Don't forget... there's Chelsea
Tenacious Atletico Madrid await in the last four, but don't be fooled by Jose Mourinho's words into thinking that the Champions League is the sole priority
Jose Mourinho has something to prove at Chelsea. That assertion might strike some as bizarre, given the sheer magnitude of his achievements in the past decade, especially at Stamford Bridge. After all, he was the one who ended a wait of 50 years for the league title, and who finished his first season with the Blues (2004-05) with a record 95 points.
The title was won again the following year and though Manchester United sneaked past to prevent a hat-trick, there was the consolation of the FA Cup and the League Cup. Then the rift with Roman Abramovich that led to a spell, albeit wildly successful, in the wilderness.
Chelsea's Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho embraces Chelsea's Brazilian midfielder Willian on the touchline in the final minutes of the UEFA Champions League quarter final second leg football match against Paris Saint-Germain on April 8. Pic/Getty Images.
Mourinho has won league championships in four countries. So have others. But no one else has ever done it in the three biggest leagues – the Premiership, La Liga and Serie A.
While at Internazionale, he also became the first manager to lead an Italian team to the treble of league, cup and Champions League. No one else in the game has a CV to match his. Yet, in his second avatar at Chelsea, he knows the resume is not complete. As successful as he was in building Chelsea up to be a huge force – this will be their seventh Champions League semifinal in 11 seasons – he has never won the trophy with his beloved Blues. Twice in that first stint, he went as far as the semifinals. Both times, Liverpool and Rafael Benitez – and most notably, the Anfield crowd – thwarted the Chelsea dream.
When London’s painful drought in club football’s most prestigious competition finally ended in 2012, as Didier Drogba’s heroics denied a superior Bayern Munich side, it was Roberto Di Matteo at the helm, and not the Special One. Don’t think for a minute that Mourinho isn’t aware of that.
There is a sense of destiny about this Chelsea side. That was never more apparent than in the second leg of the Champions League quarterfinal against Paris St Germain. The Parisians are in many ways the new Chelsea. Their Qatari owners have very deep pockets and they’re prepared to do whatever it takes to take the club to the summit of European football. Though Laurent Blanc was without Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Stamford Bridge, he could still call on the services of Ezequiel Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani, both of who would walk into most Premier League starting XIs. A couple of hours before kickoff, I was chatting to an Arsenal-supporting cab driver in London.
Having seen his team eviscerated 6-0 by Chelsea’s power and pace not so long ago, he wasn’t really in the mood to support the only English club left in the competition. We also agreed that a 3-1 deficit was too large a chasm to bridge, even for a team managed by Mourinho. “I can’t wait to hear what excuses he comes up with when they go out,” he said. Sadly for him, his wait will continue at least into the first week of May.
They may have left it late to seal the 2-0 win, but as the match progressed, there was no escaping the feeling that it would be Chelsea’s night. PSG were more flat beer than French champagne as the game went on, and Demba Ba’s last-gasp winner was deserved reward for Chelsea’s perseverance.
I was near King’s Road after the game, and the celebrations were raucous. The fans believe, despite Bayern’s form and Real’s blistering forward line, that this could again be their year. They are also absolutely certain that they have the best manager in the competition.
Tenacious Atletico Madrid await in the last four, but don’t be fooled by Mourinho’s words into thinking that the Champions League is the sole priority. Chelsea are very much in the hunt for the league title. The away game in Liverpool aside, their fixtures are straightforward. They will swat aside the likes of Sunderland, Norwich and Cardiff City. A draw at Anfield may well be enough to seal the deal. Throughout the last month, Mourinho has talked down the chances of a title tilt. But consider this: neither Brendan Rodgers nor Manuel Pelligrini knows what it’s like to win a major title. Mourinho is an expert. So don’t be fooled by the kidology. The man lies as well as he manages. If the Pinocchio fable were really true, Mourinho would now have a nose to rival Gerard Depardieu.
Dileep Premachandran is editor-in-chief of Wisden India. He will write a fortnightly column for this newspaper