London - Jose Mourinho is perhaps the only manager who can complete a season at Chelsea without a trophy and not face any calls for his sacking or a fans' revolt.
What a difference to the way Rafa Benitez was treated - and the many managers before him. The Spaniard led Chelsea to the Europa League title last year - a competition sneered at in England but still a leading honor - and yet jeering supporters were still counting down the days until Mourinho would return to replace him. Yet it is Benitez, not his nemesis, ending this campaign with a trophy, having won the Italian Cup at Napoli.
It seems that little, though, can diminish Chelsea's infatuation with Mourinho, however dull the football has been at times this season, however antagonistic he has been toward referees, however much he has scolded his players in public.
Mourinho knows he can get away with it, for now, without facing backlash from owner Roman Abramovich and the fans who spent so long calling for the return of the self-styled “Special One,” who won all three domestic trophies at least once during his 2004-07 reign. Despite an acrimonious exit from Real Madrid last year, Mourinho points out how he rebuffed other employment opportunities to rekindle the Chelsea love affair.
“I had lots of chances to have easy fairytales, I decided not to have it,” Mourinho said after Chelsea's realistic hopes of winning the Premier League ended on Sunday. “If I want to win leagues easily, I would choose another league. I would choose another club with another moment that in this moment Chelsea does not have. ... I chose with my heart every aspect the club I want, the club I love, a competition I like very much to play, a city where I like very much to live.”
Mourinho's missive: be grateful I returned.
Having exhausted so much energy during Mourinho's absence pleading “We want our Chelsea back,” the fans can hardly complain that there will be no parade down the King's Road this year. Abramovich, who acceded to the crowds' demands, has put away his axe after going through seven managers in the six years between Mourinho's reigns, and is giving the Portuguese the time to forge a new squad without instant silverware.
“Chelsea had a fantastic decade but that team, step by step, is disappearing,” Mourinho told the BBC. “I came in a moment when there is a transitional moment of the big players of the last decade. Some are not here (anymore) and some are at a certain age, and the younger players are at the beginning of a process.”
Captain John Terry, left back Ashley Cole, and midfielder Frank Lampard, whose contracts are expiring, were deeply emotional as the stalwarts left the pitch after Sunday's final home game of the season, a drab 0-0 draw with Norwich. Chelsea would need Manchester City and Liverpool to lose their two remaining games while winning its own season-ender at Cardiff to win the title.
There's little chance of that happening, so the focus is on the summer transfer window when Mourinho has to bring in a goal-scorer - Atletico Madrid striker Diego Costa is the top target - to ensure Chelsea doesn't endure another campaign of malaise up front. Samuel Eto'o has scored 14 goals, Fernando Torres 10 and Demba Ba eight. That's just 32 goals between them. Luis Suarez has netted 30 alone for Liverpool despite missing the start of the season while completing a biting ban and not having European matches to augment his tally.
“We don't have the kind of striker able to, in a short space, to make an action, to score a goal, to open the gate,” Mourinho said in his latest public criticism of his players.
Mourinho demands an attacking player with a “killer instinct”. The caveat - “respecting obviously that we have good strikers” - seems half-hearted, but he has to extract good money for them to fund the squad rebuilding while working within UEFA's Financial Fair Play rules.
Mourinho could test the limits of his bond with fans if he offloads winger Eden Hazard, who was crowned the league's young player of the year but then rebuked for his performance in last week's Champions League elimination against Atletico Madrid. In January, though, he sold Juan Mata, the club's player of the year for the previous two seasons, to Manchester United, jettisoning a creative force from the squad.
Have they missed Mata? Chelsea's problem hasn't been beating title rivals, completing the double over Liverpool, crushing Arsenal 6-0 at home and drawing away, and winning at Manchester City. What has proved so costly is dropping points while unable to break down weaker teams. The stalemate against relegation-threatened Norwich followed draws in 2014 against West Ham and West Bromwich Albion. Aston Villa, Crystal Palace and Sunderland have also managed to beat the 2005, 2006 and 2010 league champions.
“We had some limitations in terms of scoring enough goals to win all these kinds of matches against the teams with a more defensive approach,” Mourinho acknowledged. “We know that we need a different kind of quality.”
It was said without a hint of irony, given the ultra-defensive tactics Mourinho employed in an attempt to exploit rivals on the counterattack. Next year, Mourinho will be expected to deliver more expansive football to thrill the crowds - and a trophy. If he doesn't, perhaps even Chelsea fans will run out of patience with the “Special One.”