The homecoming of Jose Mourinho has grabbed the headlines and ensnared the hearts of Chelsea fans. The promise of gold-plated sound-bites has got the nation's journalists salivating at the prospect of his weekly press conferences while Blues supporters are similarly relishing the possibility of a return to the top of the domestic game.
However, in the midst of all the hyperbole, there is very important job for Mourinho to do. With the make-up of his technical staff already in place -- an intelligent mixture of incumbent coaches and his own travelling circus of Portuguese tacticians -- the task of analysing his squad and making the necessary additions and omissions will be the first item on his agenda.
- Mourinho eyes Sneijder reunion
Many of Mourinho's detractors have derided him as being a chequebook manager, only capable of success when spending astronomical fees on new players. It is true that he is hardly averse to opening his chairman's chequebook, yet it should also be noted that he is not the kind of manager to completely supplant an entire team with his own personal choices. At Chelsea, key members of the team that won consecutive Premier League titles under him -- Frank Lampard, John Terry, Petr Cech, Arjen Robben, Joe Cole and Damien Duff to name just a few -- had already signed for the club prior to his arrival and although he added the likes of Didier Drogba and Claude Makelele, the nucleus of that dominant side was already in place. The same can be said of Inter Milan (Javier Zanetti, Wesley Sneijder, Marco Materazzi, Esteban Cambiasso and more) and Real Madrid, where the major investment was made the summer before his arrival with the acquisition of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka and Xabi Alonso.
With Chelsea's squad already boasting several top class players, it can be assumed that he will adopt a similar approach; keen to bolster the sense of belonging among a core of players currently at the club, while sprinkling a few choice imports around them.
The first aspect that he will have to decide will be the type of football he is aiming to play. Roman Abramovich is known to favour the aesthetic over the pragmatic, an approach at odds with Mourinho's own philosophy, yet it is hard to imagine the returning manager battening down the hatches and making his team adopt a purely conservative, defence-minded posture. He has demonstrated by his use of Sneijder, Ronaldo and Mesut Ozil in his two most recent posts that there is room in his team for playmakers and virtuosos, which is why the likes of Juan Mata and Eden Hazard will be assured of a bright future under his tutelage.
Less certain are Fernando Torres' immediate prospects. The Spaniard does not appear to tick any of the boxes required by one of Mourinho's centre forwards, with the main components being power and/or pace, traits that the modern Torres simply does not possess. With the Portuguese's track record of getting the best out of his players, it is perhaps not beyond the realms of possibility that he can coax the ex-Atletico Madrid man out of his shell, though Torres' fragile confidence and sullen body language are also likely to count against him in the new manager's eyes.
In contrast, Romelu Lukaku does fit the bill and before the young striker signed for Chelsea, he was heavily linked to a move to Real Madrid, indicating that Mourinho is already an admirer. If he can nurture the Belgian in the same way that he developed Didier Drogba, then Chelsea might have a ready-made hitman already in their ranks.
One position that he will almost certainly be looking outside Cobham for is in defensive midfield. David Luiz has been fitful when deployed there; fantastic against average opposition, bypassed by high quality opponents. The Brazilian's natural position is at centre back and Mourinho will almost certainly maintain that view even if he had a tendency to select Pepe in his Real Madrid midfield when the situation demanded. Nathan Ake looks like being a tremendous prospect but should be phased in rather than thrown into the deep end. Makelele was the least glamorous but arguably the most important player in the manager's first Chelsea team and someone to make a similar impact will surely be sought
Mourinho's use of Luka Modric and Xabi Alonso also points to the fact that he has a preference for a deep-lying playmaker as well as a traditional number ten and that could spell a change of position for Oscar. The lithe 21-year-old had a decent debut season though found it hard to emerge from the shadow of Mata and Hazard's brilliance, though much of that was due to the fact that he was often deployed in wide areas where he is at his least effective. Oscar's best performances came when he operated centrally but with Mata having the advanced position sewn up, a deeper role could provide the answer. On the few occasions when he played as one of the midfield two -- usually as a result of second half substitutions -- he impressed with his both his probing passing and tackling ability. Mourinho could well see Oscar's future in that withdrawn role.
An area of the squad that to which particular attention will be paid is the defence. Real Madrid aside, Mourinho has prided himself on his back four and the obduracy seen by his teams has been the foundation for his success. The current cast list is reasonably eye-catching so it remains a mystery as to why there were so many sloppy goals conceded last season. What the master tactician will make of it will be fascinating to watch. Ashley Cole has always held his admiration, though he will be getting his first glimpses of Branislav Ivanovic, Gary Cahill, David Luiz and Cesar Azpilicueta. It will also be intriguing to see how he handles Terry and whether he will imbue him with the same influence that he has enjoyed throughout his time at the club up until Rafael Benitez curbed his authority.
Cech is safe for now, though he will know that an under-par campaign is likely to see Mourinho replace him next summer with Thibaut Courtois, currently o- loan at Atletico Madrid. Reputation alone will not keep the likes of Cech, Terry or Lampard immune from the axe as can be seen by Iker Casillas' enforced exile at the Santiago Bernabeu and the marginalisation of his teammate and fellow dressing room leader, Sergio Ramos. Those old-stagers have an advantage in that they know exactly how their new boss operates though they will be equally aware that they cannot afford to let their standards drop.
While studious analysis is paramount, one potential pitfall with the current situation and the wait for the squad to reconvene for Mourinho to cast his eye over his squad is that while Chelsea procrastinate, other clubs will be flashing the cash. Monaco have already hoovered up some of the most coveted players on the continent and another month of inactivity could see even fewer top quality signings available. Hopefully, Chelsea have learned from the folly of Andre Villas-Boas' desire to undertake a forensic examination of his options prior to entering the transfer market upon his arrival at the club in 2011 -- a move that saw targets missed and terminally undermined his tenure even if it did secure Mata's services. It would be a surprise if Chelsea have not already put some wheels in motion regarding potential targets.
Even so it is unlikely that any major signings will be sealed until Mourinho has seen his players up close, something that will ensure that every single one of them sweats blood for their new manager when pre-season gets underway.
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