“Chelsea is not made to play football.”
Using defensive tactics is a perfectly acceptable way of winning a game. There are no points for losing a game but playing in a more aesthetically pleasing manner. Just ask the Dutch, who have lost several major international tournaments despite being renowned for their beautiful style of Total Football. That being said, “parking the bus” is not a commendable way to win a game. Playing not to lose is the antithesis of what sports competition is all about. It gets the job done, but at what cost?
This argument has been resurrected by the recent actions of coach who should be known as the world’s most effective valet parking attendant for buses, Jose Mourinho. There are many coaches who employ defensive tactics but Jose Mourinho does so to an nth degree and to the annoyance of many of those who face him. It’s more annoying when Jose Mourinho does it, as compared to coaches from lesser sides like Stoke City, because Jose Mourinho has the talent on his teams that makes these tactics unnecessary. He can field one of the more expensive sides in the world in an attacking manner and instead he packs the box as if the players were plucked out of the bargain bin. At one point he did have the most expensive team in the world, Real Madrid, and he frustrated both opposing fans and Real Madrid fans with the way he under-utilized the attacking prowess of his team in order to eek out wins.
The problem with this overly-defensive strategy, is that when a coach wins with it, the fans are appreciative of him while the neutral and opposing fans vilify the coach. However, when the coach loses with this strategy, everybody vilifies him. This is because there are no soccer fans who like the ultra-defensive strategy. Instead, soccer fans tolerate it only if their team is using it and it’s helping them win. Sometimes it is necessary for a team to be more defensive when protecting leads. Yet when a game is open and a team is playing just to protect their goal, something is wrong with that. It mocks not only the integrity of the game but the integrity of the team as well. What self-respecting coach doesn’t believe that his team is at least capable of providing some sort of attacking threat?
The problem with Jose Mourinho, and the way Chelsea have played under him, is that he doesn’t utilize his teams talent or come out of his shell in order to out-maneuver his opponents. He sits back and frustrates his opponents, hoping they blink first. If they don’t, then he will settle for the tie or overtime. It’s not that he’s more brazen with this approach and that he is more steadfast than the managers he faces. In most situations he just knows he has less to lose. Case and point, Liverpool needed to win/tie in order to win the league but Mourinho had given up hope and was focusing on winning the second leg of the Champions League semifinal. If Jose Mourinho were to play a game of chicken, he wouldn’t blink not because he wasn’t afraid to crash, but because he knows his car is a clunky ’97 Subaru Forester and his opponent is driving a Maserati. Having less to lose does not make him a great coach, it just give him an undeserved haughtiness. As a result, his arrogance has become palpable and the taste it procures in the mouths of soccer fans worldwide is acrid at best.
Give him credit though, he won the game against Liverpool. However, he would have been content tying the game. That is the most frustrating part. Chelsea at the time was in second place with a shot at the Premier League title yet Jose Mourinho only wanted a tie. The Steven Gerrard slip-up was fortuitous, and give Demba Ba credit for the finish, but without it the game most likely would have ended 0-0 (The final goal only came as a result of Brendan Rodgers playing 3 at the back and pushing everyone up in order to desperately seek a tying goal). It is unfortunate that Brendan Rodgers was unable to punish Jose for his style of play though so responsibility for the loss also falls on him. Thankfully, Diego Simeone, manager for Atletico Madrid, was able to punish Jose Mourinho for his park the bus tactics in the second leg of their semifinal clash after being frustrated by it in the first leg. When Atletico Madrid put Chelsea in the position where they need to play offensive in order to win on aggregate they became uncomfortable and uneasy. Mourinho’s tactics had left them incapable of playing offensive soccer and their team fell apart.
When the game ended many rejoiced at the failure of Mourinho’s defensive tactic. However, the most disconcerting sign seemed to be from the Chelsea players themselves who were visibly frustrated at not being provided with the resources to attack Atletico Madrid. When Eden Hazard said “Chelsea is not made to play football” he is not referring to the team not having the requisite talent, but the team being devoid of attacking instinct. An attacking instinct their coach failed to instill within them. From this statement a new question may arise, in this day of attacking football will players want to play for a coach who will not inflate their stats or utilize their abilities? It remains to be seen, but Jose Mourinho is in danger if it does. Either way hopefully he leaves the Chelsea team bus in the parking lot where it belongs for the foreseeable future because the best soccer teams know how to balance offense and defense.