It's always dangerous to draw conclusions from a single game, but these are the times we live in, and "wait and see" is going the same way as the dodo. Saturday's 3-1 win over Sunderland didn't just prove beyond all reasonable doubt that Chelsea were correct to dismiss Jose Mourinho, though it did. It also demonstrated that Chelsea -- and possibly several other clubs -- should give serious consideration to abolishing the idea of a permanent manager altogether.
Since Roman Abramovich decided that a west London football club would make an excellent repository for a fair chunk of Russia's mineral wealth, Chelsea have won 13 proper trophies. Seven of them -- three league titles, three League Cups, one FA Cup -- were brought to the club under the direction of the recently dismissed Mourinho. Two, a league title and an FA Cup, by Carlo Ancelotti. The rest -- including the biggest prize of all, the 2012 Champions League -- were won by temporary get-us-to-the-end-of-the-season managers: variously Guus Hiddink, Roberto di Matteo and Rafael Benitez. And, of course, Avram Grant nearly nicked a Champions League.
To put it another way, Interim-Caretaker is a more successful Chelsea manager than Ancelotti, and a significantly more successful Chelsea manager than Andre Villas-Boas, Luiz Felipe Scolari, Claudio Ranieri and Roberto Di Matteo (permanent version). This statistic is tilted by the fact that both caretakers and cup finals tend to coincide at the end of the season, but on the other hand, if the team had looked capable of winning a trophy, there would have been no need for the caretaker at all.
The principle of the new manager bounce -- a brief uptick in results that follows a managerial change is well-accepted in footballing lore, though it's never quite been established whether this is a real thing or merely a re-skinned dead cat. But interim caretakers have one great advantage over their theoretically more permanent brethren, which is that they are able to adopt an exclusively short-term approach. With mere months of a season to worry about, managers can finally cleave to one of the great, cliched principles of the sport: they can truly take each game as it comes.
No need to worry about the state of the squad, or who's coming in over the summer, or whether dropping a senior professional might do untold damage to a delicate ego. Win this game. Win the next game. Win a few in a row and collect a trophy at the end of it. Short spells lead to minimal consequences. Grudges and ill-feeling vanish into the air with each dismissal. Slates are constantly being wiped clean, and everybody gets a couple of fresh starts a year.
The lesson of Di Matteo is instructive here. As a caretaker manager, he was able to lift everybody's spirits, reconnect them with the identity that had been ebbing away, and tell John Terry that no, he didn't actually need to defend halfway up the pitch, that would be absolutely ridiculous. Then his Chelsea rode that improvement (and just a little bit of luck) all the way to the big-eared Holy Grail. The season after, as a permanent manager with responsibilities beyond the short-term, he was rubbish and so were they.
Chairpersons and directors like to talk in the long term, to promise dynasties. And quite right, too. That's what they are there to bring about. The mistake, though, is to chain that dynasty to the identity of the manager, who is always the most sackable person at the club. It's like building an agricultural policy around a sacrificial lamb. More sensible, surely, to leave the dynastic planning in the hands of the directors of football, scouting departments, doctors, analysts and other staff members whose job prospects aren't roughly equivalent to those of a mayfly's lifestyle guru. Apart from anything else, guiding a club over 10 years and preparing a team for a game at the weekend are two wholly different jobs.
It might be suggested that players, knowing that a manager is only going to be around for few months, might find their motivation or application mysteriously evaporating when things starts to go badly. This ignores the fact that most footballers, deep down, are fairly solid professionals who are usually doing their best. It also overlooks that this is already the case, however many years might be in the contract. If a dressing room chucks in the towel, it's not them that gets the sack. The only difference is in the compensation.
Indeed, we might argue that a player, knowing that a manager he doesn't like isn't long for the job, has less cause to start agitating for a move away. In some alternate universe, Angel di Maria was able to ride out the turbulent months of Louis van Gaal and is now thriving at Old Trafford under the direction of some other itinerant manager. Interestingly, that sentence works for most of the players that have remained at Old Trafford, as well.
Pushing this idea to its logical extreme, perhaps Chelsea could establish a stable of coaches, something like a managerial bullpen. Start the season with one face in the dugout, perhaps somebody who's excellent at putting together a team from a clutch of new signings. When the days get shorter and the weather gets worse, turn to the coach who can grind out results over the congested winter months. And as spring comes around, in comes the manager who may not know how to build a team or buy players, but is an expert at keeping everybody's heads in the right places as they march towards the title.
Alternatively, perhaps the six-months-as-standard contract is the way to go. If things are going brilliantly, have another one. If not, then there will usually be somebody knocking around who can take over. As Di Matteo, Hiddink and Benitez demonstrate, a caretaker doesn't have to be absolutely top-tier, merely able to be address whichever problem the squad is having. Everybody's miserable? Get a comedian in! Defense in a shambles? Fetch me the organizer! Managers feel no compunction in rotating a player out if they think somebody else could do a better job in a given situation. Why should a chairman be any different?
This might not be a great approach for winning titles, particularly in those years where one or two of the title favorites achieve competence early on. But it's ideal for the clubs. Most clubs of Chelsea's stature can limp through the Champions League group stages and so they don't really need to get going there until February. The FA Cup only starts in January for the bigger teams, and it's perfectly possible to reach the semifinals of the League Cup without playing well.
The principle here is that chaos isn't necessarily something to be avoided. When something blows up, there is energy to be harnessed. Chelsea have got a strong squad full of excellent footballers. Sure, it would be nice if Jose Mourinho had been able to build a generation of success. But all they really need is somebody new to come in every few months, crack a couple of jokes and/or kick a couple of asses and in the process clean up the previous bloke's mess. In essence, the story of modern Chelsea is that of a club surfing from new manager bounce to new manager bounce. Time to formally embrace it. When there's no new Mourinho knocking around, it's time to go caretakers-only.