Some sackings are shocking. Some are inevitable. And Jose Mourinho's second Chelsea dismissal is a bit of both. On the one hand, a football club with the highest aspirations has sacked one of the few managers with a proven record of achieving them. That will always be a surprise. On the other, over the course of the last few miserable months it has looked not so much like he'd lost the dressing room, more that the dressing room had melted into the jungle and begun to take potshots at his twitching head. Like America in Vietnam, he had responded by carpet bombing everything that moved. Like America in Vietnam, it went poorly.
But more than both of those, Jose Mourinho's second dismissal by Chelsea feels, at least at first blush, like something of a relief, both for everybody involved and for those of us stuck out on the outside. Presumably, Mourinho and his players are both delighted that they won't have to see one another again. The atmosphere at Cobham can only have been profoundly awkward. The relief for everybody else comes from the end of what had been, up until this afternoon, the deeply odd and frankly discombobulating sight of Jose Mourinho attempting to manage a group of players who patently did not want to be managed by Jose Mourinho.
Beyond that, it's impossible not to wonder if this might just have done some permanent damage to the specialness of the Special One. This, after all, is not how these things are meant to work. This is not who Mourinho is. This is not what he does. What he does is turn Goran Pandev into a Champions League winner, drive Marco Materazzi to tears with his departure, and instill such a spirit and determination into his first Chelsea team that they will thank him years later, publicly and specifically, when they win their own Champions League.
Yet, while we can perhaps overlook the mess at Real Madrid, on the basis that Real Madrid are always a mess, the record will now show that he returned to Chelsea, won a title, and then oversaw one of modern football's most peculiar collapses. A team that appeared near-perfectly balanced just a few months ago now looks a rabble, and players that could justifiably claim to be among the best in the world have apologized, flounced and evaporated their way out of the first team. And standing by the sidelines was Mourinho, the great alchemist of team spirit, watching everything turn back into lead.
The initial suspicion is that this will, in the fullness of time, be shown to be just one aberration in a Premier League season full of them. A strange confluence of circumstances that turned explosive: the blend personalities in the squad; the decision by Chelsea's hierarchy not to sanction a overhaul in the summer; the serious illness of Mourinho's father; a calculated but failed gamble on preseason; the bizarre and embarrassing row over the dismissal of doctors Eva Carneiro and Jon Fearn. Mix them all together, shake it up, and -- kaboom! -- kiss your eyebrows and your title goodbye.
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If not, though, then things get interesting. First of all, it's yet more evidence in favor of the theory that Mourinho is brilliant for a season or two but is not the man to oversee a team for any longer than that. That four-year contract he signed in August was meant to herald a dynasty. It hasn't lasted six months. Perhaps nobody is. Perhaps, once Arsene Wenger leaves his job, such managerial careers will become relics. But even if that's true, managers and chairmen both enjoy being able to pretend that dynasties are possible, even likely, and that's going to sound very thin coming from Mourinho.
This trend, along with the sheer un-Mourinhoness of this season, suggests that while his methods may be generally excellent, he doesn't quite know how to fix things when they go wrong. That he can build, but he cannot repair. Recent weeks have seen him scrabbling desperately through his greatest hits -- blame the ballboys, blame the referees, blame the conjunction of the Moon with Neptune -- and coming up with nothing that anybody was in the mood to dance to. In the end he turned on the players, which rarely ends well for any manager but might, for Mourinho, be particularly damaging.
In general -- again, allowing for some Madrid-based exceptions -- Mourinho has been a ferocious defender of his own. Now he will forever be the manager who used his last interview at Chelsea to accuse his players of betraying him. Ostensibly, he was talking about his defense's failure to remember that week's training, but to assume that was all that he meant is to assume that Mourinho, a former translator, would be blissfully unaware of the resonance of his words. Betrayal means knives on the floor of the Senate. It means kisses in the Garden of Gethsemane. And Brutus, Cassius and Judas didn't earn their places in the ninth circle by losing Jamie Vardy in the penalty area.
There are managers -- Louis van Gaal might be one -- about whom you suspect that the opinion of their players matters hardly at all. As long as they go out and do their jobs, that's fine. But Mourinho has always come across as one of the other sort, a man whose methods require his players to be in his thrall. Players who win when they will, as the cliche has it, run through brick walls for him. But now there are a fair few elite players who have asked why they have to run through the wall, and whether it might not be better to go around the wall, and what's so special about the other side of the wall anyway. If that questioning spreads out from the Chelsea dressing room, then much of his magic will have dissipated. Those walls won't run through themselves.
The proof of any of this will come in his next job, whatever that turns to be. He won't be short of offers, we can be certain of that: the Manchester United job could be open again soon. Paris Saint-Germain might decide that he amounts to an upgrade on Laurent Blanc. Florentino Perez could apologize for everything that went wrong at Real Madrid. His good friend Jorge Mendes' good friend Peter Lim may soon be looking for a more permanent solution at Valencia. But wherever he ends up, the swagger and bristle and all-round air of magnificence will, for possibly the first time, be shot through with a new vulnerability. You'd back him to see it off, of course, but it'll be fascinating to watch him try.