partially due to their coaching. Are the Blues to forge a new identity under Jose Mourinho? What might that identity be?

That we're even asking these questions is a worrying sign. There is a tendency these days to think of managers as a collection of rigid memes, hence the ideas that certain players don't fit into certain managers' potential plans (see the David Luiz rumours for a good examples). That's true to a certain extent. Some managers have doctrines that they stick to through hell or high water, forcing their teams to adapt to them, but the best -- Sir Alex Ferguson is particularly known for this -- are generalists, adapting the way they play to the players they have at their disposal.

An identity is all well and good for categorising and branding a team, but every dogma one might choose in football always comes with a corresponding weakness. Teams can set up to counteract a possession side, they can also play cautiously enough against a counterattacking team that the threat on the transition is blunted. High defensive lines bring danger, so does playing deep. There is no one true way to play football, no identity that works all the time.

Why, then, should we want one? Just for the sake of having a style of play we can point to and say 'that is Jose Mourinho's Chelsea'? Instead of adopting an identity -- which will always cost the team in the long run -- a far more sensible plan would be to adopt the philosophy of maximising one's resources at all times. And this, I believe, is what Mourinho will do. He has players at his disposal (with more to come), and he'll adapt his general plan to suit them, with an additional emphasis on the opponents' weakness when required. There'll always be a plan, but it won't ever be exactly the same one as what came before.

Considering such a strategy requires time and serious thought, neither of which the modern journalistic world possesses in abundance, but in reality it's the only way Mourinho's ever operated. Everywhere he's been, he's tweaked, chopped and changed, relying on players outside what's normally considered his style -- most recently Mesut Ozil -- to incredible effect. Mourinho is in the business of winning football games and trophies, and believing that he's wedded to one style isn't just silly, it's directly contradicted by all available evidence.

When push comes to shove, the only identity he or Chelsea will care about is being winners. From the ends, the means.

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