Europe Can Wait by Mark Worrall @gate17marco

Forget Europe, back-to-back titles please José.

Having led the Premier League from start to finish, and won the Capital One Cup to boot, last season Chelsea were the undisputed kings of the English game.

Managed by the incomparable Jose Mourinho, led by the indomitable John Terry, the Blues blend of genius in Eden Hazard, industry in Willian and Nemanja Matic, craft in Cesc Fabragas, and brute force in Branislav Ivanovic and Diego Costa was more than enough to see off the challenges posed by the usual suspects, Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United.

There is no doubt, however, that Chelsea’s main rivals will up the ante during forthcoming campaign.

City have prised Raheem Sterling away from Liverpool. Often linked last term with a move to Stamford Bridge, Sterling split opinion among Blues supporters in the same way he often splits defences. Whatever people might think of the 20-year old, there is no doubt that he has talent in abundance and will add firepower to the Citizens attack.

Arsenal controversially secured the services of legendary Chelsea custodian Petr Cech. At 33-years of age, Cech still has plenty of miles on the clock for a keeper and he could prove to be a shrewd acquisition by Gunners boss Arsene Wenger who has once more been shying away from the transfer limelight. Wenger appears confident in the capabilities of his existing squad who certainly started to gel towards the end last season, as evidenced by the 4-0 demolition of Aston Villa in the FA Cup Final.

To date, United have been the most active in the transfer market in respect of bringing high profile players to Old Trafford. Red Devils manager Louis van Gaal is no shrinking violet when it comes to talking up his ambitions and new acquisitions Memphis Depay, Matteo Darmian, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin will add a blend of youthful enthusiasm and experience to a team that looks like being led up front by Wayne Rooney.

There are parallels with Mourinho returning to Chelsea and spending his first season plotting, tinkering and lamenting so too van Gaal at United last term. The Portuguese subsequently delivered as he promised — the Dutchman will be under pressure from the off to do the same.

There has been plenty of conjecture from critics about Mourinho spending the summer idly polishing the silverware he has won and reflecting on how special he is rather than plundering the transfer market in typical Chelsea fashion. It’s fair to say that so far, the Blues boss has been fettling his squad rather than making sweeping changes. The signings, striker Radamel Falcao and keeper Asmir Begovic, are being viewed as squad players rather than untouchables — will they be joined at the Bridge by a last-minute marquee signing? John Stones from Everton maybe? We’ll have to wait and see.

Amusingly, there was a vanity element to the words that tumbled from Mourinho’s lips at the time he secured the services on loan of Colombia international Falcao, who flattered to deceive while employed in a similar capacity at Old Trafford last season. But if anyone can get the former Atletico Madrid hotshot (who famously dismantled Chelsea’s defence three years ago as Los Rojiblancos blitzed the Blues 4-1 in the UEFA Super Cup) to ripple opposition nets with impunity it’s the Special One — he said as much himself, and will waste no time in advising van Gaal of his shortcomings should Falcao rediscover his spectacular goal-scoring touch.

If there is one appealing bet from a clutch of wagers to be had for the coming season, it’s Falcao to score against United. Sadly though, Chelsea supporters will have to wait until the end of the year for the first scheduled meeting between the sides, by which time the 41,546 members of the Stamford Bridge jury will long since have formed an opinion on Mourinho’s Colombian gamble.

For the betting fraternity, Chelsea go into the new season as strong favourites and Mourinho will have the avowed intention of securing back-to-back top-flight titles, a feat accomplished in his previous managerial tenure at Stamford Bridge. It’s certainly achievable. The contest may be much closer this time around, but in Mourinho the Blues have a Machiavellian master so well-versed in the dark arts he is able to spellbind his domestic managerial rivals without the need to wave a magic wand — or wear a magic hat!

Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Back-to-back titles would be great — but why stop there? Since the inception of the Premier League, Man United have twice won the title three times in a row, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2007, 2008, 2009. Jose Mourinho has spoken of his desire to remain Chelsea manager for the long-term, and while re-writing record books tends to be something the Portuguese plays down in public — there is no doubting his appetite for success.

At present, it seems inconceivable that Mourinho might surpass Sir Alex Ferguson’s phenomenal achievements as a football manager — but fast-forward the clock 15 years and who’s to say that the Special One couldn’t outdo Fergie?

It’s a tall order. Not forgetting his silverware-riddled stint as manager of Aberdeen where he won 11 trophies, in his 26 years at Old Trafford, the dour Scot won 38, including 13 Premier League and two Champions League titles.

To date, Mourinho has amassed 22 trophies with four different clubs. Six with FC Porto, Seven first time around with Chelsea, five with Inter Milan, three with Real Madrid and two so far back in SW6 — at 52 years of age, the feeling is there’s plenty more swag to be had.

Mourinho certainly has the guile and man-management skills to ensure future success, and the thought that he might build a dynasty at Stamford Bridge in the same way Ferguson did at Old Trafford is compelling beyond belief for his legion of devout followers.

Bank-rolled by munificent Russian owner Roman Abramovich, in just over a decade the London club has rebuilt its infrastructure from grass roots up and set its stall out on the global stage. With a move to a new purpose-built stadium all but ruled out, the final piece of this complicated jigsaw puzzle will be the redevelopment of Stamford Bridge into a state-of-the-art arena where Mourinho and his cohorts will joust with Europe’s finest.

Chelsea shared its plans with the public during the summer, and if the proposed timescale is adhered to there will be two more seasons of football at the Bridge as we know it before a three-year sojourn away from home while the old gaff is razed to the ground and rebuilt. While all this takes place, success on the pitch at the highest level is paramount, which of course brings European competition into the equation.

At the conclusion of last season, Abramovich, Mourinho, Blues players and supporters cast envious eyes on proceedings at Berlin’s Olympiastadion where Barcelona and Juventus locked horns in the Champions League final.

Juve went into the game on the back of a fine campaign, comfortably retaining the Serie A title and winning the Coppa Italia — but Barca had been irresistible. In the end, Luis Enrique’s men ran out comfortable 3-1 winners in Germany, and if Abramovich has tasked Mourinho with wresting Old Big Ears from Enrique’s grasp there is clearly some work to be done.

The Catalan giants spent the past campaign blowing away opponents. A whirlwind of 175 goals scored in 60 games (W50, D4, L6) can only be described as phenomenal. Barca boss Enrique melded a treble-winning side incorporating a front three of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez (who scored 58, 39 and 25 goals respectively) that has raised the bar way beyond the reach of rivals in any competition.

Last term Chelsea mustered 109 goals in 54 games (W36, D14, L4). There is no doubt that the Premier League is an altogether more difficult competition to win than La Liga, with stouter more resolute opposition defences always willing to put it up the Blues, but nevertheless the domestic title race was won at a canter.

Forgetting the curious aberration of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory against Bradford in the FA Cup, a result that left many older Chelsea supporters scratching their heads and wondering if they’d been teleported back to the early 1980s, it was in Europe where the Blues shortcomings were exposed. Bullish confidence gained from lording it on the home front fizzled out against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League Round of 16.

PSG were comprehensively thrashed 5-1 on aggregate by Barcelona in the quarterfinal that followed. In a way it was a shame that the Blues failed against PSG, because a clash with Barca would have given a clear indication of just exactly where Mourinho’s project has got to and where it needs to get to if Chelsea are to become a consistently competitive force in Europe’s elite competition.

In due course, time (and the impatience of Abramovich) will tell if Mourinho’s work-in-progress ever gets completed a la Luis Enrique and Barcelona. It would be nice, but for many supporters another Premier League title — meaning City, Arsenal and United have been firmly put in their place once more — will do just fine.

Mark has authored and co-authored a range of Chelsea-related book titles (check out and also writes regularly for ESPN and cfcuk. Follow him on Twitter @gate17marco.


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